Arundel 0, Hassocks 3: Robins pass Arundel test with flying colours
Arundel away may not be seen as the toughest of fixtures in the Â Southern Combination League's Premier Division but there have been plenty of hair-raising experiences for Hassocks at the home of the Mullets down the years.
These are the top flights two longest serving clubs. And despite having faced each other in every season since before the turn of the Millennium, Hassocks have only returned from Mill Road with three points on a handful of occasions over the last two decades; trips west were good for admiring this most picturesque of grounds in the shadow of Arundel Castle but not much else.
Being handed Arundel away first league game looked a daunting test then based on historical evidence. As it was, it was one that the Robins passed with flying colours despite a fresh raft of unavailable players.
A lack of consistency in selection has hindered Hassocks for a good four seasons now. It is especially acute at the start of the season with holidays and cricketing commitments.
From last week’s squad who played in the FA Cup defeat to Hollands and Blair, Jordan Badger, Ashley Marsh, Matt Berridge and Nathan Miles joined Josh Hawkes and Phil Gault on the absentees list.
Despite the missing, the Robins dominated the game from start to finish to run out comfortable 3-0 winners in an encounter in which Alex Harris was rarely troubled in keeping an all too rare clean sheet.
Harris had looked shaky in the first half of the first game of his third spell at the Beacon a week previously but that was a distant memory as he gobbled up balls into the box with all the ease of a pig snorting up a truffle.
The goalkeeper has particularly big gloves to fill in replacing James Broadbent. Broadbent was outstanding in 2016/17, winning Players, Managers and Supporters Player of the Season Awards and earning a deserved step up to the Bostik League with Shoreham. Clean sheets and performances like this will make that sizable transfer blow seem less so.
Hassocks took the lead on the 25 minute mark through in the inform Liam Benson. Benson enjoyed a fine second half to last season after being promoted from the Robins’ under 21 squad and he’s got two in two now in this campaign.
There were admittedly question marks about the goalkeeping of Stuart McDonald who could only parry a rasping effort from Lewis Westlake which gave Benson the chance to show off his predatory instincts which he duly did by smashing home the loose ball.
The lead was doubled on the stroke of half time by Spencer Slaughter, scoring his first goal since December 2015 in his first start since January 2016.
Since then, Slaughter has been backpacking around the world before returning for a couple of brief substitute cameos last season.
A proper pre season has given him some form and fitness under his belt and he said before the game he fancied himself to score as a result.
The opportunity to do so came courtesy of Dan Stokes, who crossed from the right to Slaughter at the far post with the finish being a tight one on the angle.
Stokes had endured a frustrating game up until that point, his passing at times being so off that he gave up trying to link up with Michael Death, telling the mercurial striker after another five yard pass went astray “I’m not passing to you anymore as it obviously just isn’t working,” much to Death’s annoyance.
Death had no such problems with his forward partner Benson however and that combination gave Hassocks their third with five minutes remaining, the latter unselfishly rolling across to the former who finished into an open goal from eight yards to wrap up the Robins biggest opening day of the league season victory since a 5-0 win over Littlehampton Town in 1996.
Arundel had briefly threatened slightly before that when Hassocks made all manner of weird and wonderful decisions to go for goal and shoot from stupid positions rather than keep possession and run the clock down - a tactic that also would’ve helped them conserve energy ahead of what will no doubt be a much sterner test against early league leaders Newhaven on Tuesday night.
A lack of options on the bench didn’t help in that regard either with only Jack Wilkins being summoned - perhaps just as well as joint boss Mark Dalgleish had to name himself among the substitutes.
Hassocks: Harris; Barnes, Mills, Akehurst; Stokes, J Westlake, Slaughter, L Westlake, Bant; Benson, Death.
Subs: Wilkins (used), Marsh, S Badger, Dalgleish, Green (unused).