Hassocks’ reputation as being notoriously slow starters when it comes to getting wins on the board took a besmerching on Saturday as they secured their first opening day win since 2013, overcoming Wick 2-1 at Crabtree Park.
Mercurial forward Jamie Hillwood was the hero on a barmy day in the west of the county, his brace inside the opening half hour paving the way for the three points with some resilient defending late on ensuring that Wick couldn’t force an equaliser after Kieron Playe-Howard had pulled one back with 20 minutes left to play.
It’s been a mixed bag in terms of results in pre-season for Hassocks as the side attempted to get to grips with a new-look diamond midfield introduced by former Brighton and Hove Albion captain Paul Rogers who has been helping out on the coaching side over the summer.
Hillwood looks to have been one of the main beneficiaries of that new shape, being positioned at the top of the diamond and if this performance was anything to by, he looks set to thrive in a far more central role than he has previously occupied when positioned out on the left flank.
His first goal came with 20 minutes played. It has been hard to keep track of the amount of goals the Robins have conceded from substandard marking from set pieces over the last two seasons but the boot was on the other foot here, Hillwood rising to head home a splendid corner delivery from James Westlake.
Four minutes later and Hillwood had his and Hassocks’ second of the afternoon. Former Haywards Heath Town man Ben Bacon had a hugely impressive debut up front with Nathan Miles and it was he who did well to work his way down the right and pull back for Hillwood to sweep home on his arrival in the box. It was no more than the Robins deserved for their flying start to the game, to which Wick appeared to have no answer.
That was until Playe-Howard netted. No prizes for guessing how the goal came about - yes, it was another set piece; Andy Chick’s delightful free kick whipped straight onto the head of Playe-Howard to set up a nervey last 20.
Having to defend wave after wave of Wick attacks would have been a tough enough ask with a full compliment of natural defenders but Hassocks are a little short in the centre back department at the moment with Tom Barnes and new signing Ben Palmer both away and Nick Pitcher still on the long term injury list.
Josh Hawkes stepped into the breach alongside captain Ashley Marsh and those two along with goalkeeper Alex Harris and full backs Bradley Tighe and Luke Akehurst were excellent in frustrating Wick’s quest for a leveller.
And that frustration eventually boiled over as the clock ticked down, Chick producing what can only be described as a horror lunge on Hillwood which ensured some opening day handbags as players from both sides came together in a heated exchange with Chick eventually going into the book for his troubles.
Hassocks: Harris; Tighe, Marsh, Hawkes, Akehurst; Price; J Westlake, Stokes; Hillwood; Miles, Bacon.
Subs: L Westlake (Price), Death (Miles), Stevenson, Bant, Pryor (unused).
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