On the face of it, Hassocks 2-0 victory over Eastbourne United looks like exactly the sort of result that the Robins should have expected from their trip to face the Southern Combination League Premier Division’s bottom club.
In reality though, this was in fact a hugely impressive three points against rejuvenated opponents who surely won’t be propping up the table come the end of the season.
United may have just three wins to their name so far, but all of those have come in the last month since new boss Arron Hopkinson took over the managerial hotseat at the Oval.
Hopkinson’s made his mark fast, bringing in a number of quality players and beating title challengers Saltdean United away from home, taking a point off fifth place Broadbridge Heath and being only seconds away from drawing with Newhaven before Lee Robinson’s 93rd minute intervention three weeks ago won the game for the Dockers.
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This is a side far removed from the one which Hassocks swatted aside 3-0 at the Beacon in September and one who on this showing have a genuine chance of pulling off a great escape from relegation, all of which makes Mark Dalgleish’s sides fifth win in their past six games as impressive as any that have come before in this purple patch that they’ve hit.
Perhaps the most pleasing aspect of the result however was the way in which Hassocks bounced back from their midweek defeat to AFC Uckfield Town.
As player-coach Spencer Slaughter pointed out afterwards, “In recent times, we tend to go on either a winning streak or a losing one and we often then find it difficult to break the sequence.
“So to get back to winning ways straight away is another important step in our development and keeps us moving up the table.”
Slaughter started on the bench here, one of three changes made by Dalgleish from that 2-1 loss to the Oakmen with the unavailable Will Broomfield missing out and Joe Bull also dropping down among the substitutes.
In their places came Andy Whittingham, Harvey Enticknap and Dan Stokes.
It was a fairly even opening first half with one moment of real quality arriving on 42 minutes which proved to be the difference as James Littlejohn sent the visitors into the break 1-0 ahead.
Much of Hassocks’ recent success has been built on their reinvention as an effective counter-attacking team but even so, there didn’t seem much on when Littlejohn led a quickfire break.
The young Robins striker had spotted United goalkeeper Jordan Hawkins ever-so-slightly out of position though and despite the ball bouncing awkwardly on a difficult surface, Littlejohn managed to get it under control before hitting an effort from a full 30 yard.
The result was stunning, the ball rising over Hawkins head before dipping perfectly into the far corner of the goal to draw the applause of the home faithful as well as the travelling Hassocks contingent.
United poured forward in the second half as the Hassocks goal came under sustained pressure with the back four of Bradley Tighe, Whittingham, Harry Mills and Dan Jacques having to be at their very best to repel everything the hosts could throw at them.
Jacques in particular was superb, winning his second consecutive man-of-the-match award in the process as he didn’t put a foot wrong all afternoon.
Hassocks continued to look lively on the break thanks to the tireless work of Liam Benson who has really come into his own over the last month, becoming a vital focal point for the Robins new style as a target man.
The other crucial ingredient for their ability to be so dangerous on the break is the pace and finishing of Phil Johnson and it was he who wrapped the game up with Hassocks’ second of the afternoon with around 15 minutes remaining.
Johnson started the move, releasing Slaughter down the right from where he delivered a lovely cross which Johnson met with an inch-perfect finish in off the post after continuing his run into the box.
To their credit, United kept pushing for a goal of their own but it wasn’t to be as Hassocks held on to pick up their sixth consecutive win at the Oval, a remarkable run stretching back eight years to 2010 when United were reigning champions.
Hassocks: Green; Tighe, Mills, Jacques, Whittingham; Blake, Stokes, Enticknap, Littlejohn; Johnson, Benson.
Subs: Slaughter (Blake), Bull (Littlejohn), Lindsey (Benson).