With league leaders Storrington’s match being postponed it was the first opportunity Heath had this season to top the league with a win at Midhurst.
After last week’s tight 1-0 win Manager Shaun Saunders named a changed starting line-up rotating several players. Simon Lehkyj once again started in Goal, A back line of Bailie Rogers, Andy Wilkinson, Nathan Cooper and a return to the starting line-up for Mike Gardner. Carl Dunk was partnered by club Skipper Matt Geard who made his first start since Steyning Town. Completing the midfield were Callum Saunders and Jamie Weston who returned after working away last week. Up front Rob O’Toole was alongside Ryan Warwick. The bench consisted of Danny Turner back after serving a one match suspension, Josh Bryant, Scott Marshall and Freddie Barker. Heath were missing Max Miller who had to withdraw from the squad on Saturday morning due to illness.
Despite the difficult conditions under foot Heath soon got to grips and knuckled down to the task ahead, Midhurst although towards the wrong end of the table looked up for the game and always looked threatening when breaking forward.
Heath broke the deadlock very early when after only 6 minutes Mike Gardner looked to play in Ryan Warwick but with the ball seeming like it was going dead Ryan Warwick poked out a leg from on the ground and put the ball into Callum Saunders path, his first time ball in found Jamie Weston on the six yard box that between defender and keeper blocked a certain goal but the loose ball bobbled across the six yard box and Rob O’Toole was there to stab the ball home.
Heath continued to control possession but Midhurst were getting bodies behind the ball and making it hard for Heath to find a way through, Heath often reverted to the more direct style and on 15 minutes Carl Dunk released Rob O’Toole, he cut inside and was tripped just inside the box (confirmed by the Midhurst keeper) but the referee adjudged it to be just outside and so only a free kick was awarded. The resulting free kick from Carl Dunk deflected off the wall and Rob O’Toole then found the corner of the net only for celebrations to be cut short with a hugely debatable offside flag.
On 23 minutes Midhurst started to make waves of getting back into the game, playing on the break quick passing around the Heath box released the midfielder and Simon Lehkyj was called into action to save well low down to his right.
On 27 minutes Heath left back Bailie Rogers was in nose bleed territory but his final strike lacked the cutting edge required.
Heath continued to look for that important 2nd goal but the Midhurst keeper was up to everything put his way, on 29 minutes Callum Saunders saw his good volley blocked by the covering defender before Ryan Warwick saw his follow up shot well saved.
Heath’s best chance of the half to double their lead came on the 31st minutes as Matt Geard played the perfect through ball that Rob O’Toole latched onto and raced clear but as he took the strike the recovering defender put in a great last ditch sliding tackle.
Midhurst started to mount some more pressure on the Heath back line which both Nathan Cooper and Andy Wilkinson marshalled well, Heath’s next chance came from a Midhurst corner that was cleared and Callum Saunders was released but as he got into the box he once again found the Midhurst keeper in good form and he made the save at the angle.
With just under 10 minutes of the half remaining Simon Lehkyj was again called into action as he made a good save to his right as Midhurst looked to get back on level terms before the break.
The Midhurst pressure paid off with 40 minutes gone as Heath were left scratching their heads as they switched off for a moment and the Midhurst player drove into the box and left Simon Lehkyj with no chance with the strike.
As the half drew to a close it was the home side who finished stronger as Simon Lehkyj made a regulation save and Heath supporters wondered why possession had not turned into goals.
Heath emerged for the second half and settled down straight away, their play was more controlled and flowed even on the difficult surface, this drew the home side into committing several heavy tackles that resulted in free kicks for Heath.
With 57 minutes played pressure was starting to mount on the Midhurst back line, Callum Saunders whipped in a great cross that seemed to evade everyone in the box, Ryan Warwick picked up the loose ball out wide and his cross found the arriving Matt Geard 8 yards out but his header was straight at the Midhurst shot stopper.
Heath made their first substitution on 59 minutes with Freddie Barker replacing Bailie Rogers and Heath shuffling the pack.
On 61 minutes Heath had a second goal ruled out and again it was Rob O’Toole. A high ball into the box by Mike Gardner saw Rob O’Toole jump with the keeper and the ball slip through his hands that Rob O’Toole fired into the empty net but the linesman had raised his flag for a foul on the keeper.
Midhurst’s attacks had been reduced with the Heath back line standing firm but on 63 minutes they did break well and the strikers final shot was well held by Simon Lehkyj.
The big turning point and slice of luck Heath needed happened just two minutes later, Matt Geard looked to release Freddie Barker with a ball over the top which the keeper seemed to have covered but as the ball bounced it hit a divot that left the keeper flat footed which Freddie Barker was first to react to, he then cut inside and fired the ball past the covering defenders.
On 68 minutes Scott Marshall replaced Carl Dunk in the heart of the midfield.
With 15 minutes of the match remaining it was a the Midhurst keeper keeping Heath at bay as again he pulled off a fine save from Rob O’Toole after Ryan Warwick found the league’s top scorer.
On 77 minutes the game was settled as a contest and in fine form, Callum Saunders delivered a good free kick in from the left hand corner which Nathan Cooper met on the penalty spot, his header went back towards Freddie Barker and he executed a brilliantly timed overhead kick that left the keeper with no chance.
Danny Turner then replaced Jamie Weston as the nippy winger made his return from suspention last week.
A frantic last few minutes could have seen Heath add 4 more goals but it wasn’t to be, first Freddie Barker was set free after breaking the offside trap and with just the keeper to beat for a hat-trick he couldn’t get it past the on rushing keepers legs.
Ryan Warwick and Callum Saunders then combined before fining Rob O’Toole with the cross but his header drifted wide of the target.
Next was the save of the game as Freddie Barker released Callum Saunders who ran at the Midhurst back line before pulling the trigger from 18 yards, the strike was heading low at pace to the bottom corner before fingers of the Midhurst number one turned it onto the post.
Callum Saunders was not to be denied a goal though as with almost the final kick of the game Scott Marshall found Freddie Barker at the far post and his shot from a tight angle was again well saved but Callum Saunders was there to poach the rebound and add to his tally for the season.
Man Of The Match – Andy Wilkinson was solid all game and just shaded the award from today’s super sub Freddie Barker who scored two but could have had four.
Afterwards Manager Shaun Saunders summed up “It was really difficult underfoot for the players today and I thought we were too direct in the first half but once we got the ball down and played we showed the quality I expect out of the players”
Next up for Heath is a trip to Crawley Down Gatwick next Saturday 3pm Kick Off at The Haven Centre