Hassocks banish October demons to shock Horley Town
To say that things did not go well for Hassocks last time they played Horley Town would be a bit of an understatement.
The Robins ended October's Premier Division meeting with only nine men on the pitch and an 8-0 defeat, the heaviest home reversal in Hassocks history.
Perhaps the manner of their victory at the Beacon seven months and two lockdowns ago led Horley to expect another easy evening when the Robins rocked up at the New Defence in the Supplementary Shield.
If that were the case then the hosts were in for a rude awakening. Hassocks stormed into a two goal lead inside of the first five minutes, paving the way for a shock 3-1 victory against opponents who logic dictates should be winning the competition come May.
Horley were second in the SCFL Premier Division when the season was curtailed, four points behind leaders Saltdean United but with two games in hand. With the Tigers electing not to take part in the Shield, that leaves Horley as the best team in it based on league standings from December.
For Hassocks to win away from home against such quality opponents is impressive enough. That they have done so with a ten goal swing from the previous meetings between the sides is astonishing, even for a club renowned for their Jekyll and Hyde ability to veer from the sublime to ridiculous and back again in double-quick time.
Hassocks made two changes from the side who had drawn 2-2 at Crawley Down Gatwick three days previously. Former Shoreham youngster Charlie Tuck made his full debut in place of absent captain Bradley Bant at left back and top scorer Charlie Pitcher was available after suspension, partnering Pat Harding in attack.
Pitcher's return meant Harvey Enticknap dropped down to the bench amid a game of musical chairs in midfield. Alfie Loversidge moved from the right flank to partner Josh Short in the middle with James Littlejohn taking up a position on the wing having led the line alongside Harding at the weekend.
Only three minutes had elapsed when Hassocks took the lead. Horley were sloppy in possession attempting to play out from the back, allowing Short to seize on a loose pass, draw home goalkeeper George Hyde and then unselfishly square to Pitcher who was left with the simple task of rolling into an empty yet.
A start which nobody had been expecting and the Robins were not done there. Ninety seconds later and Jack Troak's clever quick throw caught the Horley defence unawares, leaving Harding to collect and race through. Harding pulled back to Pitcher who applied the finish via deflection to double Hassocks' advantage.
Littlejohn nearly added a third on 12 minutes when striding up to curl a free kick in a dangerous position just wide of Hyde's post.
Horley belatedly woke up a little after that, although it took them until midway through the first half to test Dave Carruthers, who was equal to Alex Barbary's distance strike.
That was the start of a flurry of activity in the third of the pitch Hassocks were defending with Carruthers forced into a string of fine stops. He denied Kerran Boylan and then had to produce an outstanding double save from a Lewis Pearch effort and Boylan's follow up.
Carruthers could not do much when Horley pulled one back nine minutes before the interval. More desperate defending from Hassocks left a rebound opportunity which was duly gobbled up by Russell Harvey to make it 2-1.
It was one-way traffic by this point in time and the Robins desperately needed half time to allow them to regroup.
They made it there without conceding again before repeating their trick from an hour earlier by catching Horley cold with a quick-fire goal only minutes into the second half.
Littlejohn was the architect, playing a clever ball over the top of the home defence after Hassocks had broken down a Horley attack. A burst of speed from Pitcher took him clear and he finished past Hyde with aplomb to complete his hat-trick and make it 3-1.
Hassocks were probably expecting a strong reaction and to have to man the trenches as they had towards the end of the first half, but that goal seemed to knock the stuffing out of Horley.
Even though there were still 41 minutes left to play after Pitcher's the third, the goalmouth action dried up almost completely as both sides looked a little jaded - hardly a surprise given they were playing for a second time in three days after three months of inaction.
Take nothing away from Hassocks though. This was still a professional performance to secure a result that left Dave John beaming, the only scare coming as the game entered injury time when Horley substitute Tyrese Miller rattled the bar with a cross-shot.
Hassocks: Dave Carruthers; Jack Gardner, Dan Turner, Bradley Tighe, Charlie Tuck; James Littlejohn, Alfie Loversidge, Josh Short, Jack Troak; Charlie Pitcher, Pat Harding.
Subs: Harvey Enticknap (Littlejohn), Luke Marshall (Turner), Lewis Beebee (Pitcher).