At hal- time of Hassocks’ Peter Bentley League Cup Second tie against Bexhill United, an all too familiar story was unfolding at the Beacon.
The Robins had been largely dominant in the first 45 minutes yet found themselves going into the break trailing 2-0 thanks to a combination of failing to take chances and some suspect defending.
Normally, that’s how things finish as well and everyone is left to wonder what might have been had Hassocks taken those opportunities or defended slightly better.
But not on this occasion. On this occasion, three goals in 20 second half minutes turned the game on its head as Hassocks came roaring back to win 3-2 and book a spot in the third round of the competition for the first time in three seasons.
The Robins began the tie brightly with Matt Berridge hitting a shot straight at Pirates goalkeeper Dan Rose, Phil Johnson seeing an effort blocked and Liam Benson curling just wide of the post after being teed up by James Littlejohn, all inside of the first 10 minutes.
It was from Bexhill’s first raid into the Hassocks half that they took the lead. Josh Green was making his first appearance in four seasons for the first team in place of the suspended Alex Harris and he’d done well to keep out Wayne Giles’ effort but nobody in red could react quick enough to prevent Jamie Bunn from pillaging the rebound.
Undeterred, Hassocks went back on the attack with Johnson’s pace in particular leaving United all at sea. The Robins striker was forging a particularly useful alliance with Harvey Blake who was cannon balling forward from right back at every opportunity.
Twice that duo linked up, the first time Blake slipping in Johnson who saw his effort brilliantly blocked by a last ditch sliding tackle from Chris Rea and then another forward pass from Blake released Johnson who showed quick feet to get to the byline but there was nobody there to turn his cross home.
Berridge and Littlejohn then danced the hempen to set up Ryan Collins. The midfielder was a nautical mile from goal but still released a crashing effort that flew just over Rose’s crossbar.
At the other end, Nathan Lopez delivered an excellent cross straight onto the head of Giles but he put his free header wastefully over the bar.
That was a warning shot across the bow for Hassocks which they did not heed and five minutes before half time they found themselves 2-0 down.
There seemed to be nothing on when Giles received the ball way out on the left, from where he sent a cross-cum-shot which dropped over the head of Green and into the back of the net.
Only Giles will know it it was intentional but whatever the striker meant, his side were now in a commanding position going into the break and it could’ve been even better but for Dan Jacques deflecting a Lopez effort wide and Green making a big, bold claim after Giles attempted an outrageous overhead kick from the resulting corner.
Hassocks supporters could’ve been forgiven for fearing the worst at that point, especially as United have become something of a bogey side to the Robins in recent seasons having knocked them out at the same stage of the same competition last year and the first round of the Sussex Senior Cup two seasons before that.
Whatever Mark Dalgleish said to his players at the break though had the desired effect and within 10 minutes of the restart they’d pulled one back.
The Bexhill dugout were incensed when Rea was booked for a rapscallion tackle on Collins and they were still holding parley towards referee Alex Howard when Spencer Slaughter sent the resulting free kick into the box with the ball eventually falling to Littlejohn who smashed under the body of Rose for his first season goal.
Blake flashed in a low cross which just evaded the onrushing Benson and Johnson and Benson was then too honest for his own good when he stayed on his feet and got a shot away after United captain Lewis McGuigan attempted to haul him down. Had Benson hit the deck, he’d almost certainly have been awarded a penalty.
There were 20 minutes left when the equaliser did eventually arrive and it came from an unlikely source. Nobody could quite work out what Jacques was doing as the furthest man forward but the Robins were thanking the stars that he was as he was there to barrel home Johnson’s cross at the far post.
Bexhill seemed to loose their heads at that but worse was to come for the visitors three minutes later. A long ball over the top left Johnson in a foot race with McGuigan and the Hassocks striker was never going to lose that one, accelerating onto the ball at a rate of knots despite the flailing arms of the United captain doing everything possible to try and stop him.
Needless to say there was no stopping Johnson and he went through to slot the ball past Rose and ensure Hassocks sail into the next round.
Hassocks: Green; Blake, Mills, Jacques, Badger; Berridge, Slaughter, Collins; Benson, Johnson, Littlejohn.
Subs: Spinks, Stokes (used), Wilkins, Broomfield, Enticknap (unused).