Hassocks celebrate highest league finish in five years despite AFC Uckfield Town loss

Hassocks captain and leading goalscorer Phil Johnson. Picture by Steve Robards
Hassocks captain and leading goalscorer Phil Johnson. Picture by Steve Robards

Losing 4-0 away to AFC Uckfield Town wasn’t the way that Hassocks would have wanted to end their 2018-19 season, but they can look back on the campaign with satisfaction as the Robins secured their best Premier Division finish in five years.

Not since the heady days when Mickey Jewell was at the helm and Hassocks were regular challenges for the top-five have they finished as high as the 12th-place they’ve achieved this season, significant progress from this time last year. Back then, the Robins were sweating on whether their 25-year run in the top flight was about to come to an end.

Finishing in the bottom-three meant a nervous wait to find out if they would be relegated to Division One, but they were ultimately spared the drop through both Haywards Heath Town and Three Bridges being promoted into the Bostik League and only Shoreham coming down from the higher level.

And Mark Dalgleish has made good use of that lifeline, rebuilding his squad last summer and adding to it gradually over the course of the season. If he can keep this group together and they can find a little more consistency, then the top ten may not be too far away.

His most important task over this summer will be ensuring Phil Johnson doesn’t leave the Beacon. Johnson has had quite the campaign since returning from Horsham YMCA, assuming the captaincy and racking up 27 goals with his tally of 24 in the league being enough to make him the Premier Division’s fourth highest scorer.

YM have already tried to take him back to Gorings Mead with an unsuccessful approach in January and no doubt bigger clubs with bigger budgets will be circling.

Johnson was absent for the trip to Uckfield, as were Will Broomfield and Andy Whittingham from the side who came from 2-0 down to draw 2-2 away at Lancing on Easter Monday.

Harvey Enticknap, who has proven to be quite the find since being promoted from the Under 23s early in the campaign, was only named among the substitutes with Dan Jacques, Joe Bull, Jake Lindsey and James Littlejohn all coming into Dalgleish’s starting line up.

With so many changes, it was always going to be a tough ask for Hassocks to get anything from a very talented Uckfield side.

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In fact, the Robins could do a lot worse than look at the Oakmen for an example of how you can go from finishing third-bottom of the table to challenging for honours in a relatively short period of time.

The relegation zone was where they found themselves at the end of the 2016-17 season; two years on and they’ve just secured their highest ever finish in senior football of seventh, reached the fourth round of the FA Vase and have a Peter Bentley League Cup final date with Saltdean United to come next Bank Holiday Monday at the Beacon.

Uckfield showed their quality here, racing into a four goal lead in the opening 43 minutes. Ellis Cormack fired an early warning shot when he skimmed Josh Green’s post after some quality build up play from Dee Okojie inside the first 10 minutes.

Okojie was the man who gave the hosts the lead with 14 on the clock, making no mistake from a Callum Smith cross. The second arrived six minutes later when Brett Patton beat Green from distance, after which Hassocks managed to foster a chance of their own as a Liam Benson shot across goal dragged just wide.

Okojie made it 3-0 just before the half hour mark after good work from Bailo Camara and Smith added the fourth two minutes before half time with a low, hard drive that left Green with no chance.

At that point it looked like Uckfield could rack up a score that would be more suited to the up-coming cricket season than a game of football but credit to Hassocks who came out battling after the break and could lay claims to being the better side after the break.

Uckfield’s only chance of note in the second half came when Cormack again hit the woodwork whilst Hassocks had plenty of possession and several half chances but were unable to find a way past their former goalkeeper Alex Harris in the home goal.

Hassocks: Green; Tighe, Jacques, Badger, Blake; Stokes, Mills, Bull; Littlejohn, Benson, Lindsey.

Subs: Spinks, Enticknap, Baden (used), Wickwar (unused).