Report by By Ian Townsend
SATURDAY 20TH AUGUST 2022
HASSOCKS 1 UXBRIDGE 3 (HT 1-1)
Uxbridge travelled to the foot of the South Downs to take on Hassocks in the FA Cup. They had to work hard, but they eventually triumphed
If you’ve never been to Hassocks- and let’s face it, the likelihood is that you’ve never been to Hassocks- then you probably won’t know much about this village side from the Southern Combination Football League. In truth, even if you live in the village- which is rapidly transforming into a small town, only without the infrastructure to support one- you probably don’t know very much about its football club, which is a shame, because it’s really worth a visit.
We were visiting The Beacon Ground in the company of our very own Uxbridge, who were about to take on the Robins in the Preliminary Round of the FA Cup. And the Beacon Ground is rather special. Rearing up in the distance behind the grandstand is the bulk of the South Downs, two windmills adorning the top- Jack and Jill (Jill is the one with sails- sweeps as they are actually called, a distinction very important to windmill enthusiasts). Over to the right- if you’re standing by the clubhouse- is the rounded summit of Wolstonbury Hill, with its bronze age remains and beautiful woodland. To your left, you won’t actually see the Brighton mainline, but you will hear it, regularly. And behind you? An enormous and ugly garden centre, which won’t allow you to park there if you’re watching the football. Everywhere has its carbuncle.
As the travelling Red Army were finding, the Beacon is a hospitable place. The clubhouse is welcoming, as are the natives. The settlement that gives the club its name may be growing, but the football club still has the village atmosphere it has always had. This really is the antithesis of the professional game in many ways. Not only will they not try to charge you almost four pounds for a cup of tea, but they’ll have made the cake they serve with your beverage themselves. You can take your refreshments and perch yourself on the grass bank behind one of the goals, or sit on a park bench if you don’t fancy the grandstand. You’ll be greeted like an old friend at every turn. To put it into an Isthmian context, it’s like visiting a miniature version of the Dripping Pan. If Hassocks were in our league then Lewes would have another rival in the annual ‘favourite ground’ competition.
It almost seemed a shame that we wanted the locals to end their afternoon mildly miserable.
The FA Cup hasn’t really been a friend to Uxbridge. Only once in the last twenty years have they got past the Second Qualifying Round, and apart from a three year halcyon period during the mid to late 1980’s when they reached the 3rd Qualifying Round three times there has been little cup success to crow about during their nearly one hundred and thirty year history.
It isn’t that they are no good at knockout football. Their FA Trophy record, for example, shows a run to the Third Round just two seasons ago, including a win over Chippenham Town; and it’s little more than a decade since they were departing that competition in the Second Round against the might of Luton Town- and they’ve won the Middlesex Charity Cup so often during the last decade you’d think they’d be allowed to keep it. But where the FA Cup is concerned, they are to the competition what North Macedonia is to the Eurovision Song Contest.
The relationship of Hassocks and the FA Cup was even worse. If Uxbridge are North Macedonia, then the Robins are like San Marino. Apart from one trip to the Third Qualifying Round twenty years ago- they lost to Lewes, incidentally- the last sixteen years have seen them fail to progress past the First Qualifying Round, and they’ve only got that far three times during that period, the last occasion in 2014 when they lost to Chipstead. They also lost to the Chips in 2019, and Bedfont Sports are another recent South Central victor.
Uxbridge, their FA Cup record aside, should have travelled with a fair amount of confidence. Four points from six was their reward from the two opening games of the season, and after narrowly missing out on the Play Off places last season looked to be fielding their strongest side for many a year. The loss of twenty five goal centre forward Anthony Mendy was obviously going to hurt, but boss Danny Edwards looked to have built solidly on last season’s foundations. He made seven changes from midweek, so he must have been confident in his squad.
The hosts got us underway, but it took Uxbridge, in blue, only one minute to pose a threat, Juwon Akintunde narrowly failing to connect with a header. Hassocks quickly settled, however, and caused consternation with a free kick into the box and almost immediately came close from a corner. At the other end Lonit Talla curled a shot wide of the keepers left hand post. The crowd spread around the pitch, many choosing to lounge on the grass banks to the end and side of the pitch, enjoying both the sunshine and the game.
The next chance, in the tenth minute, followed a period of Uxbridge pressure. Jack Beadle, scorer of two in midweek, pulled his shot narrowly wide- but the hosts were defending deeply and breaking quickly, denying the visiting attack space.
On eighteen minutes we got the opening goal, and on balance of play it wasn’t an enormous surprise that it went to the hosts. A cross to the back post, Phil Johnson in the air, his header beating Tyler Tobin and nestling in the Uxbridge net- although it may have got a defensive touch on the way. Stunned silence from the visitors, wild celebration from the Robins.
The equaliser took only three minutes, but the celebration was, this time, muted. David Sota will get the credit, but he seemed embarrassed to take it, as in reality the goal was more down to a goalkeeping error; the wind, which was gusting across the pitch, taking the ball further than he anticipated. But they all count, and Uxbridge were level.
The hosts responded, and Tobin had to save twice, first from a free kick just in from the corner flag and then from the resulting twenty yard piledriver, which he tipped over at full stretch.
We then had fifteen minutes which weren’t worth writing about, before the visitors got the ball in the net- only for the Assistant’s flag to say no. That sparked a period of Uxbridge pressure, but it came to naught, and was brought to an end by the half time whistle.
The visitors were quickly out for the restart- long before the hosts- and were quickly on the attack. Beadle was particularly busy, immediately putting in a cross, then soon having a shot blocked. Another cross from the Uxbridge number eleven was fired across the six yard box, only for nobody to be following in. There was suddenly an urgency about the visitors that had been far less apparent in the first half- and it soon turned into goals, Beadle firing home in the fifty sixth minute to give his side the lead for the first time.
Uxbridge defend the windmill end!
Hassocks didn’t give up. Tom Frankland was particularly industrious, whilst Johnson, who you might remember from his spells at Burgess Hill Town and Haywards Heath Town, didn’t give the visiting centre backs time to relax. “We don’t roll over, we dig in,” shouted home keeper Alex Harris to his team mates during a break in play, whilst an elderly home fan in the stand complained about his language- we may have missed out a word between “we” and “dig,” They didn’t look like rolling over for a moment, and had “dug in” from the first minute, but the visitors looked more composed. We approached the last twenty minutes, and Frankland forced Tobin into a save as a shot headed towards the top corner, although the keeper was troubled more by its height than its power.
More Uxbridge pressure saw Akintunde causing consternation in the home defence, but the Robins stood strong, the lead wasn’t extended, and we entered the last ten minutes with the match still in the balance. The hosts brought on Danny Reid, hair like an eighties pop star, in an attempt to reinforce their attack- but again it was the visitors doing most of the attacking, with a succession of corners and crosses which were lacking a finishing touch, whilst Reid, and Johnson, waited on the half way line in the hope of a ball out of defence. Akintunde then had to deliver an important header at the wrong end, as the hosts took a turn to press, and we entered the last two minutes. “We’re gonna win three-two,” said a voice from the stand which clearly didn’t believe its own words.
Instead, into the third minute of added time, it was three-one. A cross from substitute Joe Jackson, and there was Akintunde to force the ball home. It was scrappy, but it sealed the victory, finally.
The draw for the First Qualifying Round will be announced on Monday. Uxbridge will be delighted to be in it. They weren’t on top form, but on the basis of their second half display, they deserved to progress.