Haywards Heath Town were pleased to leave Old Barn Way with all three points after overcoming difficult conditions under foot and tough opposition Southwick.
Manager Shaun Saunders made just one change from last week as club captain Matt Geard started in place of Carl Dunk who away this week. Simon Lehkyj once again started in Goal, A back line of Bailie Rogers, Tom Graves, Nathan Cooper and Josh Bryant remained unchanged.
Matt Geard skippered the side and was partnered by Ryan Warwick in the middle. Completing the midfield were Danny Turner keeping his place after last week’s brace and Callum Saunders. Up front was Rob O’Toole and alongside him Freddie Barker. The bench consisted of Jamie Weston, Max Miller and Jordan Harris. Heath were also without Scott Marshall, Mike Gardner and Andy Wilkinson all away.
Southwick started the brighter of the sides as Heath tried to get the ball and play but the pitch wasn’t geared up for that, Southwick’s direct approach was keeping the back line of Nathan Cooper and Tom Graves on their toes and put in several good blocks that the resulting corners came to nothing.
With only 8 minutes played it was however Heath that opened the scoring, after a foul 25 yards out Callum Saunders sent the free kick into the box, the defender beat Freddie Barker in the air but the header fell to Ryan Warwick on the edge of the box and his strike was turned in by Rob O’Toole just 6 yards out leaving the Southwick keeper going in the opposite direction.
The goal seemed to lift Heath as they almost instantly doubled it, Freddie Barker was set free but the keeper reached the ball 20 yards out just before the Heath striker, his clearance however was poor and only found Rob O’Toole. The league’s top scorer took a first time strike from 40 yards which looked like it was going in until the Southwick keeper made a sliding stop on the line.
Callum Saunders was next to go close from a direct free kick but the ball was just wide of the upright.
The game settled down with defences on top and little creative flair to speak of, with play on the ground very difficult both sides looked to play more direct.
On 24 minutes Rob O’Toole found Danny Turner but he wasn’t able to add to his two goals last week as his strike drifted wide.
Again chances for any side were at a premium until just before the end of the half, on 42 minutes Southwick’s direct play almost paid off as they finally breached the Heath back line as the striker got away from Tom Graves but his early strike didn’t trouble Simon Lehkyj as it flew wide.
As half time approached a Callum Saunders free kick caused confusion as two Southwick defenders left the ball for each other and Rob O’Toole nipped in but his strike was off target and not able to make it 30 goals in 30 games.
The final chance of the half came direct from a Callum Saunders corner which the keeper did well to turn away.
After the break Heath came out and changed their normal passing game to much more direct, with just 2 minutes played Matt Geard tested the keeper from distance which was comfortably saved.
Southwick seemed to then up their game, on 52 minutes some good play by the home side saw the striker get free but his lobbed effort beat not only Simon Lehkyj but the bar also. A minute later Heath were again given a warning as the striker connected really well with a ball at the angle but it also flew high and wide.
The two sides were trading blows at both ends as well as in the middle of the park, on 55 minutes an air-shot from Freddie Barker rolled kindly to Callum Saunders but the Southwick keeper was again equal to the close range shot saving well with his feet.
57 minutes on the clock saw Heath make their first change of the afternoon with Max Miller replacing Freddie Barker.
A minute later Southwick again went knocking on the Heath door looking for an equaliser but again blazed over the bar.
On 63 minutes Heath finally extended their lead, Callum Saunders corner again cause panic on the Southwick goal line which the keeper managed to just push out but only to the 6 yard line that Nathan Cooper smashed into the back of the net.
Heath made their second change of the afternoon with Jamie Weston replacing Callum Saunders.
Southwick now chasing the game pushed bodies up front which almost had a immediate impact as Rob O’Toole was forced to head the ball off the line to preserve Heath’s two goal advantage.
As the game entered the final 13 minutes Rob O’Toole beat two Southwick defenders in the corner before driving into the box but somehow his low cross was missed by both Max Miller and Danny Turner.
On 82 minutes Southwick pulled a goal back, the initial shot was not held by Simon Lehkyj and the follow up shot was sent towards goal that looked like Tom Graves did fantastic to clear, lots of appeals from the Southwick team and bench but play continued and the ball went out for a throw, at that point the appeals made the referee confer with his assistant who had not signalled that the ball had crossed the line but after conversation a goal was given to the amusement of the Heath personnel.
Southwick now threw everything at Heath but failed to create another chance, with it so open Heath were able to get in behind Southwick, Rob O’Toole got a good cross in but Max Millers header drifted wide of the target.
The pair were linking up really well now and Rob O’Toole released Max Miller but his strike from a tight angle was again well saved.
Max Millers pace was now causing Southwick problems and after again racing clear seemed to be bundled over from behind but the referee waved play on.
As the game entered injury time Ryan Warwick had a good strike from the edge of the box but was well held by the Southwick keeper.
The final chance of the game saw Max Miller find some space in the box but again a combination of keeper and defender made an important block on the line.
Man Of The Match – Nathan Cooper– Solid performance at the back and a powerful strike to make it 2-0.
Afterwards Manager Shaun Saunders said: “It was a difficult game on a really difficult surface that both sides had to try and deal with, Southwick had their chances but their keeper was far busier than Simon.
“I was disappointed with the goal we conceded as the assistant referee didn’t give any signal at the time or immediately after that the ball had crossed the line then seemed to change when questioned, it set up a tense last 10 minutes but we could have scored a couple more as Southwick through men forwards. Overall it was an ugly win but with the pitch as it was the points were more important than the performance today.”
Next up for Heath is second placed Crawley Down Gatwick League One action as the sides go head for the second time this season on Saturday March 5 3pm kick off.
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