Troak and Johnson fire Hassocks to first Premier Division victory of the season

Hassocks captain Phil Johnson. Picture by Steve Robards
Hassocks captain Phil Johnson. Picture by Steve Robards

The record books will show that Hassocks’ first win of the 2019/20 campaign was delivered by a slender one-goal margin, but their performance at the Beacon deserved more.

A much-changed East Preston side were the visitors to Mid Sussex on Tuesday night and even those with the most white-and-black tinted spectacles would be hard pressed to disagree that on another day, Hassocks could have run up a cricket score.

2-1 was how it ended, the Robins coming from behind to win thanks a goal on his home debut from young Jack Troak and a winner 15 minutes from time from Phil Johnson.

But in reality, it could and should have been much more.

Hassocks hit the bar three times; they missed three further chances with the goal gaping; had two shots blocked on the line and Stuart MacDonald in the EP goal clawed two more out at full stretch.

It was an entertaining 90 minutes that ebbed and flowed, a far cry from the Robins’ turgid season opener on Saturday when they failed to muster a shot of any description in a 2-0 defeat at Horley Town.

Mark Dalgleish made two changes from that trip to the New Defence as Lewis Westlake replaced Alex Spinks and James Littlejohn came in for Dan Stokes.

Littlejohn in particular was a lively presence throughout and he set the tone for his enterprising evening by having the first opportunity with just five minutes played.

Westlake released Jack Rowe-Hurst down the right and his low cutback found Troak in the box.

Much of the ground were expecting the former Lewes midfielder to shoot but instead he produced a clever layoff to Littlejohn who curled just wide.

Eight minutes later and Littlejohn was free at the back post but a brilliant last gasp block from EP left back Jack Bingham deflected his shot over the bar.

Bingham repeated his heroics from the resulting corner, hacking clear from on the line after Johnson had diverted Westlake’s delivery.

EP mustered their first shot on target with a quarter of an hour played, Howard Neighbour’s deflected shot requiring a brilliant reaction save by Josh Green to his left at the expense of the corner.

From the resulting delivery, Hassocks failed to clear their lines which left Neighbour with the simple task of firing home from a matter of inches.

The bar intervened on EP’s behalf for the first time with 20 minutes played when Johnson rattled it from Littlejohn’s pullback.

On the half hour mark, those roles were reversed and it was Johnson who was crossing for Littlejohn who couldn’t quite connect with the low ball in. Littlejohn then looped a header from a Troak cross onto the roof of the net.

Troak, playing with his socks rolled down his legs like a modern-day Steve Claridge, was making quite the impression on his Beacon bow and it was he who levelled things up two minutes before the break.

Westlake whipped over a corner from the left, the bearded face of Will Broomfield was involved in there somewhere with the ball eventually falling to Troak who bundled home.

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Littlejohn was back in the thick of the action at the start of second half, drawing a good save from MacDonald with Matt Berridge following suit.

EP had two forays forward after that, David Crouch firing over from the edge of the box and Green again getting down well to divert Josh Irish’s effort around the post.

Westlake’s free kick from a full 35 yards was next to hit the bar as the ball bounced and evaded everyone before cannoning against the woodwork.

The bar was still rattling two when Harvey Blake came rampaging forward from right back two minutes later, sidestepped past two EP defenders and then smashed his shot against it with MacDonald nothing more than a startled onlooker.

At that point, the home faithful could have been forgiven for thinking it was going to be one of those nights until Johnson struck.

The goal owed much to Troak who breezed past Harry Williams and laid a clever ball back into the path of Johnson.

The Hassocks captain still had plenty to do but do it he did, two touches working some room from where he was able to beat MacDonald with aplomb.

Johnson was on the end of some rough treatment after that and eventually hobbled off for Harry Mills with two minutes remaining, after which EP nearly snatched a point.

Green got in a bit of a mess from a backpass, stumbling over the ball which looked like it had presented Chris Darwin with an open goal only for Mills to react quickest to hack the danger into the garden centre.

There was one final chance for the visitors, a controversial free kick decision in the final seconds going their way after Shaun Brazil had appeared to kick Green as he lay prone on the ground but Neighbour’s effort was more danger to passing trains than the Hassocks goal.

Hassocks: Green, Blake, Broomfield, Kublickas, Whittingham, Westlake, Berridge, Troak, Rowe-Hurst, Littlejohn, Johnson. Subs: Mills, Jacques, Bull, Stokes, Enticknap.