After 10 games without a win, Hassocks made it nine points out of a possible 12 and with it took Mid Sussex bragging rights after a 6-0 victory over St Francis Rangers at Colwell Road on Monday.
Rangers troubles this season have been well documented – 20 defeats out of 20 and a goal difference of -135 coming into derby day – but new boss Kai Birchard has set about rebuilding his squad and that was in evidence as a plethora of new faces saw his side gave their best performance to date.
They were helped in that regard by Hassocks being nowhere near the top of their game. That may sound ridiculous given the final score but the Robins will know that they got the job done without ever really hitting top gear and had they of taken the glut of chances they created throughout the 90 minutes, it isn’t inconceivable that they could have hit double figures for the first time in the top flight of the Southern Combination League.
Jamie Hillwood gave Hassocks the lead with 10 minutes played when he headed home a superb Michael Death cross but from the restart Rangers went straight up the other end with Spencer Slaughter’s timely headed clearance at the far post the only thing between Junior Abod and an open goal.
Phil Gault added the second with a quarter of an hour played, brilliantly bringing down Bradley Tighe’s right wing cross with his chest before unleashing a volley into the top corner.
The Robins could have been out of sight before the midpoint of the first half but Kevin Page in the Rangers goal used his legs to good effect to keep out one-on-ones from Bradley Bant and Death and when he was beaten the crossbar came to his rescue, Gault defying the laws of geometry to rattle the frame of the goal from the acutest of angles after rounding the goalkeeper.
Further opportunities in the opening 45 were plentiful for the Robins, Page was once again quick off his line to dispossess Hillwood after he was played through by Tighe’s slide rule pass and yet another excellent delivery from the young right back, this time from a free kick just inside the Rangers half, caused chaos as Rowan Wallis rose with the grace of a gazelle to head just wide.
Rangers nearly had one back after finally managing to end Hassocks’ siege of the clubhouse end, a long throw ripping off the surface to bounce over the six foot plus frame of the gangly Wallis and with Alex Harris unable to gather the Robins were relieved to see it scrambled behind for a corner from which centre back Phil Williamson hit a vicious volley just over the bar.
Death had two opportunities to kill the game off on the stroke of half time, firstly sending a free header over from Bant’s corner and then taking a vicious swing which only succeeded in connecting with thin air after another scampering run forward from Tighe.
Rangers had their best chance of the morning straight from the resumption of play for the second half as Hassocks appeared to have left their minds in the changing room, a well worked move leaving Thomas Johnson with the goal at his mercy but he snatched at the chance which dribbled wide as a result.
The Robins punished that miss as within three minutes they made it 3-0, Gault’s scooped ball through coming off a defender to leave Death in on goal and he finished with a delightful lob over the advancing Page.
With the match all but over, Hassocks took the opportunity to give some extended game time to promising youth team striker Jack Wilkins and he was instantly into proceedings, battling to win back possession which allowed Gault to hit a low curling effort from the edge of the box against the post.
Johnson had another great chance to score what would have been Rangers’ third goal of the season but he sent his free header from a Dave Harris free kick over the bar with the game then ebbing and flowing straight up the other end where Wilkins played in Gault who rode a last man tackle before sliding the ball under Page for his second and Hassocks’ fourth.
And four became five two minutes later, Spencer Slaughter coming away with possession after a strong tackle, dancing around two men and then slipping in Death who finished neatly.
Minutes later and Death was given the chance to claim a hat-trick after Page’s poor goal kick fell at his feet but rather than drive forward into what would have been a one-on-one opportunity, he elected to shoot first time with the resultant effort causing more concern to the new housing estate at the back of the ground than the goal.
Clashes between these two used to produce more cards than Paul Daniels on tour but Rangers’ new recruitment policy means that the familiarity that used to exist as players switched from one club to the other on what seemed to be a yearly basis is no more and that goes a long way to explaining why the bumper crowd of 102 had to wait a record 76 minutes for the first and only caution of the tie, Phil Williamson picking up a booking for an absolute poleaxing out on the right.
From the resulting free kick Rangers had the woodwork to thank for the third time, this time as Tighe’s ball in whipped against the crossbar and just after that Gault and Death got into the seasonal pantomime spirit by falling over each other with the goal gaping when James Westlake’s wonderful delivery was crying out to be converted for Hassocks’ sixth.
They did bring up the half dozen in the final minute, substitute James Oliver getting forward from left back to drill a low cross in which Williamson rifled into the bottom corner of his own goal.
St Francis: Page; Jones, Kelly, Williamson, Quinn; Johnson, Idong, Haskell, Harris; Abod, Birchard.
Subs: Shearing (Idong), Touahri (Bichard), Taylor (Haskell), Petrig, Rudwick (unused).
Hassocks: Harris; Tighe, Barnes, Wallis, Akehurst; Bant, Slaughter, Westlake, Hillwood; Death, Gault.
Subs: Wilkins (Bant), Harwood (Slaughter), Oliver (Akehurst), Price, R Wickwar (unused).
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