Late Phil Johnson brace sees Hassocks beat Hailsham Town

FOOTBALL: Sussex County Football League Division One. Hassocks FC v Hailsham Town FC. Action from the match. Picture: Liz Pearce. LP310115FBH03 SUS-150102-125227008
FOOTBALL: Sussex County Football League Division One. Hassocks FC v Hailsham Town FC. Action from the match. Picture: Liz Pearce. LP310115FBH03 SUS-150102-125227008
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This was a must win game for Hassocks in their quest to avoid a bottom three finish and although they made hard work of it for the opening 70 minutes, they did eventually pull through to defeat Hailsham Town 3-1.

The Stringers arrived one place and two points better off than their hosts in 17th spot and while there remains over a quarter of the campaign to be played, this really did represent one of those fabled six pointers in the battle to avoid relegation to County League Division Two.

These two had met at the Beacon already this season when floodlight problems meant Hailsham had to surrender home advantage in an encounter that Hassocks dominated but ultimately failed to take their chances in with the result being a 1-1 draw and spoils shared.

And it looked like it could be a case of history repeating itself until three goals in the final 20 minutes overhauled the visitors early lead to secure a vital three points for Mark Dalgleish and Phil Wickwar’s men - the latter describing it as his sides best performance of the season.

All of the notable action in the first 45 came within the opening 10 minutes, Rowan Wallis blasting wide after a Mark Price corner caused chaos in the box inside 90 seconds and Phil Johnson wastefully striking the upper 90 when he found himself with time and space six yards out from a Tom Davess cross with only Tom Betts in the Stringers goal to beat.

In between those two squandered gilt edged chances Jack Duvall had given Hailsham the lead, hitting a rasping volley from the edge of the box that cannoned in off the post to leave George Willett in the Robins goal with no chance.

Hassocks were denied what looked to be a cast iron penalty six minutes after the restart when Betts failed to hold a Mark Price effort and Johnson was hauled down by the goalkeeper as he attempted to gather the lose ball.

Referee Craig Simpson made up for that non award when he pointed to the spot shortly after, the rampaging Ashley Marsh popping up on the left wing to slip in Price who went down under minimal contact but Nick Pitcher’s powerful penalty was kept out brilliantly by Betts diving full stretch to his right.

The visiting goalkeeper then denied Johnson one on one with his legs and Ellis Common made a superb last ditch block to divert a Danny Leach effort wide before the Robins stormed back into the contest in the most emphatic of fashions.

Price had looked lively all afternoon popping up down both flanks and he got the goal his performance merited when firing home from a Bradley Bant cross, after which it became the Johnson show.

When the pacey Robins striker gets in this sort of mood he can be unplayable as Hailsham found to their cost, his first arriving on 75 when he latched onto a long ball over the top far out on the right channel, cut inside beating three men in the process before slotting home through the legs of Betts from the acutest of angles.

He was scythed down twice more when his speed caused panic in the visiting backline, one of which resulted in a second yellow card for a Stringers defender before the game was made safe, substitute Ryan Collins cleverly getting out of the way of play allowing Johnson to ride another hard challenge that had he have gone down from would surely have resulted in a penalty to skip past Betts and roll into an empty net.

There was a debut late on for promising youth team striker Jack Wilkins who showed a similar turn of foot to Johnson and while the three points were on the board, Wickwar admitted afterwards, “there is plenty of hard work ahead of us and we need to continue to fight for every point”, starting next week in another huge game against rock bottom Selsey.

Hassocks: Willett; Common, Marsh, Wallis, Jacques; Price, Barnes, Pitcher, Bant, Davess; Johnson.

Subs: Collins (Davess 69), Tighe (Price 87), Wilkins (Bant 88), P Wickwar (unused).

Starman: Phil Johnson for that final 20 minutes.