Hassocks' unbeaten start to 2022 comes to an end at Eastbourne United

Eastbourne United has not been the happiest of hunting grounds for Hassocks in recent times and their 2022 visit went to form as they suffered a 1-0 reversal at the Oval.

There was a time when trips to this part of the world used to mean a guaranteed three points for the Robins.

Between 2010 and 2019, they won on six consecutive visits to United, a run of form made all the more extraordinary by the fact that Hassocks finished below United in all but two of those seasons.

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The Robins though have now lost on their three most recent games against United at the Oval, this latest defeat ending their impressive unbeaten start to the new year.

Hassocks' Lewis Westlake found himself in the sin bin at Eastbourne United. Picture by Derek Martin Photography and Art

Home captain Charlie Ball scored the only goal of the game midway through the first half with what was one of the few moments of quality in a pretty turgid affair.

Good football was in short supply as both sides seemed determined to go long, making it an attritional 90 minutes in stark contrast to the entertainment Hassocks have been involved with serving up since the start of December.

Injuries and unavailability have meant that Brad Sweetman has rarely been able to name an unchanged starting XI so far this season.

He was treated to that luxury at the Oval, selecting the same line up who had spoiled Little Common’s homecoming party a week earlier when holding the Green Lane Boys to a draw in their first league game at the Recreation Ground for four years.

Changes now seem likely for next week’s visit of Bexhill United. Bradley Tighe had an excellent personal performance brought to a premature ending when he departed with an ankle injury to be replaced by Arthur Rawlingson whilst there were also decent cameos from the bench from Joe Bull and debutant Charlie Broad.

Young Broad in particular looks an intriguing signing. Yet another acquisition with Loxwood links, his senior bow for the Robins came less than 48 hours after he had scored twice for the under-23s in a 3-2 win over Horsham YMCA which took the Robins development squad top of the North Division.

The closest either side came to opening the scoring before Ball struck was when Tigana Quebe fancied a crack from distance but his effort from outside the area did not bother Alex Harris in the slightest.

More troubling to Harris was Ball’s excellent strike from 25 yards which whistled into the back of the net to give United the lead with 27 minutes on the clock.

There was little the Robins number one could do as Ball conjured something out of nothing.

The 122 in attendance - including a decent number of travelling Hassocks supporters - were no doubt hoping that Ball’s moment of magic might spark the game into life.

Unfortunately, that was not the case and neither side were able to string more than four or five passes together.

Hassocks did lots of huffing and puffing and nobody could fault their work rate. Phil Hawkins in the United goal was rarely troubled despite James and Lewis Westlake and Josh Short’s attempts to make something happen.

The hosts meanwhile really should have gone into the interval with a two goal advantage, squandering a gilt-edged opportunity in first half stoppage time.

Harris got in a bit of a mess when attempting to gather Jack Murphy’s corner, the loose ball falling to Harvey Mapstone who seemed to be caught by surprise at the chance unfolding to him as he somehow fired over.

United registered the first chance of the second half 10 minutes after the restart, Harris doing better to hold a shot after Brett Patton broke clear.

The lively Max Thompson went through one-on-one, only to put his effort off target. That seemed to frustrate the United player and two minutes later he picked up a booking for a quite unnecessary foul.

Ball nearly had his second of the afternoon when meeting a Quebe cross with a powerful header that Harris repelled and the Hassocks goalkeeper again denied the same player with five minutes remaining.

Even when an astonishing eight minutes of injury time was played owing to several stoppages including for Tighe’s departure, Hassocks were unable to force an opportunity as they finished the game with only 10 men on the pitch.

Their frustration had manifested itself just before the end of the 90 when the usually calm Lewis Westlake found his way into the sin bin.

You could excuse the Robins an off day though following a run of four wins, four draws and two defeats in their last 10 outings, pulling themselves 10 points clear of the bottom two in the process.