47-year-old physio and stand-in keeper helps Hassocks claim a point
The proof of the progress made by Hassocks this season was there for all to see at Broadbridge Heath.
When these sides met at the Beacon back in August, it was a horror show for Hassocks.
They were walloped 5-1, hopelessly outplayed and capped a miserable evening by managing the impressive feat of scoring two own goals. A long season looked ahead.
Fast forward three months and 19.8 miles north to High Wood Hill Sports Ground and the contrast could not have been more stark.
The Robins battled their way to a 0-0 draw against hosts who are enjoying their best ever top flight season, starting the afternoon fifth in the SCFL Premier Division table.
What made this result all the more impressive was that Hassocks achieved it shorn of the services of goalkeeper Alex Harris for the final 30 minutes.
A nasty blow to the head led to Harris leaving the field, his place taken by 47-year-old physio Phil Wickwar.
The number of times that Wickwar has been called upon in such circumstances over the past five years or so is frankly astonishing.
Other than using his favourite adjective of "shambles", he never complains though.
Wickwar would do quite literally anything for the club and that is why he has been such a popular figure at Hassocks for 30 years, filling virtually every role going.
In terms of goalkeeping cameos, this was arguably his best since he served as regular backup to Joel Harding in the mid-00’s.
Wickwar rolled back the years even further than that, making two brilliant saves as if it were 1992 again to help preserve the clean sheet and with it, the point.
As a result, Wickwar was an easy winner of Man-of-the-Match, with Hassocks now seeking sponsorship for the award from Age Concern in honour of their sprightly stand in.
Wickwar might have taken the headlines, but the rest of the Robins who featured deserve immense credit too.
Heath are not flying so high by fluke or accident; they are a quality outfit assembled by manager Chris Simmons and in number 9 Mason Doughty, they had the best player on the pitch.
Hassocks might not have had the edge on ability but their work rate throughout was phenomenal.
This was by no means a backs to the wall 0-0 as the Robins played a full part, at least before Harris departed. On another day, they might have even won it.
Doughty was the first player from either side to get a sight of goal, latching onto a defence splitting pass from Jamie Taylor and drawing a good stop low down on the angle from Harris with 13 minutes played.
Hassocks had their best spell after that, racking up three decent opportunities in 15 minutes.
Jack Troak could not connect properly as he scuffed wide when well placed. A good passage of play set Alfie Loversidge up for a left footed effort off target.
Jack Baden then swung over a free kick which Heath goalkeeper Liam Matthews was brave in dealing with, taking a clattering from Dan Turner for his troubles.
Doughty was soon back in the thick of the action, meeting a Charlie Weller right wing cross with a first time volley.
It was some hit from Doughty but luckily for Hassocks, it proved more dangerous to the property prices of the neighbouring flats than Harris' goal.
Heath started the second half strongest, Taylor seeing an effort blocked by Turner before Bradley
Tighe produced a first class covering tackle on Weller, who had beaten three Hassocks players on a mazy run up the right.
The collision involving Harris came on the hour mark. The Hassocks goalkeeper was crashed into by a Bears opponent when a corner was delivered into the box and although it was clearly accidental, the seriousness of the incident was obvious from the start.
There was a lengthy delay whilst Wickwar tended to the injury and Harris was helped from the field. Heath did a first class job in looking after Harris and he reported after the game that he was in good spirits, if a little sore.
With Wickwar now in goal, the hosts understandably fancied their chances of going onto win the game. Heath became even more determined to get on the front foot, beginning to pin Hassocks into their own half.
The Robins though dug in, manned the trenches and defended stubbornly. That restricted Heath to only three clear opportunities in the final 30 minutes.
Taylor headed wide from one of a barrage of Kyle Sim long throws before Wickwar came to the fore, tipping a Charlie Parmiter free kick over at full stretch and getting down to his left wonderfully to keep out a Doughty effort.