Haywards Heath Town continued on top spot after a fantastic performance against the previously free-scoring Pagham.
Just a point separated the two sides at the start of the day with Heath sitting in top spot and Pagham right behind, although any result today would not settle a thing, but anything less than a win for either side would make finishing in the top two that much harder with Three Bridges breathing down the neck of both sides with two games in hand still.
The opening minutes of the game saw both sides size each other up, a few free kicks were conceded by both sides but issues defused well by the referee who chose word over action. Heath had a half chance as Alex Laing did brilliantly on the left but his cross just evaded everyone.
The deadlock was broken however just before the 10th minute, Melford Simpson got up well to win the ball and flick it towards Max Miller who as the defender went to clear had it nicked off his toe and from then Max Miller calmly slotted the ball through the keepers legs to give Heath a much needed lead.
Pagham immediately looked to respond but found the Heath back line in great form blocking efforts from distance. With 16 minutes played the visitors way back into the game became twice as hard as Karly Akehurst made an important challenge in the Pagham final third and the ball popped out to Melford Simpson as he looked to get his shot off he got crowed out but managed to force the ball to Alex Laing who let the ball run across his body before driving the ball into the far corner.
Heath didn’t sit back on the lead and Scott Chamberlain was next to hit the target after a well-placed corner found him he jinked past two tackles but shot well saved at the near post. Pagham continued to look dangerous going forward and they had a big chance on 30 minutes when a free kick in seemed to evade everyone but Dan Simmonds was not able to take advantage as Josh Heyburn made a save from close range and Josh Spinks then came away with the ball before being fouled. Pagham’s next effort was off target as the strike was dragged wide.
Heath finished the first half slightly the stronger of the two sides as Karly Akehurst got into good areas but sliced his first strike just wide and then saw a fine effort that he brought down in the box fly just over the bar.
The visitors started the second half well but Heath contained their forward efforts and restricted any efforts to ones from distance that didn’t trouble the excellent Josh Heyburn in the Heath goal. Pagham did hit the target on 59 minutes as a free kick in was well met but the header lacked anything to trouble Josh Heyburn.
Heath made their first change of the afternoon on 64 minutes with Alex Laing who had started despite being ill being replaced by Maxime Agnoly.
With 67 minutes played a dangerous ball in needed Joel Daly to be alert and clear the danger from the Heath line, Heath started to respond as the game became more stretched, good interplay between Max Miller and Karly Akehurst saw the latter get a good shot off that was held down low by the Pagham shot stopper, just a minute later Akehurst went closer still latching on to Melford Simpsons nod down and the shot on the turn cannoned off the crossbar with the keeper beaten.
The second yellow card of the game was shown to Pagham midfielder Ryan Cox after he caught Niam Rouane late, the midfield pairing of Rouane and Scott Chamberlain have impressed over the past few weeks and complement each other well.
With seven minutes of normal time remaining the first big talking point of the game came, Callum Overton raced clear only for Josh Heyburn to make what seemed a great save with his feet (that was my view from behind the Pagham goal) the referee seemed to agree but the assistant frantically waved his flag as the Pagham bench jumped for joy and the Heath bench looked in disbelief. After a minute of discussion between referee and assistant the linesman’s opinion of the incident was overruled and a drop ball commenced play.
Both sides continued to press but both efforts saw snap shots go wide of the posts. As the match entered its 7 minutes of added on time a fantastic block from George Brown prevented a well hit shot from 18 yards getting to the goal, Pagham again pulled the trigger and again resolute defending blocking the effort. Dan Simmonds looking to add to his 36 league goals hit the target from distance but Josh Heyburn was again right behind it.
With 94 minutes played Melford Simpson was released but his effort was well blocked but the ball fell kindly to Max Millerand he didn’t hesitate and pull the trigger that flicked up off the attempted block and over the keeper to wrap up the game.
Heath made their second change with Under 18 player Christian Weatherstone replacing Melford Simpson, there was time for one final effort before the final whistle and it produced the save of the match from Josh Heyburn as he ensured the clean sheet for Heath pulling off a great one handed save to stop the ball going into the top corner as Simmonds once again let fly.
Man of the Match – Great all round team performance with everyone pulling together but Josh Heyburn with some fine stops and George Brown on his full Heath debut played brilliantly at left back, both really stood out.
Afterwards Manager Shaun Saunders said: “We had a great training session on Thursday that really carried us into today, Pagham are a very good side and have scored a lot of goals this season but our recent form at the back keeping clean sheets was again brilliantly shown today.
"The whole team did fantastic and played their part in today’s win but we have to park this victory now and concentrate on another difficult match on Tuesday night away against Broadbridge Heath. It really is three cup finals now before the actual cup final in May!”