Withdean Stadium has seen some memorable football matches – but this wasn’t one

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By contrast, no one who was there for AFC Varndeanians against Hassocks is likely to remember the hosts’ 1-0 win beyond the end of the week – even the home fans who saw their side win a third Premier game. Division of the season to further strengthen their hopes of a great escape from relegation.

Having failed to claim victory in any of their first 25 games in all competitions, the Varndians belatedly came to life under their third coach of the season, Dave Bridges. Their win over Hassocks made it 11 points from a possible 21 since mid-December, a run that lifted the Varndeanians above East Preston at the bottom of the table and narrowed the gap to third-bottom Loxwood to seven points .

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The Robins are 10 points clear of the Varndeans, a reminder for Brad Sweetman and his players that they are still in the relegation battle despite their own recent improvement in form. Wins at Crawley Down Gatwick and AFC Uckfield Town meant Hassocks arrived at Withdean with the prospect of putting three straight wins on the board for the first time this season.

Beanbags in action at Eastbourne Town earlier in the season / Photo: Joe Knight

Unfortunately, the Robins didn’t register any scoring chances in the 90 minutes in which the ball spent more time in the air than on the ground. It wouldn’t be surprising to learn that chiropractors in the Westdene and Hassocks areas were fully booked for the following fortnight given the workout the spectators’ necks got from watching the ball fly from end to end, as if a game of tennis was held instead of football.

The nearest Hassocks came to trouble Varndeanians goalkeeper Leo Anderson with seven minutes on the clock. New signing Alfie Edmeads escaped down the left to deliver a dangerous cross which local captain Oliver Stevenson did well to clear.

Debutant Edmeads was one of the few bright spots for the Robins. A young player good enough to have broken into a talented Saltdean United side challenging for the Southern Combination League title ahead of his move to the Beacon, Hassocks hopes he can make a positive impact in their fight at the opposite end of the league. table.

The Varndeans took their first chance in nine minutes. Tom Boyle looked perfectly placed to kick the ball past Alex Harris, but the home side striker managed to shake off the wrong side of the post rather than finding the back of the net. Boyle’s next goal was a giveaway from Hassocks on the half hour mark. Jack Baden’s back pass attempt was far too weak to reach Harris, leaving the Robins keeper in a running race with the Varndeanians’ number nine.

Everyone expected Boyle to come first, but Harris showed surprisingly quick pace, making a good tackle to smother the danger. The Varndeans grew in confidence as half-time went on, providing a real test for Dan Turner and Sam Smith who played together as a central defensive partnership for the first time with Turner’s regular partner Bradley Tighe absent.

Along with Edmeads, Turner and Smith were rare Hassocks players who could be reasonably satisfied with their afternoons. Smith in particular looked good considering he last started a game six weeks ago and hadn’t played defense for Hassocks since his fall move from Loxwood.

The arrival of half-time gave the feeling that if it was not to end 0-0, then a goal would be enough to decide it. Hassocks huffed and huffed in an attempt to find it in the opening 15 minutes of the second half without ever making an inroad, only to be caught at the hour-break by a deft counter from Varndeanians.

Kyle Woolven played a nice slide rule pass to put Finley Bigg, who made no mistake with a clinical finish in the far corner. Sweetman turned to his bench to try to provoke a response. Charlie Broad had scored the winner at Uckfield seven days earlier and he started proceedings with Jack Troak.

The hope was that Broad and Troak would turn Hassocks into a more offensive threat. Anderson, however, remained quiet as the Varndeans watched the game, with Hassocks knowing they will have to do better against Seaford Town on Tuesday night with a place in the semi-finals of the Sussex Principal RUR Charity Cup up for grabs.

Ottomans: Harris; Rawlingson, Turner, S Smith, Baden; Edmeads, J Westlake, L Westlake, Bant; Anyway, Loversidge. Submarines: Troak, Broad (used), Tuck, Marshall, Wickwar (unused).

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