Hassocks hit for six by rampant Saltdean
The good news for Hassocks as they left Hill Park following their opening fixture of the Premier Division campaign is that they will surely not face many sides this good this season.
Saltdean United showed why they were top of the table prior to curtailment back in December and why they are one of the favourites to lift the title this time around by hitting six unanswered goals past the Robins.
It could have been more. The Tigers rattled the woodwork twice and were prevented doing further damage by a string of excellent saves from Hassocks’ debutant goalkeeper Christian Kiddell, one of the few bright spots on a chastening evening for new head coach Brad Sweetman and his young side.
Preparations for Sweetman’s maiden campaign at the helm have hardly been ideal. A truncated pre-season schedule saw three warm up matches lost because of problems with the Beacon’s new drainage.
Worse was to come on Saturday, when biblical-level rain hit Hassocks 90 minutes before kick off in what should have been the Robins’ first game of the season against Broadbridge Heath.
Standing water was left all over the playing surface, leaving the match officials with no choice but to postpone the meeting with the Bears. A waterlogged pitch for a competitive match in July must have set some sort of English football record.
It was less of a laughing matter for Sweetman. With a fixture list that handed him six of last season’s top 10 in his opening eight games in charge, that meeting with Heath represented one of the few realistic opportunities to put points on the board in the opening month. Losing it to the weather meant an already daunting start became even more daunting.
Daunted also seems like a good word to use to describe how most Hassocks supporters would have felt when the sides were announced here.
Whereas Saltdean’s starting XI read like a who’s who of serial Southern Combination League title winners and players with experience at higher levels, Andy Whittingham was the only player over the age of 25 in the Hassocks matchday squad - 11 of whom came through the youth ranks at the Beacon.
It did not take long for United to take the lead, Reece Hallard opening the scoring inside of five minutes, at which point it looked like a very long evening would be in store for the Robins.
To be fair to Hassocks, they made a decent stab at frustrating Saltdean after that through inspired goalkeeping and brave defending.
Kiddell had displayed assured handling from a barrage of Saltdean crosses into the box before making his first big save on 22 minutes, using his legs to keep out Hallard’s one-on-one effort after the forward had sprinted away from Dan Turner.
Hallard found himself with a similar opportunity five minutes later, this time after escaping Luke Marshall and although he did manage to beat Kiddell, the effort trickled just wide of the post.
Next it took a combination of Kiddell and Whittingham to keep Saltdean out. Kiddell somehow got a hand on a Callum Saunders effort from point blank range to take the sting out of the shot.
The ball was still heading towards goal until Whittingham proved to be an insurance policy against it crossing the line by hacking clear at the last possible moment.
Saltdean did eventually double their lead nine minutes before half time. Kieron Pamment’s fierce effort drew another fine stop from Kiddell. Unfortunately for Hassocks, the loose ball spun into the air where Hallard met it with an acrobatic bicycle kick placed perfectly into the unguarded net.
Hallard was withdrawn at half time with Trevor McCreadie taking his place. McCreadie loves a goal against Hassocks and he added Saltdean’s fourth on 65, spotting a gap between Marshall and Kiddell and steering the ball expertly through it to nestle in the bottom corner.
Saltdean’s third had arrived five minutes into the second half, Thomas Caplin bending a stunner from a full 30 yards into the top corner. Caplin was denied another shortly after by a fine sprawling stop from Kiddell.
Pamment added the fifth, curling into the top corner from 25 yards and McCreadie rounded off the scoring eight minutes from time, hitting a low shot across Kiddell after driving into the box.
As for Hassocks, they kept working hard but struggled to do much at all going forward.
The closest James Broadbent got to getting dirty came when Lewis Beebee looked to be haring in on goal, only for a heavy touch from the teenage striker to take the ball away from him and into the hands of Broadbent.
The Robins’ two best opportunities other than that came from set piece, one in either half. A Bradley Tighe clip into the box was headed down by Turner towards Connor Bradley who lifted a difficult chance over the bar in the first half.
In the second half, substitute Jack Troak whipped in a dangerous ball from the left after Beebee won a free kick but Tighe’s header glanced agonising wide of the far post.
Hassocks: Kiddell; Turner, Marshall, Whittingham; Gardner, Baden, Short, Loversidge, Tighe; Bradley, Beebee.
Subs: Russell (Baden), Troak (Gardner), Rawlinson (Turner), Geard, Dunkley (unused).