Hassocks’ return to the FA Vase after a season’s absence was all but over within half an hour of their first ever competitive visit to Horley Town.
In the absence of Ashley Marsh and Tom Barnes, Hassocks were again forced into using Josh Hawkes as an emergency centre back and the defence were soon creaking under a bombardment of crosses from both flanks.
With just seven minutes gone Horley stuck one on the scoreboard as a Mark Bevan cross from the left was headed in by Kyle Hough and seven minutes after that it was two in virtually identical circumstances, the only difference being this time the ball came in from the right hand side via Hough with Ryan Brackpool the gleeful recipient.
Goal three had a helping hand from the referee as he incensed Hassocks by missing a clear foul on Jordan Badger as the defender attempted to clear with the result being the loose ball being fired home by Richard Whetton. That that wasn’t the worse decision of the afternoon spoke volumes for the day the man in the middle had.
30 minutes gone, 3-0 down and Hassocks belatedly began to play. They dominated proceedings from that point and should have had a penalty, a rash tackle in the box leading to howls of protests and Horley players berating their own team mate for his stupidity in lunging in. The result? A goal kick.
Horley hardly had a kick in the opening exchanges of the second half as the excellent James Westlake began to run the show and they were even more under the cosh once the pace of Jamie Hillwood and Ben Bacon had been introduced from the bench in a double change just prior to the hour mark.
Hassocks are understandably fragile in the confidence department since their flying start to the season has come to a stuttering halt in the last few weeks but they had nothing to lose in terms of giving it a right go with the best two of a plethora of chances falling to Bacon and Nathan Miles in a two minute period around midway through.
But investing so much in trying to get back into the game left them prone to the counter and that is exactly what happened with 15 minutes left to pay as any hopes of an unlikely comeback were all but dashed by Whetton as he - surprise, surprise - headed home a Liam Cox cross.
Hassocks added some respectability to the scoreline with two goals in the final 10 minutes, Jamie Hillwood firing home from the edge of the box and then Hawkes converting from the spot after the Robins were finally deemed worthy of a penalty.
Despite that disastrous opening spell which cost Hassocks any chance of winning the tie, it was the officials who were on the end of most of Phil Wickwar’s ire at the final whistle. “We were on the wrong end of two of the worst decisions I’ve seen in years which really did kill us.”
“We got it wrong tactically in the first half but we can take a decent second half performance away with us. At least it is something to build on.”
Hassocks: Broadbent; Mills, Hawkes, Badger, Akehurst; Price; J Westlake, Bant; Gault; Death, Miles.
Subs: Bacon, Hillwood (used), Stokes, Tighe, L Westlake (unused).
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