Haywards Heath Town were made to grind out a 1-0 win against a stubborn Ringmer side on a cold day at Hanbury.
The game hung in the balance until about 2:15pm as the match officials checked and re-checked the partly frozen area in front of the main stand, after much discussion between themselves and officials from both teams it was given the green light.
Manager Shaun Saunders was forced into one change from the previous week with Jamie Weston working away, Josh Bryant was recalled and Andy Wilkinson moved out wide. Heath lined up with Simon Lehkyj in goal a back line of Bailie Rogers, Josh Bryant, Nathan Cooper and Scott Marshall. Carl Dunk skippered the side with Freddie Barker Callum Saunders and Andy Wilkinson all around him. Rob O’Toole and Ryan Warwick were in the advanced positions. The bench consisted of Mike Gardner, Matt Geard, Tom Graves, Max Miller and Alfie Rogers.
It was clear from the start that Ringmer had set up not to let Heath in, the game was delayed at every opportunity and Ringmer shut down space with bodies behind the ball. This all lead to Heath controlling possession and Ringmer relying on long balls and counter attacks.
The first opportunity of the game came on 6 minutes but Rob O’Toole couldn’t quite make proper contact with Callum Saunders cross.
Freddie Barker was working hard and winning back a lot of loose balls, on 10 minutes he did well in the corner before driving into the box but his low cross was well collected by the Ringmer keeper just in front of Rob O’Toole.
On 19 minutes Ringmer made their first real attack of the afternoon but after the striker managed to get past Scott Marshall and Josh Bryant he could only slice his cross out of play for a goal kick.
The game was real stop start as little fouls kept meant flowing football could not happen. On 23 minutes the Ringmer keeper was called into action as he saved well from a Callum Saunders free kick.
The Heath pressure continued and Rob O’Toole was next to test the keeper as his strike from distance was spilled by the Ringmer number one but he did well to recover just before Bailie Rogers pounced on the loose ball.
Heath’s good spell of pressure really should have produced a goal as on 27 minutes Freddie Barker received the ball from Andy Wilkinson before he cut the ball back where Bailie Rogers had his strike blocked before Rob O’Toole follow up was saved.
As half time approached the frustration was beginning to show as again Freddie Barker unselfishly pulled the ball back but Ryan Warwick fired over the bar and then on the stroke of half time Callum Saunders found time and space in the visitor’s box but his strike also flew over the bar.
Word of the early kick off result rang around Hanbury as leaders Crawley Down Gatwick had gone down 2-1 away at Selsey but the question was could the Heath side break down the resolute Ringmer team.
It was going to be a second half short of clear cut chances but not short of trying, on 50 minutes Andy Wilkinson did well on the left and his low cross found Rob O’Toole but his effort drifted wide of the right hand post.
Ringmer saw their best chance of the day go wide on 54 minutes as the counter attack found the striker but he dragged his shot past Simon Lehkyj’s right hand post.
Just after the hour Heath had a big shout for a penalty waved away as Ryan Warwick was bundled over inside the box.
Frustrations grew as both Callum Saunders and Scott Marshall picked up needless bookings.
With 15 minutes remaining manager Shaun Saunders made his first change of the afternoon with Max Miller returning for the first time since 5th December replacing Freddie Barker.
This change had the desired effect as the fresh legs gave the Ringmer back line something else to think about and just 2 minutes later the deadlock was finally broken. Callum Saunders found Scott Marshall on the right and his deep cross found Max Miller on the edge of the 6 yard box, he rose well and his header looped over the Ringmer keeper and into the back of the net despite some desperate goal line attempted clearance.
For the first time in the afternoon Ringmers play was suddenly sped up with urgency and pace, a late tackle saw Josh Bryant receive a yellow card and this then followed with Tom Graves replacing him for the final 9 minutes.
Scott Marshall was just centimetres from opening his goal account in a Heath shirt as he saw rasping low drive from 20 yards cannon off the post and as Rob O’Toole scrambled the loose ball across goal Max Miller poked it home on the line. Celebrations were short lived as the linesman has spotted an infringement on the keeper and a free kick was awarded.
The final action of the match happened again in the Ringmer box but Callum Saunders could not find a way past the Ringmer Keeper.
Man Of The Match – Ryan Warwick – Worked hard and covered much of the pitch going both forwards and back.
Afterwards Manager Shaun Saunders summed up “We knew that Ringmer would be a tough physical side, they kept to their game plan of men behind the ball and taking time over everything, and we had to persevere and work hard to break them down and got the three points in the end. It certainly wasn’t the best football we have played but the result is the important thing”
Next up for Heath is a trip to Midhurst and Easebourne next Saturday in an early 2pm kick off.
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