Double hat-trick delight for Town

We might be in the middle of December but there are still some midweek offerings out there to take your fancy as we head towards the festive fixtures in a couple of weeks’ time.

After last week’s trip to Kent to watch Cray Wanderers it was back local to high flying Littlehampton Town and a catch up with one of my mates, Steve Watson at the same time.

Town were fresh from the weekend’s FA Vase win against Sheppey Utd, a side that are unbeaten in the Southern Counties East League Premier Division, Liam Humphreys scoring the only goal of the game to put the West Sussex outfit into the last 32 and an away draw in January at Athletic Newham.

Their opponents in yet another cup competition, the Sussex FA RUR Cup, were AFC Uckfield who sit far enough away from the relegation places and looking more towards mid-table, but up against a free scoring side who have notched 76 goals in 21 league game alone.

On what was a mild night for football, the visitors had a few delays in arriving at the ground all in one go, the joys of the A26 and 27 and not just during rush hour. Sometimes something like this has no effect on a team and other times it can mean everything goes to pot before the game has kicked off.

But against a side like Littlehampton you can’t give them an inch of space at all and with less than ten minutes on the clock the home side were in front through joint-boss George Gaskin after some smart play.

With the first goal on the board so early on thoughts tend to drift to ‘how many’ as it’s pretty rare for a low scoreline when it involves the Golds. The home side were zipping the ball around well on a sticky surface, that super looking playing surface showing the wear and tear of so many teams playing on it, but Town made it look like there wasn’t an issue with it.

Lucas Pattendon, who was giving the left back a torrid time with his direct running, rattled the post on 20 minutes and almost unbelievably Joe Benn struck the opposite post just a minute later, the onslaught appeared to be coming.

There was a short wait for the game’s second goal and it fell to Gaskin again on the half hour mark, a deft touch from Benn into the path of his fellow front man and he made no mistake.

Just as we seemed set for a 2-0 half-time lead, Gaskin wrapped up his hat-trick with a curled shot beyond the reach of visiting keeper Jason Tibble. The half still wasn’t done as Benn added a fourth in stoppage time, slamming the ball home after it fell kindly to him in the box and to leave the visitors shell shocked and effectively out of the game.

Golds started the second half as they finished the first, on the front foot and five minutes into the half Benn had an easy tap in from a left wing Steve Herbert cross for the game’s fifth goal and all for the home side.

With the game completely in their control, Town sprayed the ball around trying for more openings, but Uckfield keeping them at bay despite finding it hard to get out of their own half.

Tom Biggs after one of the most mazy runs I’ve ever seen dinked the ball onto the post with 18 minutes to play, the third striking of the woodwork during the evening, the same player soon after tried to chip a shot beyond Tibble into the top right hand corner but the ball narrowly went over the bar.

It was down to Benn to match Gaskin and notch a treble of his own with five minutes left to complete a comprehensive win for the Golds and yet more cup progress in a season which is unfolding quite nicely at the moment.

An estimate from me of around 150 watching this one as Town were quite honestly ruthless in front of goal. The visitors did fashion a couple of half chances in the second half and had a penalty appeal waved away as well, James Binfield I don’t think had a save to make.

Benn now sits on 48 goals for the season, a phenomenal effort so far and of course has been attracting attention at higher levels. Nothing should be taken away from the efforts of Gaskin too, he has chipped in with a very decent amount this season but overshadowed by Benn’s exploits at times.

What was also noticeable last night was how comfortable each player was on the ball and all of them always wanting it despite the threadbare playing surface, but also the fact Humphreys and Dave Herbert dropped to the bench, Dion Jarvis was missing completely but it made no difference and that’s the sign of a good squad at the disposal of Gaskin and Mitch Hand.

Credit must go to Uckfield who didn’t shy away, the two goals right at the end of the first half was easily a body blow and the ones that changed the complexion of the second half, but when you come up against a side that can just score and create chances for fun, sometimes you just have to tip your hat.

Lions find their bite

Getting to a game every Saturday and Tuesday at the moment is like a little god send, not just for me but for many others up and down the country in what are still very difficult and uncertain times.

Having picked up the Non League paper this morning to read that the Northern Premier League have quite rightly drawn up plans in case their season is curtailed or at the very least suspended for a few weeks, it makes me more determined to get around as much as I can and enjoy every ounce of it just in case, although the fear factor is a little less down here on the South Coast.

The weekend trip took me down the road to Pagham, staying local as I needed to work in the evening. The Lions have had a solid start to the season with just one defeat in seven league games whilst their visitors had also just a single defeat having played nine Southern Combination games.

Before the season ended prematurely in March, Lions boss Kerry Hardwell had begun to turn fortunes around and the club were comfortably heading away from the bottom six and with the quality of summer signings they made this time around I was expecting them to be comfortable top ten this time around, no pressure!

This definitely had the hallmark of a decent game to watch but the hosts in all honesty were rarely troubled throughout the ninety minutes, indeed the first quarter of an hour should have seen them in front and out of sight, Jazz Rance denied by the legs of keeper Jason Tibble followed by Jack Barnes blazing over unmarked from six yards out just moments later.

Uckfield were using the counter to try and get something going and were working hard to try and fashion something in the final third, but Pagham were making sure keeper Connor Kelly had little to do whilst Tibble at the other end kept the Lions strikers at bay with some superb goalkeeping.

The breakthrough came finally on 42 minutes, ex-Wicker Sam Connolly let fly from fully 25 yards and the ball squirmed through the hands of Tibble above his head and dropped into the net for the Lions to have the half time lead.

The second half began in similar fashion to the first and Pagham should have increased their lead 52 minutes when a mix up between Tibble and one of his defenders almost allowed Joe Clarke to lob the ball into an unguarded net.

It wasn’t a surprise to see the Lions extend their lead, Rance netting from the penalty spot after an Uckfield defender fouled Grant Radmore in the box on 62 minutes.

Uckfield then to their credit seemed to find more purpose in the attacking third but were still unable to penetrate the Pagham back line, marshalled superbly by Jack Williamson. There were times the game threatened to boil over with a few challenges the referee enforced with a free kick but no yellow card to follow, all twenty-two players stayed on the pitch, just.

That win moves Hardwell’s side into sixth place in the table while Uckfield remain in third place two points behind the leaders Horley Town having played two games more.

Pagham have certainly continued on from last season’s late form and I fully expect them to be in and around that top ten this season, Hardwell has a good balance across the pitch and with three or four of his squad with experience of playing two levels higher it bodes well for the rest of the campaign.

However, still a lot of football to be played as we’ve only reached October and after this month there is a lot less midweek football to fit in too, the pressure comes off a little bit but the intensity has to remain.