Chichester City denied by late Hassocks goal - and there goes top spot

Chi City score in an earlier game - v Shoreham - and were in the goals against Hassocks, but had to settle for a 3-3 draw / Picture by Dan Andrade
Chi City score in an earlier game - v Shoreham - and were in the goals against Hassocks, but had to settle for a 3-3 draw / Picture by Dan Andrade

A goal by subsitute James Littlejohn with barely five minutes to go earned ten men Hassocks a deserved point against high fliers Chichester.

The home side came into the match on the back of four straight wins in the league, while the visitors arrived with one win in six in the SCFL premier division.

City were 6-0 winners when the teams met in the reverse fixture a couple of games into the season but Hassocks had a real go in a County Cup first-round match that Chi edged 2-1 at Oakland’s Park in October.

Bosses Miles Rutherford and Graeme Gee made four changes to the starting XI that beat league leaders Horsham YMCA the previous week. Jordan Matthews returned in goal and in came Kaleem Haitham, Rory Biggs and Terrell Lewis.

City were without the suspended Scott Jones but looked to be on their way to another three points even without their leading scorer when they went ahead through goals from Rob Hutchings and Gicu Iordache in the first 30 minutes.

There had been little to choose beteeen the sides early on. Hassocks keeper Josh Green nervously punched away a corner in the fourth minute and then was thankful to see Dave Herbert fizz a shot just wide of the right hand stick moments later. At the other end Phil Johnson gave Chi defenders something to think about and Ben Pashley was booked for a challenge on the Hassocks striker.

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The opening goal came after 19 minutes when Green gave Hutchings an early Christmas present with a poor kick. Hutchings gratefully accepted his gift and smashed the ball into the back of the net. Haitham almost got in after another slip-up at the back before a super jinking run and finish by Iordache doubled the lead.

City were cruising and had Hassocks ruffled. Liam Benson and Jake Lindsay picked up yellows for niggly fouls, the sign of frustration. It should have been 3-0 on 37 minutes when Hutchings found himself in an excellent position but Green got his angles right.

Johnson, who put in a real shift all game, capitalised on some City indecision to pull one back five minutes before the interval. And it was all square on the stroke of half-time when an unnecessary corner was given away after Chi failed to clear their lines. An unmarked Harry Mills tucked a neat header past a despairing Matthews.

Hutchings forced Green into a save three minutes into the second half that he gathered at the second attempt.

The Hassocks keeper did well too in dealing with crosses from Haitham and Matt Axell but there was nothing he could do with Connor Cody’s goal - a sweet finish to a flowing move that regained the lead for the home side on 54 minutes.

Josh Clack came on for Haitham and was soon causing problems. Andy Whittingham just managed to deflect Clack’s free kick away from danger.

Other chances came and went for Chi and when Dan Jacques was sent off for a last-man foul of sorts on Hutchings with fully 20 minutes to go it seemed the home side would kick on and make the most of their advantage.

Hassocks had other ideas and a lovely strike by Littlejohn levelled things once more. And the spirited visitors dug in for the six minutes or so of time added on. Green tipped a Clack cross over, Matt Axell drove an effort wide and Hutchings went close.

Horsham YMCA’s win at East Preston ensures they are top spot for Christmas Day while City slip to second place ahead of Newhaven, Saltdean, Eastbourne Town and Pagham in the chasing pack.

Next up for Chi is the Boxing Day derby at Pagham (11am kick off).

Chichester: Matthews, Lewis, Hartley, Axell, Cody, Pashley, Haitham, Biggs, Hutchings, Herbert, Iordache. Subs. Peake, Williams, Edwards, Clack, Ndlovu.