AN often scrappy but entertaining game on Saturday saw Hailsham Town held to a 2-2 draw at home to Rustington.
After morning showers had taken their toll on a Beaconsfield pitch recovering from hosting three games in the same week (much to the frustration of the hard-working ground staff), Town started by far the brighter and, after a first minute corner which bobbled unkindly for Shane Saunders (pictured), took the lead when Jamie Salvidge was left unmarked to head home a Ben Billings corner at the far post just a matter of seconds later.
After the perfect start though came the visitors’ instant response, when an initially harmless looking long ball caused confusion between goalkeeper and defence to allow Rustington to equalise with what would prove to be one of only two shots on target all afternoon.
Hailsham huffed and puffed, creating chances but unable to capitalise, whilst Rustington battled bravely in the midfield, looking far better opposition from the team who were smashed 6-0 earlier in the season in the Cup.
After the interval it was more of the same – Hailsham having more of the possession but unable to get their short passing game flowing, whilst Rustington pressed and harried, never allowing the hosts time on the ball.
Midway through the second half though, one of a number of direct balls into the channels from the West Sussex side paid off, with keeper Ollie Nicholls caught slightly out of position and unable to do anything about a dipping, lobbed effort from out wide from Ross Adams.
Hailsham could have replied instantly when Saunders looked to have been pulled back in the box, whilst the busy Billings shot over from distance, before Lee Barnard, surging through the middle, beat two before shooting straight at Rustington goalkeeper Jack Bonetti, grandson of England and Chelsea legend Peter.
On a rare foray forward, Rustington were awarded a penalty when Riddiford fouled a player breaking into the box.
The spot kick, though well struck, was bundled away by Nicholls and in the resutling scramble, although the ball did end up in the net, a foul had been given against an onrushing forward. This gavee the Stringers something of a let off and a renewed spirit. Billings looked to be the main threat all afternoon for Hailsham, and it was from his free kick that the equaliser came on 81 minutes – a dangerous ball into the box sliced into the net by a visiting defender.
Hailsham were forced to scramble away a corner as time ran out, whilst a chance for Danny Leach at the other end – and the end of the 90 minutes – was bravely blocked by Bonetti, with a point apiece the result.
Hailsham had a big night on Tuesday, going to Shoreham to face league leaders East Preston in the Semi Final of the Division Two Cup. Middle Road is also the venue tonight (Friday) for the Reserve Team, as they compete in the Semi Finals of the Reserve Section Challenge Cup, against Selsey.
Tomorrow (Saturday) Hailsham host Steyning Town in the league (3pm kick off).
TOWN: Nicholls, Dean Stevens, Richardson, Riddiford, Lewis, Barnard, Salvidge, Jarvis (Dallaway 85), Leach, Saunders, Billings. Unused Subs: Tanner, Ottley, Skan, Hall.