New era at Hassocks starts with a draw

Action from Saturday's match between Hassocks and Broadbridge Heath. Picture by Liz Pearce
Action from Saturday's match between Hassocks and Broadbridge Heath. Picture by Liz Pearce

Hassocks kicked off a new season and a new era at the Beacon by drawing 1-1 with Broadbridge Heath in their opening game of the Southern Combination League Premier Division season.

A crowd of 104 turned out to see Mark Dalgleish take sole charge of the Robins for the first time following Phil Wickwar's decision to sand down as joint manager.

Action from Saturday's match between Hassocks and Broadbridge Heath. Picture by Liz Pearce

Action from Saturday's match between Hassocks and Broadbridge Heath. Picture by Liz Pearce

It isn't just in the dugout where there have been changes. On the pitch, the Robins included four new signings in their starting line up and one from the substitutes bench as they look to ensure they avoid a repeat of last seasons bottom three finish in which they were only spared relegation due to Haywards Heath Town and Three Bridges promotions into the Bostik League and only Shoreham coming down

It was one of those new signings, Liam Benson, who scored the Hassocks goal, tucking away a 70th minute penalty after Jack Wilkins had been felled in the box. That was cancelled out by Devon Fender's equaliser 10 minutes before time for Heath.

Both Benson and Alex Spinks have returned to the Beacon from Lancing while Alex Harris is back in goal after a short spell with Ringmer. The fourth new face to start was defender Dan Webster, formerly of Burgess Hill Town and signed from Horsham YMCA.

The Robins' most eye catching signing of the summer wasn't present here. Phil Johnson has also returned from YM after three goal-studded seasons at Gorings Mead since he left Hassocks in the summer of 2015.

Johnson was ruled out of this one through injury but the acquisition of him and Benson, both of whom featured in the Premier Division's golden boot chart last season, should help ensure that Hassocks manage more than the 38 goals they scored last time out which left them as the second lowest scorers in the division.

It was Heath who started the better of the two sides with Stuart Chester's pace and crossing ability and Fender's presence giving Harris and his back four of Harry Mills, Webster, Jordan Badger and Bradley Bant plenty to think about.

Fender had the first clear cut chance of the game when a lovely through ball from Lee Carney put him clear but he dragged his shot just wide of the post.

After weathering the storm, Spencer Slaughter and Matt Berridge began to give Hassocks some control in midfield and the impressive Jake Lindsey drew a save from Heath's new goalkeeper Mark Fox with a long range effort.

Spinks then found Benson with a visionary pass and Benson showed good strength to barge one-time Hassocks defender Glen Woodburn off the ball to leave himself one-on-one with Fox. Remarkably, referee Robert King awarded a free kick to Heath, much to the annoyance of everyone in red.

The last chance of the first half came when Hassocks failed to clear a corner with the ball eventually falling just outside the area to Marlon Maxwell but his brilliant connection was only rewarded with the shot flying just over the bar.

Neither side seemed to have played to their potential in the first half with the main talking point being not about any of the new signings on the pitch, but the addition of Dark Fruits cider to the bar which went down a treat with supporters.

Hassocks were quickest out the blocks in the second half with Wilkins causing trouble down the right flank, his pull back finding Spinks who drew another comfortable save from Fox.

Heath then had the best chance of the game, Ben Hands delivering a superb cross right onto the head of Fender but his powerful head was wonderfully kept out by the reflexes of Harris.

That save seemed to galvanise the Robins and Benson and the outstanding Berridge both went close to beat Fox before Spinks put the ball into the penalty area and just as Wilkins was about to pull the trigger, he was clumsily bundled over by Woodburn.

Mr King pointed straight to the spot and Benson made no mistake with the spot kick, beating Fox with ease to give the Robins the lead.

It was all Hassocks after that with Benson the centre of attention. He breezed his way into the box but instead of shooting, opted for the unselfish pass to Wilkins who was slightly off balance and as a result couldn't hit the target.

Heath equalised shortly after with a real sucker punch. Scott Weller delivered a defence splitting pass to Fender who used his strength and pace to blast through and smash home an equaliser for 1-1.

Hassocks made a double change in response as Dan Stokes and Harvey Blake, the fifth new face on the day having signed from Mid Sussex Premier Division side Sporting Lindfield, took to the field.

Blake had a lively cameo in his first 10 minutes in senior football. He was denied a debut goal by an excellent save from Fox after Wilkins had broken down the wing to cross and Blake then turned provider with a marauding run down the flank from which he found Benson but the Hassocks striker couldn't get the sort of connection he was looking for and it resulted in a comfortable save for Fox.

That was the final chance of the game with a draw just about the right result. There were certainly plenty of positives to take for the Robins ahead of a stern test against one of the title favourites, Chichester City on Tuesday night.

Hassocks: Alex Harris; Harry Mills, Jordan Badger, Dan Wesbter, Bradley Bant; Jack Wilkins, Spencer Slaughter, Matt Berridge, Jake Lindsey; Alex Spinks; Liam Benson.

Subs: Dan Stokes, Harvey Blake (used).

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