There was nothing pretty or particularly entertaining about Hassocks’ seventh league win of the season but that won’t have mattered to those connected with the Robins.
At this stage of a haphazard campaign, getting three points on the board was the most important thing and Hassocks duly delivered as goals from Phil Johnson and Jamie Hillwood saw off Crawley Down Gatwick 2-1 at the Haven.
“There was never going to be much football played on that pitch and in the position we are in it is results that count so that is a valuable three points which we deserved,” was the verdict of joint boss Phil Wickwar.
He was certainly right about the conditions - on a pitch that was bad at best and with a gale blowing across that wouldn’t have looked out of place in the opening 15 minutes of the Wizard of Oz, this was never likely to be a game for the purists between two sides who remain very much in the mire.
Down’s relegation to Division Two is all but sealed already having amassed just five points from 26 games coming into the tie but they still made for prickly opponents against a Hassocks side that knew that three points here was a requirement in their own battle to pull away from trouble.
Suspensions have hit hard at this crucial time of the season with the pivotal duo of Ashley Marsh and Nick Pitcher both ruled out but in their stead, Rowan Wallis and Tom Barnes put in an excellent shift as an emergency centre back partnership that meant George Willet in the Robins goal was rarely troubled.
There was never going to be much football played on that pitchPhil Wickwar
Kicking into the wind in the first half, it took the visitors just 14 minutes to open the scoring when the rampant Phil Johnson jinked around a defender and finished with aplomb from 15 yards out for his third goal in three games and 19th of the season.
He could have hit the magical 20 mark minutes later, again using his pace to carve through the Down defence but this time a mean spirited bobble took the ball away and forced the marksman too wide to convert the opportunity.
It wasn’t just Johnson who was having a running battle with bobbles on a pitch that resembled the surface of the moon, neither side being able to play any sort of passing game as Hassocks went into the break with a deserved lead.
The advantage was doubled five minutes after the restart, Mark Price who was wearing the captains armband in the absence of Marsh and Pitcher slipped in Hillwood with a trademark deft pass and the enigmatic wideman raced clear to finish from the edge of the box via the upper 90.
That should have been game over but Hassocks don’t like to make things easy for themselves, Down equalising just two minutes later with their only effort on target, Lee Thomas rocketing the ball home into the stanchion from a good 25 yards to leave Willett with no chance.
Perking up after that, the home side dominated the next ten minutes as the Robins lost their way somewhat, Dan Jacques producing a cynical yet necessary foul and Ryan Collins being replaced by Dan Stokes as the young central midfielder received both a caution and a stern talking to from referee Theo Parfitt within a matter of minutes.
Collins had a chequered discipline history before his arrival at the Beacon in October but this was the first time the Hassocks faithful had really seen that side of the talented playmaker such has been the improvement in that area of his game in the last six months.
Indeed, it was in fact the home side who ended the game shorthanded, Josh Alcock seeing red for a rash lunge with ten minutes remaining.
That helped the Robins task somewhat although in fairness to the back four they had stood firm all day to secure a victory that moves the Robins three point clear of the drop zone while there was also a late run out for the reserve teams top scorer Liam Benson in place of Bradley Bant who became another victim of the lunar-esque playing field late on.
Hassocks: Willett; Tighe, Barnes, Wallis, Jacques; Hillwood, Price, Collins, Bant, Davess; Johnson.
Subs: Stokes (Collins 72), Benson (Bant 88), Miles, P Wickwar (unused).