Valiant Hassocks put up brave fight in Littlehampton Town loss
St Flora Sportsfield plays host to football and cricket and when the Premier Division's top scorers met one of its leakiest defences, those in an attendance might have been expecting a scoreline more in keeping with the summer game.
Instead, Hassocks put up a brave fight against a Littlehampton Town side who will surely be in title contention come the end of their first top flight campaign for four seasons after a spell in Division One.
It finished 4-2 to the hosts with the Robins gaining a fair amount of praise from the Golds' crowd, many of whom felt that Hassocks will be climbing the table before long if they can produce more performances like this.
As Robins fans can attest to, that is quite a big if. Relying on so many young players carries a risk of serious inconsistency as Hassocks have been living proof of so far.
A two-goal defeat and a right scare for an outstanding Littlehampton side came off the back of 13 goals conceded in three matches, including a 5-1 hammering at the hands of Division One Roffey in the Peter Bentley League Cup.
Prior to that, Hassocks had taken four points from two matches in 48 hours against Steyning Town and Lingfield, despite having to play for over an hour of both those encounters with only 10 men following first half red cards.
The showing at the Sportsfield was much more in keeping with those exploits over the August Bank Holiday Weekend.
Most pleasing for head coach Brad Sweetman would have been the fact that when Littlehampton led 2-0 inside of 13 minutes, there was every chance that the feared cricket score might have materialised.
Hassocks though showed the sort of resilience rarely seen so far this season.
Whereas in recent weeks they have crumbled in similar situations to ship an alarming number of goals in those heavy defeats, here they rallied to level the tie before running out of steam as Littlehampton's additional quality shone.
Sweetman sprung a surprise with his starting line up, handing Jordan Badger the number nine shirt in a piece of out-of-the-box thinking that paid dividends.
Badger has always been a threat from crosses into the box and he is a good player technically too, so using him as a presence in a more attacking role for a side who have struggled in front of goal made sense on paper.
It ended up working on the pitch too, Badger scoring the Robins' second of the afternoon to make it2-2 after 62 minutes.
Neither Badger netting nor Hassocks being on level terms at that point in proceedings were in the pre-game script.
What was expected was an early Littlehampton goal. It arrived within two minutes and came from George Gaskin, so frequently a thorn in Hassocks’ side during the Golds’ previous spell in the Premier Division.
One became two 11 minutes later, Dave Herbert doing the damage this time as the league leaders made things looked remarkably easy.
Most would have assumed that the game was up at the point. Littlehampton were probably thinking about how many they could add to the 28 goals plundered in only eight matches already this season.
Hassocks though were able to make it to half time without conceding again.
That provided a platform for the Robins to come out and stun Littlehampton at the start of the second half and 17 minutes after the restart, they were back on level terms.
Like Badger, Jack Gardner was benefiting from a more advanced role than his usual right back berth and he took full advantage to notch his first senior goal for the club on 54 minutes.
The Sportsfield was then shocked into near silence eight minutes later when Badger scored Hassocks’ second of the afternoon. Suddenly, we had a game on our hands.
If the Robins were to secure an unlikely point or three, then parity needed to remain for as long as possible.
Unfortunately, the scores were level for only six minutes. It was a stunning goal too, Premier Division top scorer Joe Benn firing a rocket which left Alex Harris no chance for a scarcely believable 18th goal of the season by the middle of September.
Hassocks kept plugging away but their goose was finally cooked when Mitchell Hand made it 4-2 with three minutes of normal time remaining, curling a beautiful free kick into the top corner.
Nonetheless, a fine effort from the Robins, who will have also been cheered by a first appearance of the season for Louis Pittock from the substitutes bench following a torrid year of injury problems.