Even the most loyal and hardiest of Hassocks supporters would not really have given the young Robins a prayer of winning at last season’s all conquering Division 2 Champions and FA Vase semi-finalists given that they have only won three times in the league this season.
But football is, as we know, nothing but unpredictable and Hassocks turned in their best and most resilient performance of the campaign to secure a 2-1 comeback win and grab an unexpected but vital three points in their relegation battle.
The backbone of the success at a blustery Oval ground was really a wonderful first half rearguard action by the Robins, with the home side only leading at the interval through Lucas Mann’s headed goal on 12 minutes despite having the majority of the possession and attacks.
In that time however, George Willett in the Robins goal only had to make one important save and that from a back header from his own defender, Bradley Tighe.
Tighe, Dan Jacques and in particular the centre half pairing of Rowan Wallis and new signing from Haywards Heath Town Tom Barnes were magnificent throughout, Barnes replacing usual skipper Ashley Marsh who had work commitments.
Wallis and Barnes nullified the threat of Peter Cooper and Lucas Mann admirably, restricting the United front two to speculative efforts.
Hassocks were pretty much a non entity as an attacking force in the first period but their confidence grew after the break against an increasingly frustrated United side who also had to hear the home crowd venting their displeasure.
Willett did make a fine low save to deny Joe Summerell on 50 minutes and then he was quick off his line to close down the enigmatic Wes Tate a couple of minutes later but in truth that was a good as it got for United, as their good approach play often broke down before threatening too much.
The Robins work rate upped in the second half and and two substitutions on 67 and 72 minutes worked the magic for Mark Dalgleish and Phil Wickwar’s side.
Firstly Nathan Miles replaced the tireless and hard working Mark Price who’s playing time is being carefully managed after a few niggling injuries and then Brad Bant came on for Ryan Collins.
Almost immediately Miles almost headed Hassocks level but his flicked header landed on the roof of the net.
However on 82 minutes Miles pulled Hassocks level with a superb finish into the top corner with the outside of his right foot, after fine work by Nick Pitcher and Phil Johnson. The relief from the travel Robins contingent was palpable and four minutes later they were sent into raptures of delight when United failed to clear a cross from Ellis Common and Johnson’s forward header was bundled in by Bant despite the best efforts of Eastbourne keeper Russell Tanner. Tanner was clearly angry at the defending, launching a tirade at his team mates.
And the abuse didn’t stop there as on 89 minutes, Brad Lewis was shown a straight red card for foul and abuse language towards the assistant referee after disputing a thrown in.
Hassocks comfortably saw out the four minutes of injury time added on to record a magnificent win on the road, thanks to a monumental all round team effort, showing plenty of grit and determination to secure the win.
Joint boss Phil Wickwar was overjoyed with the comeback win saying: “We got our tactics spot on, defended well in the first half and when we switched formation when we replaced Pricey by going two up front it worked to earn three important points, although we all know we have loads of hard work ahead still”.
Hassocks: Willett; Tighe, Barnes, Wallis, Jacques; Common, Price, Pitcher, Collins, Rose; Johnson.
Subs: Miles (Price 67), Bant (Collins 72), Davess (Rose 87), Booth, P Wickwar (unused).
Starman: Shared between Tom Barnes and Rowan Wallis who were simply magnificent.