Haywards Heath Town continued to keep pace with leaders Shoreham as manager Shaun Saunders is pleased with three points and a clean sheet at Loxwood.
As expected the Loxwood pitch looked in good condition albeit slightly heavy but for December it continued to provide a good surface for both teams to play on.
Loxwood currently sitting in 6th place prior to today’s match were always going to be well drilled with the calibre of their manager and know how to find the back of the net having scored 10 times in their last three games, Heath though still boast the best defensive record in the league to date and continue to create many chances at the other end.
Last week saw probably the quickest goal of the season with Heath conceding after 15 seconds and today probably saw the quickest booking as the Loxwood left back took out Callum Saunders with a shove inside a minute and the referee deemed it a yellow card. This set up a difficult afternoon for the official as managing player and supporter expectations were now judged at every foul.
Both sides had good opportunities early on, Alex Laing saw his strike deflected and then well saved on Heath first sight of goal. Loxwood then went up the other end and a good strike from Charlie Pitcher was only parried into the air by James Shaw but Josh Spinks was on hand to head off the line before the Loxwood strike partner could nod the ball in.
Loxwood saw a header on goal drift wide on 6 minute then on 10 Heath went close as Trevor McCreadie lost his marker but could only head against the post, the recycled ball saw Callum Saunders effort headed off the line.
Heath kept the pressure on the Loxwood goal with Callum Saunders strike saved down low and then another strike blocked well, Trevor McCreadie then had is headed well defended as it drifted over the bar.
Alex Laing tried his luck from 20 yards but the ball just cleared the bar without the Loxwood keeper troubled. The hosts then had a good chance on 24 minutes but the striker couldn’t keep his header down.
As the half progressed both side were battling in what was a competitive game but due to the early yellow card every foul saw players and supporters asking questions of the referee. On 33 minutes the Loxwood centre half picked up a booking for handball, the resulting freekick from Alex Laing was just wide of the post.
As the half entered the final five minutes both Trevor McCreadie and Jamie Weston picked up yellow cards to even the card count at 2-2.
On the stroke of half time the deadlock was broken, A Loxwood freekick deep in the Heath half was cleared to the feet of Kane Louis, his quick look up saw the run of Alex Laing through the centre, Laing got to the ball just before the defender and in a shoulder to shoulder race toe poked the ball past the advancing keeper to give Heath the lead going into the break.
Heath started the second half really well and the game was just five minutes old when Heath doubled their lead. A well worked move found Callum Saunders who had time to pick out Alex Laing, he set himself and fired into the bottom corner from 18 yards.
Two minutes after the game re started Callum Saunders was unlucky not to get on the scoresheet with a good strike but the keeper was equal to it making a good save at his near post.
The game settled down with the hosts having a succession of corners that Heath needed to defend well, at the other end Nathan Cooper saw his header clear the bar getting on the end of a Jamie Weston free kick.
Loxwood saw a free kick from 25 yards gathered well by James Shaw in the Heath goal on 63 minutes. A minute later Callum Saunders was left bemused as Karly Akehurst’s strike ended up at the feet of Saunders but he couldn’t react quick enough to get a shot in from 6 yards out.
Loxwood’s way back into the game was made that much harder on 71 minutes when the left back who was booked early on in the game went in late on Josh Spinks and left the referee with no option but to produce a second yellow card.
Heath again pressed the now 10 man Loxwood with Alex Laing first shooting wide and then heading against the bar as he searched for his hat trick.
Heath introduced some fresh legs with George Hayward replacing Karly Akehurst, Loxwood then saw a good strike well held by James Shaw on 82 minutes. Heath then played out and Trevor McCreadie was released as he checked his run in the box he was caught by the covering defender and the referee immediately pointed to the spot. Callum Saunders stepped up and made no mistake from 15 yards firing into the top corner.
Bailie Rogers and Ryan Warwick then replaced Callum Saunders and Alex Laing with just over six minutes to play.
Loxwood had a good chance for a consolation in the final minute of normal time, Tom Graves conceded a free kick for which he also picked up a yellow card for, the ball in wasn’t held by James Shaw and fell nicely at the feet of the Loxwood player but his rash strike flew over the bar.
Heath Man Of The Match – Alex Laing, another brace of goals in a Heath shirt as the winger enjoys his football and is a constant threat to the opposition back line.
Afterwards manager Shaun Saunders said “Again I’m delighted with the three points and more importantly the clean sheet, both sets of players were committed out there today and it was an entertaining game. I would still like to see us convert more chances but we have set our own bench mark high and achieving that every week is not always going to be possible but we will keep taking it one game at a time in a very competitive league.”
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