Struggling Arundel on top against Hassocks in the battle of the two longest serving teams

Phil Johnson in action against Arundel on Saturday. Picture by Steve Robards
Phil Johnson in action against Arundel on Saturday. Picture by Steve Robards

It used to be the case thant whenever the two longest serving teams in the Southern Combination League Premier Division met, whoever was at home out of Hassocks or Arundel would tend to win the game.

Well, not any more. The struggling Mullets won for the second successive season at the Beacon, going some of the way to avenging the fact that Hassocks have triumphed on their last two visits to Mill Road.

The most recent of those came in August, a 3-1 victory which was Hassocks’ first of the campaign and pointed to a long season ahead for their hosts.

Those predictions have come true and Arundel arrived in Mid Sussex second bottom of the table with only three league wins to their name so far.

You can see our picture gallery from Hassocks v Arundel here
Win number four was achieved via second half goals from Benjamin Gray and Harry Russell, the 2-0 success lifting Simon Hull’s side two places above Loxwood and Little Common and out of the relegation zone in the process.

To complete a miserable day for the hosts, they also saw left back Andy Whittingham dismissed in only his sixth appearance back in a Hassocks shirt since returning to the club after seven years away.

Mark Dalgleish made just one change to the side who had won at Eastbourne United a week previously, Jordan Badger returning at centre back with Harry Mills pushed into midfield to replace the unavailable Dan Stokes.

SEE ALSO Burgess Hill Town suffer third successive league defeat | What is Crawley Town's women's player pathway? | Sittingbourne v Haywards Heath Town picture gallery

For all their good form since Christmas, Hassocks were a pale imitation of the side that had won five of their previous six matches and in truth, Arundel were deserved winners of an encounter low on any real quality.

Matters weren’t helped by a hurricane that was blowing from one end of the Beacon down to the other, restricting Hassocks’ normal potency as a counter attacking unit and ensuring that it was a stop-start game in which the Robins never really got going.

Before kick off, you’d have assumed that the side who defended the wind best would be the one who had the greater chance of winning the tie.

Hassocks therefore would certainly have been the happier of the two sides at half time as they came in with the scores locked at 0-0 having had the gale in their face for the previous 45 minutes.

Liam Benson had the best chance in that first half when he found himself one-on-one with Daniel Stevens, but the figure of Arundel captain Jordan Dudas galloping back to try and retrieve the situation put Benson under added pressure and that was enough to seem him fail to finish.

The Mullets were well organised when it came to it being their turn to defend the wind after the break and Hassocks couldn’t find a way through as Arundel gave their survival chances a real shot in the arm with a gritty second half display.

The one thing that Arundel do have in the battle to avoid the drop that other teams in and around the relegation zone don’t is an out-and-out goal scorer in the shape of Gray, and it was he who gave the Mullets the lead on 57 minutes with his 14th goal of the season.

Two key moments from a Hassocks point of view followed that.

The Robins’ own improvement from regular strugglers to their current mid table position has been founded on acquiring a quality striker of their own in Phil Johnson, but the normally reliable marksman fluffed his lines when miscuing a James Littlejohn cross from just five yards out.

Had Johnson managed to convert, an equaliser at that point might have changed the game but that miss was compounded when Whittingham was shown red for a tackle from behind.

Those two moments lifted Arundel’s spirits and they duly added a second through Harry Russell with 70 on the clock.

Despite there still being 20 minutes left and with Hassocks still having the wind advantage, there was no real optimism among the home support that the Robins were going to come back into the tie.

And so it proved, a lacklustre last quarter of an hour ensuring that Arundel left with all three points on another fruitful trip to the Beacon for the Mullets.

Hassocks: Green; Tighe, Jacques, Badger, Whittingham; Blake, Mills, Enticknap, Littlejohn; Benson, Johnson.

Subs: Slaughter, Bull, Lindsey (used).

Starman: Dan Jacques.