Haywards Heath 1, Shoreham 2: O'Toole's brace decides big clash

Callum Saunders runs at the Shoreham defence. Haywards Heath Town v Shoreham. Picture by Grahame Lehkyj

Callum Saunders runs at the Shoreham defence. Haywards Heath Town v Shoreham. Picture by Grahame Lehkyj

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It may be too soon to bill this clash of second v first as a title decider, but Shoreham certainly resembled champions as a powerful second half performance overturned a goal deficit and inflicted Haywards Heath Town’s first home defeat since the beginning of last season.

On a day in which it was announced that both protagonists had applied for promotion, it was also a victory which also moved the Musselmen eight points clear at the top of the Southern Combination Premier and sent a signal of intent to the chasing pack.

This was a match that promised drama, although on occasion what we got was almost pantomime. A six minute delay to kick off whilst the referee insisted that the Shoreham net was more securely pinned down was later followed by a two minute stoppage when all of the match balls went missing- one was eventually retrieved from behind some parked cars at the far end of the ground. Added to this a further break when the referee injured himself and had to be replaced by one of his assistants (who in turn was replaced by a young lady in the crowd who had turned up to spectate but ended up running the line in the shadow of Hanbury Park’s cavernous old grandstand), six yellow cards, a twenty one player shoving match shortly before the final whistle and all three goals scored by players starting against their former clubs, and perhaps all that was missing was the appearance of Captain Hook and Widow Twanky.

Heath went into the half time break a goal to the good, and deservedly so.

The breakthrough came in the ninth minute, and was created- as were nearly all of the home sides chances- by the hard work of striker Trevor McCreadie.

A minute earlier he had forced Shoreham keeper Josh Heyburn into a one handed save, and when the ball was worked back to him again with the same result teammate Alex Laing was waiting to blast the ball goalwards. Heyburn again got a hand to it, but on this occasion was unable to keep it out. For the rest of the half Shoreham pressed without looking particularly threatening and Heath looked dangerous on the break, but neither were able to add to the tally.

Shoreham manager Bryan O’Toole demonstrated intent by making two changes at half time, and his side went into full scale attack immediately from the restart and were soon level.

The pantomime villain of the piece was Rob O’Toole, and Heath defender Tom Graves must have wished that someone from the crowd had shouted “he's behind you” as the striker, scorer of 30 league goals for Heath last season, appeared at the back post to power home a header. O’Toole sent another header against the bar two minutes later as Shoreham piled on the pressure, but the game seemed to be petering out into a draw with three minutes to go as the same player received the ball on the left hand side of the box. Graves was in attendance and made forceful attempts to block, but O’Toole powered along the eighteen yard line before curling a delightful low shot just inside the keepers left hand post.

Seven minutes of added time saw the Shoreham players holding the ball repeatedly in the corner, the shoving match mentioned earlier and the continual shouts of the away bench for the replacement referee to blow his whistle, but in truth Heyburn’s goal was rarely threatened and the match ended with no further goals, and Shoreham celebrated as if they'd actually won the league.

They hadn't, but on this evidence you wouldn't want to bet against it.