THE County League title race will go down to the last Saturday of the season after Three Bridges title parade ran into a Peacehaven road block on Tuesday night.
On an emotionally-charged night, Peacehaven paid tribute to Connor Saunders with an astonishing display of defiance in preventing Bridges claiming the win which would have given them the title. They now face a dramatic shoot-out with Rye United, who won the RUR Cup on Tuesday night with a 2-0 victory over Selsey and will arrive at the Jubilee Field full of confidence. That’s a pressurised situation, but surely nowhere near as intense as the pressure which Peacehaven were under on Tuesday night.
Following a week which would have tested the resolve of any team, they took to the pitch in a match billed as a tribute to their former team mate. The match was postponed on Saturday as Peacehaven’s players felt they weren’t ready to compete following Connor’s death less than a week before that day’s kick-off. That had clearly changed by Tuesday and the stage was set for what proved to be a dramatic night. With Connor’s father Shaun Saunders obviously in no position to participate in his usual role as team manager, Terry Hall and Pete Edwards took charge of a team which included the recalled Ryan Bradley and Aaron Gunn, who hadn’t intended to play again this season. He wore the number 17 shirt, with Saunders’ number five not included. It was a match Three Bridges needed to win, but one which Peacehaven dared not lose. Bridges have traditionally struggled at this stage of the season, and their nerves were showing as Peacehaven asserted themselves in the opening stages. Their nerves were heightened when the Tye took the lead from their first attack. Bradley Murray seized on Bradley’s wayward cross, cut inside Dean Carden and curled his shot past Simon Lehkyj. Carl Dunk almost doubled the lead shortly afterwards, but Peacehaven’s good work was undone by the concession of a sloppy equaliser. Adam Kneller had made an uncertain start and, when he allowed a long punt to bounce in the area, the speedy Abu Touray stole in behind him and levelled the score.
The home side should have taken the lead when Wes Millis was dragged out of position, allowing Touray to fire in a cross which was met with a full-blooded shot from Tim Rivers, kept out by a fine save from Josh Heyburn.
There was already a desperation about the effort being put in by both sides and things boiled over when Bradley “collided” with Bridges manager Paul Falli. The referee, Theo Parfitt, adjudged that Falli had thrown a head butt and banished him from the dugout. It was an act which would have been unsavoury at the best of times, but when one considers the backdrop to this fixture it was inexcusable.
The hectic pace continued after half-time, and temperatures grew even higher with a brace of hotly-contested penalties. The first saw Ashley Rees go down under challenge from Carden, allowing Dunk to put Peacehaven back in front. Within minutes Kneller had baulked Touray and Nigel Brake had matched Dunk’s effort.
With their initial adrenalin having worn off, a number of Haven players were struggling with injury, and Gunn, O’Toole and Hall all departed in quick sucession. That forced a radical and somewhat unconvincing reorganisation of the team, and handed the initiative to the hosts.
When the referee joined the injury list after pulling a calf, it allowed Peacehaven time to reorganise, and it was they who came closest to claiming a winner, when Craig Bunch somehow failed to find the target with a header from inside the six-yard box.
The anticipated surge from Three Bridges failed to materialise and they will now have to pick themselves up for their showdown Saturday. For Peacehaven there was a huge sense of a relief that a night few could have relished had ended positively.
TYE: Heyburn, Hall (Bunch), Hill, Millis, Gunn (Levitt), Kneller, O’Toole (Dudson), Dunk, Rees, Bradley, Murray