Shoreham have been widely tipped be there or there abouts come the end of this Southern Combination League Premier Division season and if that holds true then on the basis of Hassocks’ performance at Middle Road, the Robins should be looking at a much improved finishing position than their normal lower mid-table berth.
They could quite feasibly have become the first side to take a point off the Mussels this season were it not for the dismissal of Tom Barnes just past the hour mark.
Barnes was shown two yellow cards in the space of 10 seconds of play, the first coming when he tangled with Ben Swetman out on the right hand touchline. There could be few arguments about the award of a free kick for that, but given that up until that point Mr Tulley had allowed the game to go on with far more meaty offences not resulting in him going to his pocket, a booking did seem a little harsh.
From the resulting free kick, the ball was played short to Scott Packer who let an absolute rocket of a shot go from the edge of the box.
Of course, it headed straight for the hapless Barnes who turned his back and raised his arms to protect his head from a potential decapitation such was the velocity of Packer’s effort and, despite the fact that not even Usain Bolt would have been quick enough to get out of the way, Mr Tulley ruled it a deliberate handball denying a goal scoring opportunity and out come the second yellow and with it, Barnes was forced into a bewildering retreat from the field.
Justice of sorts was served when former Eastbourne United Association goalkeeper James Broadbent, who was absolutely outstanding on his Hassocks debut, produced a breathtaking stop from Kevin Keehan’s spot kick, clawing it out of the top corner but from that point on the Robins were hugely up against it, playing the last 30 minutes with 10 men in sweltering conditions.
Hassocks had clearly done their homework on a Shoreham side who appeared cumbersome at the back, moving Phil Gault into the hole behind the front two and trying to utilise the pace of Jamie Hillwood and Ben Bacon up top and it nearly paid dividends inside the first 15 minutes, the latter slipping through the former who ran clear only to be denied by the outstretched leg of Josh Heyburn.
It was a first half of few chances as both sides kept the ball well but could do little with it in the final third until Shoreham took the lead five minutes before the break, Mr Tulley appearing to ironically miss a foul on Barnes in the build up as Packer skipped away to pull back for George Gaskin who fired home.
Gaskin rattled the crossbar in first half injury time and Shoreham began the second half impressively with the Robins indebted to Broadbent for keeping them in the game, making a brilliant stop from Swetman at the back post and then spreading himself well to deny the same player as he charged through the middle.
Having survived that early siege of their goal, Hassocks equalised on 55 minutes. A lovely free kick delivery from James Westlake saw Heyburn have a right flap at the ball under pressure from the colossus Jordan Badger and it eventually dropped to Bacon who sizzled one through a crowd of players on the line for 1-1.
Barnes’ red card followed with the Hassocks bench reacting immediately, sacrificing Hillwood for another defender in debutant Harry Mills but they could survive just eight minutes at 1-1 playing shorthanded, Keehan atoning for his earlier miss by sending a powerful strike which ultimately proved to be the winner through a crowd of players after Phil Gault’s weak clearance form a corner.
“We are happy with the performance,” boss Phil Wickwar said afterwards. “The sending off was nonsense but we reacted brilliant to play 30 minutes with 10 men and were worth a point. Sometimes football goes against you - it just makes the next game massive.”
Hassocks: Broadbent; Barnes, Marsh, Badger, Akehurst; Hawkes; J Westlake, Stokes; Gault; Hillwood, Bacon.
Subs: Mills (Hillwood), Death (Bacon), Bant, Tighe, L Westlake (unused).
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