Easter. A time for family, a time for eating so much chocolate you can hardly stand, a time for yet another showing of Ben Hur on the telly. A time for the good folk of Middle Road to get wobbly knees and throw away the SCFL Premier Division trophy they’ve had at least one hand on since August.
Well perhaps not the last one. But Shoreham’s last minute home defeat to Horsham YMCA on Easter Saturday put Haywards Heath Town firmly in the driving seat, a position which seemed almost as unlikely as Trevor McCreadie’s dad becoming chair of the Referees Union when the Musselmen turned over Town in mid December to go eight points clear. On Easter Monday at The Beacon even the most committed away supporters were scratching their heads and wondering how it had come to this.
Well that, and wondering why the lovely folk in the Hassocks T Bar were wearing chickens on their heads.
Competitive Mid Sussex derby matches don’t happen all that often. It had been many years since Haywards Heath Town, Burgess Hill Town and Hassocks had been in the same division, and although Heath and Hill are doing their best to make sure they get to play each other next season this was still an occasion to savour. It was also, courtesy of the weekend’s results, rather critical to the outcome of the title. Shoreham, now a point off the pace, had what looked like a relatively easy match at underperforming Lancing. Heath, however, were facing a Hassocks side who had won their last six home matches. A large crowd (obviously, size is relative) was expected.
Anyone who may have missed the importance of this game was reminded prior to their arrival. The garden centre next door to Hassocks FC had employed its own parking mafia; yellow coated stewards standing outside the entrance and turning away anyone who might have been trying to watch the football rather than spend a fortune on overpriced local wine or an ugly statue of a bulldog. There was really no need, however- the football club had opened an additional parking area in a field behind the stand, so no miscreants were likely to take an illicit parking space and in so doing stop a visitor from experiencing the enormous monstrosity which is the Heritage Centre Shopping Village.
The Beacon, as always, was rather beautiful. Tea was served in mugs, bacon sandwiches flew from the hotplate thick and fast (and dolloped with ketchup, although it was noted that one strange individual wanted brown sauce, he was probably an inhabitant of Hurstpierpoint), and a myriad of supporters stood, fed and watered, and stared at the green hulk of the South Downs- windmills and all- whilst hoping that perhaps the sun would come out. It did, occasionally, but never for very long. Soon, however, they had something as impressive as the South Downs- if not quite as large- to watch, as Heath’s new striker Melford Simpson bore down on the Hassocks goal.
The signing of Simpson has changed Heath’s approach somewhat, as well as seemingly relegating 26 goal striker Trevor McCreadie to the bench. Robbed of some of their width by the long-term injury to Callum Saunders, they’ve become suddenly addicted to the Charles Hughes Book of Tactics, lofting the ball Simpson-ward every chance they get. That shouldn’t be read as a criticism. The former Aylesbury, Fisher, Hayes and Yeading and –whisper it- Shoreham striker may be a bit of an Ade Akinfenwa mini-me but he is strong, dominant in the air and surprisingly nimble, and was quickly unsettling the home defence; although it must be said he was helped by being initially marked by the Robins Luke Akehurst, who looked a full five inches shorter.
It took the home side until almost half time to really get going, and by that point they were a goal behind. Heath took the game to their opponents, with both Naim Rouane and Jamie Weston firing over the bar in the first ten minutes before Simpson was only thwarted by an exceptional challenge from Akehurst after taking the ball past Robins keeper James Broadbent. Broadbent, who was to have a fabulous match, could do nothing about the Heath opener on twenty minutes, a Simpson header across goal being knocked home by Weston despite the keeper’s best efforts. More Heath pressure came and went without reward, before Hassocks almost got back into it just before the break, as a header from skipper Ashley Marsh bounced back off the bar.
The home side started the second period rejuvenated, and immediately put pressure on the Heath goal. Two free kicks in quick succession were floated into the box and neither were defended particularly well, but Liam Benson couldn’t quite get a final touch, before substitute Dan Stokes fired a shot just wide of the right hand post. There was time for Broadbent to save a point blank Simpson effort but Hassocks were in the ascendency. Heath winger Max Miller was reduced to calling on his team mates to keep calm, and The Robins poured forward, but for all their pressure Heath keeper Simon Lehkyj was barely called upon. Once the storm was weathered, Heath got back into the groove and went further ahead.
There was some controversy about the goal that doubled the visitor’s lead. Simpson, who a few minutes earlier had twice had his shorts pulled down by Hassocks striker Phil Gault at a corner, and without the officials noticing, seemed to foul home centre back Jordan Badger as the ball was played forward, but the referee let play continue and Jamie Weston was once more available to stroke a shot into the corner of the net. Badger was as angry as if he’d been accused of spreading bovine tuberculosis, but the officials were unmoved and from this point the match was as good as over. It became rather niggly, with a rash of late tackles and yellow cards, but not at any point did the home side threaten to reduce arrears; indeed the chances came at the other end, Broadbent saving well from Kane Louis, Trevor McCreadie (on as a substitute) and Bailie Rogers.
The match ended with no further score, and the Heath faithful awaited news from Culver Road, where it transpired that Shoreham had made hard work of defeating Lancing by a single goal- Kieron Pamment’s twenty-seventh of the season. Heath remain a point clear at the top of the division, with two matches remaining; next weekend both they and Shoreham are at home, to Loxwood and Pagham respectively, before both sides finish the campaign with away matches at Horsham YMCA and Arundel. None of these matches look easy, and with both clubs collecting and discarding players like a small boy with a Panini sticker album neither can be said to have entirely settled sides.
More photographs can be found here:
Published on in Steps 3-6.