Hassocks give best performance of the season in AFC Varndeanians win

Has a star been born at the Beacon? Alfie Loversidge became the first Hassocks teenager to score a senior hat-trick for 15 years as the Robins hammered AFC Varndeanians 4-1 in the first league meeting between the clubs.

Alfie Loversidge netted a hat-trick in Hassocks' 4-1 win over AFC Varndeanians. Picture by Chris Neal
Alfie Loversidge netted a hat-trick in Hassocks' 4-1 win over AFC Varndeanians. Picture by Chris Neal

Mid-October and the SCFL Premier season 12 games old may be too early to describe a fixture as a six pointer. This had the feeling though of a match Hassocks could not afford to lose against one of only four teams below them in the table.

Varndeanians arrived rock bottom with one draw and 10 defeats from 11 games, but they had shown signs of improvement in recent weeks following the return of Ryan Gayler to Withdean Stadium as manager.

Still, they had no answer to a Hassocks side giving their best performance of the season in front of a Beacon crowd of 210.

Loversidge deservedly took the headlines. This though was a real team effort and equally impressive was his strike partner Joe Bull, who set the Robins on their way to victory when opening the scoring inside of 10 minutes.

It was a goal of individual brilliance, Bull making something out of nothing. He has a natural tendency to drift into the channels and on this occasion, that saw him picking up the ball out on the right.

There did not seem much on as he cut inside the Varndeanians left-back. What followed was a shot unleashed from 25 yards that caught everyone by surprise to nestle in the far corner of the Varndeanians goal.

The visitors nearly had an instant response. Hassocks were unable to clear their lines, a scuffed clearance fell to a Varndeanians player and Charlie Pugh was forced into a smart save.

Hassocks doubled their advantage on 29 minutes with a route one goal full of determination which 1980s Wimbledon would have been proud of.

Andy Whittingham flicked on a Pugh goal kick and when a visiting defender dallied on the ball, the rampaging Bull was able to pick his pocket.

Bull now had a clear run at goal down the left and he selflessly pulled a low cross back to Loversidge who finished with aplomb.

Six minutes later and Hassocks should have had a third. Bull was again at the heart of it, another powerful charge at the Varndeanians defence ending with a shot that was repelled.

He perhaps should have squared to Bradley Bant who was in a far better position to net against the club he began the season with, but nobody could blame Bull for going it alone given the confident mood he was in.

So confident in fact that he was willing to try and audacious bicycle kick a couple of minutes into the second half.

Varndeanians did not need to worry, the effort ending up in the children’s park at the west end of the ground rather than the visitors’ net.

Following that, the remaining 40 or so minutes became the Loversidge show. He scored his second of the afternoon and Hassocks’ third shortly after that Bull overhead.

A flying block of a Josh Short effort fell kindly to Loversidge, who showed a remarkably cool head to round the goalkeeper and finish from a very tight angle.

The treble was completed with 13 minutes remaining. Loversidge converted a penalty after being chopped down in the box, becoming the first 18-year-old to nab a Hassocks hat-trick since Matt Amos in 2006. Not bad company to be in.

The similarities do not end there. Like Amos, Loversidge started out as a midfielder.

Brad Sweetman’s decision to push him further forward in the wake of George Mitchell-Phillips’ departure to Saltdean United is looking inspired and Loversidge now sits on seven goals from 15 matches. He is quite the talent.

There was plenty of action to note in-between Loversidge’s second and third goals, too. Following the return of Spencer Slaughter to the Beacon from Loxwood, Hassocks have also raided Plaistow Road to bring James Westlake and Josh Hawkes back to the club.

Both were introduced as second half substitutes, the recipients of excellent receptions from the Hassocks faithful telling you just how well their captures have gone down.

Westlake nearly made the perfect comeback, rattling the post with a volley five minutes after his introduction. The rebound was bundled home, only to be correctly ruled out for a foul on the goalkeeper by referee Thomas Price.

There were other chances for Hassocks to go beyond the four goals they managed. Westlake tried a bicycle kick of his own from a long throw which was much closer than Bull’s earlier effort, forcing the Varndeanians goalkeeper into a smart save.

Westlake then should have done better when off target from another enterprising cross from Bull and Loversidge was inches wide with a snapshot.

The only downer came when Varndeanians denied Pugh and his defence a clean sheet, substitute Constantin Cornel Ducia powering home a free header with seven minutes remaining.

Hassocks host Eastbourne United this (Tuesday) evening.