By Stuart Fairway
Hailsham Town played out a 12 goal thriller in the Extra Preliminary Round of the FA Cup at home to Crawley Down Gatwick on Saturday, eventually going down 7-5 to exit the competition at the first hurdle.
Even before kickoff events took an unusual turn, with referee Dave Philp pulling up in the warmup, leaving assistant Phil Wilkes to take the middle and Hailsham Vice-Chairman Ian Fairweather called into action as a replacement assistant.
On a baking hot afternoon at The Beaconsfield, the Stringers took an early lead when a combination of tenacity and skill saw youngster Charlie Levi burst into the area in the 8th minute to cut the ball back for Sam Divall, who drilled home through the legs of the ‘keeper.
With the Stringers knocking the ball around nicely, a break from the visitors saw Kieran Grieg steer an effort into the far corner on the 15th minute mark.
By 25, the visitors had taken the lead, when another ball down the right hand side was worked square for the excellent Kerran Boylan to shoot home, before Boylan added his second on 39 from close range.
Hailsham could, and perhaps should, have made it 3-2 soon after, when Sam Divall’s header looped over the ‘keeper, only for the effort to be ruled out for a push in the buildup by the referee. The game restarted with a free kick, and the visitors countered quickly, with Sam Cane scoring within 30 seconds of the ball being in the net at the other end.
With home supporters still complaining about the ball that wasn’t, Crawley Down would add a fifth before the interval with Boylan claiming his hatrick with another effort across goal and into the far corner.
Hailsham’s young side though would not give up, and started the second half with attacking intent, Sam Divall seeing an effort tipped wide, whilst Ousman Jarjue shot over, before, on the hour, Sam Divall finished with aplomb after a flicked header from Charlie Shearing. A fine solo run at the other end followed - Oli Leslie’s mazy run from 30 yards ending with a fine finish, and leaving the Stringers facing a mountain to climb.
Still though Dave Shearing’s side did not give in - a fine free kick found the head of debutant substitute Billy Taylor on 70, and when a similar situation presented itself three minutes later, Lewis Parsons got on the end of the cross to net his first goal since returning to the club in the summer.
The visitors were reduced to ten men soon after for a professional foul, whilst a third free kick in a dangerous position saw a bullet header from Ousman Jarju fly just past the post.
Myles Pitt though had other ideas, scoring the seventh from close range for the visitors on 79, before Sam Divall completed the scoring and claimed a very much deserved hatrick on 86, again shooting through the legs of ‘keeper Andy Greaves from a tight angle.
An extraordinary game saw both sides applauded from the field, with Crawley Down Gatwick going on to host Corinthian Casuals in the Preliminary Round.
Hailsham, meanwhile, open their league season with a tough looking task on Saturday, away at early title favourites Shoreham, before welcoming Eastbourne United to the Beaconsfield on Tuesday 16th August.
Hailsham’s Under 21’s, many of whom were in action on Saturday, have an Eastbourne Challenge Cup Semi Final away at Ringmer on Wednesday evening (7.30)
Hailsham; Szfranski, Findon (Le Beau 52), Piper, Parsons, Fullerton, Flood (Taylor 68), Levi (Henriques 60), Kinteh, Divall, Shearing, Jarjue
Unused; Thornton, T Anderson, R Anderson, Levett
Man of the Match; Sam Divall - Led from the front with great endeavour and fine finishing