The Blues have secured yet another league cup final visit to the Beacon, Hassocks on the May Bank Holiday after overcoming Saltdean United in a very close encounter at Shooting Field, Steyning where extra-time was needed to split the two teams
Manager Shaun Saunders was given a massive boost to his side with the returns from injury of both Joel Daly and Jamie Weston. They lined up at right-back and left-wing respectively in the place of the absent Scott Chamberlain and the injured Callum Saunders.
Heath met Saltdean in the league at Hill Park just a few weeks ago in a tight 1-1 draw and the same result was repeated here after the regulation ninety minutes.
It was Jamie Weston who netted for Heath first in the 14th minute, finishing emphatically with a hard and low shot from the left after Max Miller found him with a lovely curling pass with the outside of his boot on the edge to area. It was the Wizard’s ninth goal of the season.
The Tigers then hit back 11 minutes later through Harry Shooman who did incredibly well to ride the diving tackles of Cradock and Akehurt to beat Josh Heyburn with a low shot into the far corner to level things up.
Much like in the league encounter between the two teams, the game was beginning to be overshadowed at times by the sideshow of the Saltdean back line against Heath’s towering striker Melford Simpson. It led to some ugly clashes between the players and an extremely harsh booking for Simpson just before the break. It’s not easy being a giant.
As the game opened up during the second period there were many chances for both sides. Josh Heyburn was called upon to make a string of fine saves to deny the Tigers in a man-of-the-match performance while Heath’s main problem was actually hitting the target.
On we went to extra-time and it was Melford Simpson who got his reward for his one man battle against the Saltdean defence with the winner in the 96th minute. Jamie Cradock sent over a quick free kick from deep on the left which caught the Saltdean defence rather flat-footed as Simpson nodded the ball home past Tigers’ keeper Jordan Hawkins.
Heath managed to see out the rest of the additional half an hour without too many scares to book a final against the winners of the second semi-final between Horsham YMCA and Crawley Down Gatwick.
After the game, Heath’s Assistant Manager Roy Staughton said: “It wasn’t the best of games, but I felt that, in extra-time especially, we were always in control of the ball.”
Asked if he thought it helped having played Saltdean just a few weeks ago, he said: “I don’t think they played the same formation as the last time we played them. For us, Nathan Cooper and Josh Spinks have played a couple more games and look a lot fitter in defence than the last time we met. It was two evenly-matched sides out there and we cancelled each other out for a lot of the time.”
The victory keeps Heath’s unbeaten running going and this is important to Staughton: “That’s five games unbeaten and three consecutive wins. Momentum is important, especially with the run-in to the end of the season and we’ve just got to keep that going now over the coming weeks.”
Having lost the Peter Bentley Cup final in controversial circumstances last season, does this present a chance for Heath to right a wrong?: “I’m sure Horsham YM or Crawley Down will have something to say about if we can ‘right a wrong’ but we’ve just got to go into the cup final on the back of momentum and hopefully promotion. It’ll be a good final and it would be nice to win it, that’s for sure.”