Littlehampton fall just short in FA Cup drama

Photograph courtesy of Martin Denyer (@MartinDenyer)

The FA Cup! Last season I managed to get to a game in every round until the 4th qualifying round when National League teams entered and of course they were barred from having spectators.

Without really realising I’ve managed to do the same so far this time around with Sunday’s 1st qualifying round tie between Littlehampton Town and their Sussex neighbours Whitehawk.

Having seen Town dispatch Sittingbourne a week and a half ago in the Preliminary Round, it was time to see if they could repeat the feat of sending another Pitching In Isthmian side out of the competition.

A glorious afternoon of Sussex sunshine greeted the crowd of 525 and the players as Town wasted no time in getting started. An early goal and a high press is the way Littlehampton seem to start in most games and this one was no different.

A floated Dave Herbert free kick into the box was met by an unmarked Dion Jarvis whose header was saved by Nathan Stroomberg, but George Gaskin was on hand to tap in after just two minutes. That certainly signalled to the Hawks they were in for a game this afternoon.

The lead however only lasted nine minutes as Town struggled to clear the ball when it came into their box and Henry Muggeridge, who was pivotable for the Hawks all afternoon, made sure the ball ended up in the back of the net for the equaliser.

Ten minutes later the visitors were in front, a clumsy push on Muggeridge by Lewis Jenkins gave the referee no option but to point to the spot and James Fraser gave the Hawks the lead for the first time of the afternoon.

Gaskin had a chance to pull the scores level again two minutes later, after beating the offside trap, he lifted the ball wide of the on-rushing Stroomberg but with not enough purchase on the ball it was cleared to safety.

Just after the half hour, Town had a penalty of their own. Lucas Pattenden’s strong run down the right found Jarvis in the box, who was brought down and Herbert made no mistake with the spot kick restoring parity once again.

With the game flowing end to end Jarvis then found himself clear of the Hawks defence and while his chip beat Stroomberg, who came then stopped and found himself in no man’s land, it also beat the crossbar.

It was Hawks then back in front, once again the Town defence unable to clear the ball convincingly and Muggeridge slotted home his second and the visitors third, a half time lead for Whitehawk and a chance for the 525 to catch 15 minutes of breath.

Just before the hour mark Town should have levelled once again, Joe Benn with an exquisite through ball to Gaskin saw the striker lift the ball over Stroomberg but unfortunately just over the bar. The Golds though didn’t have long to wait for their third goal, Jarvis with a strong run to the by line, the ball finding it’s way to Benn at the far post who volleyed past Stroomberg for 3-3.

Town then created the better chances and looked the more likely to score with Hawks struggling to break through the Golds back line and giving away possession cheaply in the middle of the park.

And out of nothing came two sucker punches, six minutes to go and Callum Edwards struck home a fourth goal for the visitors, Binfield a little slow getting down and the ball was past him. Worse to come two minutes after that goal Omarr Lawson scored a fifth with Binfield slightly unsighted from the bodies in front of him and looked a now comfortable passage into the next round for the visitors.

However, Gaskin and Town had other ideas as the front man curled in his second and Golds fourth in the final minute to leave a nervy five or so minutes of stoppage time for Hawks to negotiate, but for all the pressing from the home side they couldn’t find one more goal to take it to a replay and bow out after the most pulsating game of football of the 10 I’ve watched so far this season.

Having seen a lot of the home side so far there is no doubt they’ve competed very well against two sides from a division higher and with a strong start to their league season as well they are certainly heading in the right direction.

Great to see a fantastic attendance once again, as has been the case at grounds up and down the country, I just hope people enjoyed what they saw and carry on coming to watch the football on offer.

Town prove too strong for local rivals

Bank Holiday fixtures don’t always happen on the Monday they’re set for, agreement between the two clubs will see some games moved to a Tuesday and in the case of down here on the South Coast Littlehampton and East Preston Wednesday and the chance to squeeze an extra game in to watch.

Most of my games so far have been in the local area and I have seen both these sides on quite a few occasions in the past six weeks and it gives me an opportunity to do a separate piece for the Littlehampton Gazette as well.

Contrasting starts so far for both teams, Littlehampton with only one league defeat so far this season and East Preston yet to win a game in the Southern Combination Premier Division, but derby games bring about a different edge even at this level so it wasn’t going to be a stroll in the park for the home side.

Joint boss of the Golds George Gaskin sat this one out whilst his co-cohort Mitch Hand got some minutes on the pitch ahead of the weekend’s FA Cup tie with Whitehawk, Tom Biggs was also missing from what’s become the regular front four in the home side’s line up.

EP were as close to full strength for Simon Hull as they could be, but they almost found themselves a goal behind inside five minutes, Dion Jarvis unable to find the back of the net.

The visitors were acquitting themselves well to the game, they came with a worked on game plan but it was the hosts clearly creating the chances. Joe Benn’s first sight of goal came on 23 minutes when he finally found some space in the penalty area but dragged his shot wide of Sam Marsden’s goal. Marsden then produced a fine save just after the half hour mark to keep the scores level.

Then came the best effort of the half for EP, Shane Brazil took a ball over the top of the Town defence only to be denied by James Binfield one on one and the scores remained level at 0-0 going into the interval.

That scoreline last just a minute into the second half, Dave Herbert finding himself unmarked in the box when the cross came in and despite a small suspicion of handball, slotted the ball past Marsden for the opening goal.

The goal opened the game up a little as EP needed to come out more and be braver, but Town increased their lead on 55 minutes, a strong run from Lucas Pattenden saw Marsden save his shot but pushed the ball out to the feet of Benn and he made no mistake from six yards out.

Jarvis could have sealed the win after the hour mark, put clean through one on one with Marsden but the keeper saved well and the same again from substitute Scott Packer minutes later.

Brazil had a very good chance to halve the deficit 13 minutes from time but shot wide of Binfield’s goal having created the space for himself in the box whilst Lew Broughton couldn’t quite get on the end of a free kick that would have made things interesting had either effort found the net.

Town did get their third goal one minute from time, a mazy run from Jarvis saw the winger hit the bar with the ball falling kindly in front of Packer one yard out and he duly headed it over the line. There was even time for Jarvis to have a header ruled out for offside a minute later as the Golds moved up to second in the table.

The scoreline looks a little harsh on EP given their competitive nature throughout the game and they set out to make it hard for the hosts to control the game which for periods certainly worked.

Despite not fielding either Gaskin or Biggs, Town had more than enough to win the game in front of a good sized crowd once again and attention now turns to the FA Cup 1st Qualifying Round on Sunday (ko 3pm) against higher division and fellow Sussex side Whitehawk, another good crowd is expected in excess of the 220 last Wednesday, momentum is building nicely for the Golds.

Rebels undone by Rocks smash n’ grab

Game number two on Bank Holiday Monday took me the short distance across town to Woodside Road, home of Worthing FC and ‘El Classicoast’, the derby with Bognor Regis Town.

If you are a Rebel or a Rock these fixtures are the first two you look out for on the list above all else and generally they’re going to be found around a bank holiday period.

What’s also good around these kinds of fixtures is the amount of people you see that you know on both sides of the camps. Having been around the local scene for the past ten years plus, more and more faces become familiar and it was good to catch up again people you haven’t seen for a long time or even just acknowledge.

Coming into the game from the weekend, the Rebels were on the end of a fine 2-1 away win at Cray Wanderers whilst the Rocks suffered a late 2-1 home defeat at the hands of Haringey Borough, the visiting fans I spoke to were not confident about things panning out their way during the afternoon.

Worthing were quickest out the blocks with early chances for both Jasper Pattenden and Tom Chalaye but neither could find the target, the visitors content to defend and allow Worthing the ball in areas where they had to work harder to create an opening.

As the first half wore on still the Rebels created chances, Aarran Racine’s header from a Dean Cox corner was kicked off the line by Ethan Robb while Ollie Pearce shot over when well placed.

Just before half time the home side and their supporters thought the deadlock was broken, but Dayshonne Golding’s drive landed just the wrong side of the post and the two sides went into the interval level at 0-0.

Again, it was Worthing who began the half with more chances, Golding testing Amadou Tangara this time but still no way through. The same player had a golden chance from a header just before the hour mark but couldn’t direct it goal wards. Further efforts from Marvin Armstrong and Pearce fell short as you sensed it wasn’t going to be Worthing’s day.

And then completely against the run of play Bognor were in front on 62 minutes, Ashton Leigh finding the net much to the delight of the travelling fans behind Harrison Male’s goal.

Bognor sensed the game was theirs for the taking after going in front and Male just three minutes later stopped the deficit becoming two as the Rebels looked shell shocked at going behind.

As it was, the Rocks extend their lead only five minutes after the first goal as Kanye Diedrick-Roberts was put in behind the Worthing defence and gave Male no chance in the Rebels goal, jubilant scenes from the Bognor fans once again at the far end of the stadium.

Whilst the first goal shocked Worthing, the second knocked the stuffing out as although they kept pushing to create chances, the Rocks only needed to sit back and defend which they duly did.

Still the chances came for the Rebels but a combination of poor finishing and Tangara standing firm in the Rocks goal meant no way through and the points left with the visitors leaving the home side to ponder on what might have been had just one of those chances found the back of the net.

Bognor clearly came with a game plan to just defend and try and counter back out, but they were clearly lacking in the first half in that respect on the latter part. What they do need credit for is not allowing Pattenden rarely any space to run at his man and despite some good crosses into the box Cox wasn’t as effective as he can be.

What can you say about the attendance! A magnificent 2,101 were there to witness the game, my apologies for attending and not making it a round figure 2,100! It’s great to see so many fans back inside stadiums watching games up and down the country at all non-league levels, I have a feeling though this crowd figure will be hard to beat in the Pitching In Isthmian Premier Division this season.

Rustington hold off Town fightback

Bank Holiday Monday meant a choice of games to go and watch, do I head to The Hive for game I didn’t expect Barnet to win and with a hefty admission fee or watch a double header of games locally instead? As it was Barnet decided not to put tickets for online sale available until Thursday last week, too late for me so decided on the double header.

The first took me to Worthing Town at Step 7, not to be confused with the Step 3 Worthing nor the Step 6 Worthing Utd! Town were hosting Rustington having lost their opening three games whilst the visitors had won their opening two matches.

Rustington are managed by someone I know very well, Jon Tucker, and two of his backroom team in Scott Farrell and Ash Finch are also well known to me. His squad also contains a few players I’ve come across over the years in Kieron Howard, Dan Swain, Dan Cox, Matt Noble and Josh Irish, all featuring bar Howard out with a back injury.

On paper this was down as an away win and a comfortable one at that, those mentioned above have mostly played Step 5 and 6 throughout their careers but as we are well aware it’s played on grass and not paper meaning it’s not always as clear cut as should be.

Both sides were keen to play with the ball on the floor with the odd one played into the channel for willing runners, Town to their credit played out from the back nicely but fell down in the final third, whilst the visitors did the same with more success but struggled to hit the target.

Rustington eventually took the lead on 22 minutes, a well worked free kick slid in Swain and he marked his debut with the opening goal. Beyond that Rustington appeared to be trying too hard to score and overplaying in areas when taking a chance to hit the target was more often than not the better option, Chris Darwin though did smash the ball against the crossbar just four minutes later.

The Town keeper was doing his bit to prevent the visitors from adding to the scoreline and with his defence clearing a couple of efforts off the line, at the other end Billy Nash saved well with his legs just after the half hour mark to ensure Rustington went in at half time a single goal in front and with Tucker no doubt telling his players to keep it simple but be effective.

The second half followed a similar pattern to the first with the ball mostly on the deck, the visitors extended their lead just before the hour, James Butt with an easy tap in to extend the lead.

From that point with Town still unable to create very much up front, there was an expectation for Rustington to go on and run up a decent score, but having begun to sit back a little, it invited Town on to push forward and make a real fist of it.

Seven minutes after the visitors went 2-0 up, the home side pulled one back, no scorer name available that I could find before publishing. They then hit the bar just a minute later as Rustington appeared rocked and in danger of throwing away the three points.

Both sides traded chances and you felt another goal for Rustington would seal the win, Krzysztof Paraficz with a free header in stoppage time provided just that and the final whistle blown immediately after the referee has consulted with the club linesman over a possible offside.

Good little crowd of around 60-70 watching on and Tucker will be pleased they got the job done, with Swain and Noble just controlling that midfield was hard for Town to get through and trouble Nash too many times. Impressed with Finn Aldridge who I believe was starting his first game, the youngster tiring in the second half but one not afraid to run at his man.

Speaking to Tucker after the game, he felt they worked hard but it could have been easier:

‘I think you’re right with the overplaying in the first half, we did make it more difficult for ourselves. Two games in three days meant a few tired legs and with a couple of injuries as well I’m pleased to get the three points and we move onto Saturday.’

One game down and next up the South Coast El Classicoast, Worthing vs Bognor to come in blog number two.

Oak edge out struggling Wick

It’s not often you get Friday night football in Sussex but Bank Holiday weekend means an extra round of fixtures and with it the opportunity to take in Mile Oak vs Wick in the Southern Combination League Division One and also to catch up with a couple of good mates, Justin Holmes and Mark Hayward.

Mile Oak have always been a bit of a bogey team for Wick, the same when I was involved at Crabtree Park and before as well. Oak were searching for their first points of the season after four successive defeats while Tuesday night’s win for Wick over Selsey was their first since the opening day of the season.

Both sides were very cagey in the final third, possibly due to the lack of confidence with neither in a great run of form, despite keeping possession when they had the ball but unable to fashion any clear cut chances.

The first goal arrived just before the half hour mark and it went to the home side, Zac Haulkham scoring from the penalty spot after the referee took a little while to point to the spot.

The lead lasted all of two minutes as Conor Bull made himself a yard of space inside the box, shot across the hosts Aaron Stenning and into the far corner for a quick equaliser, the first effort for Wick on target.

Despite no full on assault on each other’s goal, the home side were back in the lead five minutes before half time, Jack Stenning’s drilled shot kept low and past Wickers keeper Keelan Belcher.

Once again though Wick were quickly back on level terms, a mix up in footwork and communication between Stenning and one of his defenders presented the ball to Bull inside the area and a simple tap to give him and the visitors their second goal of the game to send the sides in at half time at 2-2.

No sooner had the steam just about evaporated from the half time cuppa Mile Oak were in front for a third time. Four minutes into the second half Harry Furnell broke clear from the Wick defence and smashed the ball past Belcher, with the keeper injuring himself trying to keep the ball out.

After a spell of treatment Belcher was up to carry on, but hobbling and unable to kick the ball further than a few yards. It got worse for Wick just a few minutes later when Ross Smith drilled the ball home from 20 yards out, Belcher a mere spectator as the ball whistled past him to give the home side a two goal cushion.

Just after the hour mark, a mix up once again between Stenning and his back four, presented Ben Grey with the chance to lob the ball home and reduce the deficit to 4-3 and some hope once again for the visitors.

As it was despite using their three substitutions Wick couldn’t find a way through to grab another equaliser and although Oak finished with ten men after Haulkham was sent off for a second yellow card they kept their composure for the final couple of minutes to seal their first win of the season and condemn Wick to their fourth defeat in just six league games.

A very young Oak team in places stood up well to the more experienced visitors line up, very impressed with Furnell for Mile Oak, took his goal well and won a lot of flick-on headers which gave his team mates chances to test Belcher.

Bull stood out for Wick, not just with the two goals but his all round play made it look as if something would happen at times, but not enough Wickers added enough to the game which if they had would probably sent the three points home with them.

Based on the last few years, seven games is about the maximum you can lose if you want to be involved in the promotion race, not too many more can Wick allow to slip through their grasp if they want to get themselves out of this division at the top end, whilst this win might just kick off Oak’s season, some more answers will come on Bank Holiday Monday.

Littlehampton cause cup upset

Photograph courtesy of Gareth Spinks

Wednesday night football this week for a change and an FA Cup replay, as Littlehampton and Sittingbourne met at The Sportsfield for a chance to host Whitehawk in the First Qualifying Round.

I must apologise for almost putting the kiss of death on the Golds after they went 2-0 up on Saturday, tweeting ‘FA Cup shock on the cards’ and Sittingbourne then promptly scoring two goals to force the replay despite being down to ten men.

With a slightly delayed kick off due to the visitors traffic issues on the journey over from Kent, the crowd of 220 didn’t have to wait long for the first goal, indeed not even a minute on the watch.

Less than 30 seconds from kick off, Golds striker Joe Benn timed his run perfectly behind the Bourne defence and with extreme precision lobbed the visiting keeper Magnus Lewis from outside the right hand side of the penalty area to give the home side a dream start.

The ball over the top was to be a thorn in the side of the visiting defence, both Benn and George Gaskin almost profiting, the latter almost surprised he wasn’t flagged offside and scuffed his shot wide.

The constant press that Littlehampton employed last week at Steyning was evident again, Bourne with no time on the ball to retain possession without a Littlehampton body in front of them and despite a flurry of corners, Town were equal to everything thrown at them.

Dion Jarvis was inches away from extending the lead midway through the half, his shot fizzing over Lewis’ bar while Gaskin stung the palms of the keeper as he tipped his shot round the post.

It took until seven minutes before half time for the home side to increase their lead, Dave Herbert whose set piece deliveries into the box were causing all sorts of problems, sent another corner into the six yard box which ended up with the ball in the net, both Herbert and Jarvis claimed the goal with defenders in close proximity, it could easily have been an own goal.

Town keeper James Binfield had relatively little to do throughout the first half and kept his goal intact with good save just before the interval to give the Golds a 2-0 half time lead.

With Sittingbourne needing to push forward in search of goals, Town were given more space but defensively repelling everything coming into their box and looking dangerous with every attack going forward.

The third goal arrived just after the hour mark from Tom Biggs, who excelled in the no 10 role behind Benn, 20 yards out and fired home to the right of Lewis and the tie effectively over for the visitors.

Despite a change in personnel Bourne still struggled to make an impact on the Littlehampton goal, a point blank save from Binfield with 13 minutes remaining showed it wasn’t going to be their evening.

Gaskin put the icing on the cake with five minutes to go, slipped in by the impressive Benn, the winger slotted past Lewis to ensure an emphatic look to the scoreline and a First Qualifying Round home tie against another Isthmian side, Whitehawk, in just over a week’s time.

Benn was the stand out performer, occupying the centre halves all the time and holding the ball up well to bring the team into play. His customary goal added as well, and if his red hot form continues Town might struggle to hold onto him for a full season.

Both Jarvis and Herbert were combative in the middle of the park, an unfamiliar role for the former more used to being on the left wing and with Biggs picking up pockets of space Bourne found it hard to penetrate through the Golds team.

Despite matching the home side for corners and a good delivery into the box on the whole the visitors couldn’t find the net nor cope with the counter attack from Littlehampton and after coming back from 2-0 down with ten men at the weekend I was expecting a tougher test, maybe the disruption before the game made a difference, you can never tell with that at times.

Town’s remarkable goal scoring spree continues and with the attacking prowess they possess it’s hard to find ways to stop them playing in the final third, and with the press from back to front, it’ll take a very patient combative outfit to take points off them this season.

Rampant Littlehampton in dominant display

Tuesday night saw a trip to Steyning Town to watch them take on Littlehampton Town, the home side unbeaten after the first three games whilst their visitors were a point worse off at the start of play.

Littlehampton were without star striker Joe Benn who had contributed nine league and cup goals so far, but a very able replacement in George Gaskin moving further up the pitch complimented by Lucas Pattenden and Dion Jarvis either side.

It was Gaskin who opened the scoring after 11 minutes, Pattenden providing the cross after a period of intense pressing from the visitors which became the pattern of the game from the Golds.

Just a minute later, the same combination provided the second Littlehampton goal, the home defence unable to deal with Pattenden’s direct running and cross into the box, Gaskin unmarked to head home once again.

When you thought it couldn’t get any worse for the home side, a poor defensive clearance went straight to Tom Biggs and with patience to side step challenges and fashion an opportunity, the visitors had their third goal in three minutes, the home side shell-shocked.

The press continued from the Golds and Steyning were unable to take any time on the ball to make headway towards the visitors goal. Another poor clearance from a home defender went straight to the feet of Pattenden who skipped past his defender, shot across the keeper and into the net for 4-0.

It wasn’t too long to wait for the fifth goal to arrive, Liam Humphries unmarked at a corner headed home inside the six yard box with just under ten minutes left to play before half time.

With the interval looming, Jarvis bundled in a remarkable sixth goal on 40 minutes, again another cross from the right hand side where Pattenden had been so influential and capped a superb if unexpected half for Littlehampton.

The second half not surprisingly didn’t live up to its predecessor and in all honesty for the Golds it didn’t need to. There were chances to extend the lead further at times, Gaskin close to a hat-trick, Biggs dancing his way through more than once but unable to hit the net.

The hosts did have chances themselves but failed to properly test James Binfield in the visitors goal and a comfortable win was wrapped up without needing to push hard in the second half.

This was the third time in five league and cup matches that the Golds had hit six goals, all away from home and if Sittingbourne were watching ahead of the weekend’s FA Cup tie then they certainly went away with something to think about, Bourne themselves having dispatched Lancing last weekend 4-0 in their opening league match.

For the hosts a first league defeat of the season and it was overheard the home side were missing quite a few first team regulars but I’m sure their supporters certainly weren’t expecting to be turned over so easily.

Steyning also face an FA Cup tie this weekend as they host Sutton Common Rovers, a chance to put league matters to one side and grab some much needed winners money, they will however need to not be so generous defensively and if their opponents were watching they certainly would have come away with a game plan to make it a potentially uncomfortable weekend for the hosts.

Utd aiming to upset the status quo




A lot of towns and cities across the country host two teams, in some cases more, and at all levels of the game, the question here in this piece is can the town of Littlehampton in West Sussex be able to do the same?

Littlehampton Utd, born from a move of a club from the nearby village of Clymping, are one such club aiming to make their presence known and challenge the hierarchy within the Arun area.

Unable to progress as a club within the village due to a lack of floodlights and local residents against the idea, the club moved out and pitched up at The Sportsfield, home of Littlehampton Town.

They duly renamed the club in 2018 and benefitted from a beautiful playing surface along with floodlights and also a bar for players and supporters to use before and after the game.

But with the club wanting to expand itself and the capacity to host their new Under 23 side along with the various age groups that Town had to offer, Utd moved out over the summer and headed down the road to groundshare with East Preston FC at The Lashmar, a ground that will host two first teams and two Under 23 teams at the very least.

Had they tried to host both their senior teams at different venues then an increase in costs would have been seen and with clubs, nearly all clubs, managing to survive the last 16 months on very little football and very little income, cheap has to come into the reckoning.

As the Sportsfield is shared with the cricket club and with Town needing to maximise their availability there was little room for Utd to play home pre-season friendlies which again saw the need for somewhere new to play.

Under the chairmanship of David Chace, he appointed former East Preston man Chris Horner to run the first team for the 2021/22 season in which they are aiming to finish in the top four and be in the promotion mix to Division One, a progression they can now make with floodlights.

There is a long term aim to return to Littlehampton when the time is right and if they can find the area or land which would accommodate them and whilst away from the town the opportunity is there to build stronger foundations ready for the time to move on.

Currently they are putting in plans to improve the matchday experience for supporters and have recently recruited a PA announcer to give it that little extra edge, there are plans to bring more sponsors on board and to introduce a matchday raffle, small things in some cases but also vital to get things going.

With so many clubs within a five mile radius around the town of Littlehampton you have to put yourself out there a little bit more to attract players and make your club stand out, especially if you aren’t paying players to get out there on a Saturday afternoon.

That to me appears to be the only stumbling block, the amount of teams that are drawing on the same players Utd will want to attract to the club otherwise given what happens around the country there is no reason under the right leadership and progress there can be two senior Littlehampton teams, watch this space!

Defeat for Arundel as Midhurst claim opening day points

After pre-season action it was finally time for league action and points on offer as 2021/22 kicked off for me and James Easton at Mill Road Arundel in the Southern Combination League Division One.

Midhurst and Easebourne were the visitors on a glorious sunny afternoon in West Sussex with both sides wanting to get their campaign off to a winning start. A summer of change for the Mullets in Jason Mines coming in to manage the team, assisted by Arundel veteran Richard Towers, both I know well from Wick FC days.

With Mines unavailable for the game, Towers was assisted by Aaron Millar, another known to me from those days at Crabtree Park and with a very young side in the red and white, it was interesting to see how they would fair against a visiting side who were in and around the thick of the promotion race last season before a halt was called.

Both sides were keen to knock the ball around on the slightly long playing surface which did make passing a little difficult if not needing to be very precise. Towers was forced into an early change on 26 mins, Ollie Hawkins replacing a limping James Ayling.

The Mullets thought they had taken the lead a minute later; the impressive Josh Mines shot was tipped onto the post by Josh Bird and then rolled along the goal-line without going over.

Midhurst did have the ball in the net on 35 minutes but the effort was ruled out for offside whilst five minutes later Mines had other shot tipped by Bird, this time onto the crossbar.

Then came the big talking point in the game and one that effectively decided the second half mentality. Hawkins was adjudged to have fouled his man just outside the penalty area and was promptly sent off, protests from the Arundel sideline that the decision was harsh, backed up by some independent spectators view that the foul wasn’t even really worthy of a yellow, the referee actually quite card happy throughout the game with yellow cards flying here there and everywhere.

The free kick came to nothing and the sides went in level at half time, both probably feeling they could have been a goal in front.

A man short saw Arundel look to contain the visitors and some dogged defending at times ensured they made it look as if Midhurst were going to be denied anything more than an opening day point, Chris Wyatt coming closest to breaking the deadlock hitting the post just after the hour mark.

As it was the pressure told just minutes later, substitute Liam Dreckman slotted home after a bit of pinball inside the area, latching onto the loose ball and giving Mullets keeper Jack Hickman no chance.

Marcus Bedford doubled the visitors lead two minutes later with a smart finish inside the area as the extra man was starting to pay dividends for the Stags and the tired legs of the young Arundel side were starting to flag.

Ten minutes from time the seal was put on the visitors second half performance, fellow substitute Kieran Carter tapped in at the far post for a third Midhurst goal after a superbly flighted cross from the left hand side to send the Stags home with the three points.

No doubt the game changed on that sending off decision, both sides were fairly well matched despite a clear pitting of youth against experience in favour of the visitors, but the extra man for the Stags was clearly the difference with Arundel unable to fashion many notable second half chances.

So there we go, number one in the bag for the season and Mr Easton’s first trip to Arundel ticked off the list, fingers crossed I can find a destination for Tuesday or Wednesday evening.

Live football at last

Football. Fresh air. Fans. Tuesday night up and down the country was the moment non-league supporters had been waiting for since mid-December, a return to the stands and terraces that was long overdue.

However, most clubs have finished or didn’t even begin to play and a lot of fans will be eagerly anticipating pre-season friendlies which will begin in around four or five weeks’ time for Step 5 and 6 clubs.

It’s been a long time since I’ve had anything to significantly blog about other than the National League and the sorry state of Barnet’s season. So the announcement of one of my local sides, East Preston, to host a friendly against Pitching In Isthmian Premier Division Worthing was always going to get me into the ground.

It was the first time the PNLP (Premier Non-League Podcast) boys minus the northern based Chris May were out together at a game, a project I’m involved in with five other guys, 15 episodes in so far which isn’t bad considering we’ve had a real lack of football to talk about in months, available across all podcast platforms twice a month.

Regular readers will know I also write a piece for the EP programme, a different one for each home game and unique to them as I try and build a career. They were also my focus club last season when Terry Dodd became manager, an idea given to me by someone else so duly done. Terry obviously then left, Chris Horner took over only to be replaced by Under 23 duo Mike McCaffrey and Lee Thompson who were in situ when football ceased in November and took charge of the side for the recent Supplementary Shield games.

Since then McCaffrey left the club, Thompson was relieved of his duties in the past two weeks and chairman Terry Doyle installed ex Arundel boss Simon Hull as the new man in charge days after his release from the club up the river, McCaffrey has since returned to take the Under 23’s for next season.

With a new man in charge this was always going to be a bit of a scratch side for a one off as far as EP were concerned and with a side full of quality as the Rebels possess and some promising youngsters on the bench it was a good test for the home side.

It was no surprise to anyone to see Worthing dominate possession and whilst they were creating chances, the EP defence were just about equal to everything and it took an Ollie Pearce strike on 22 minutes to open the scoring.

Joel Colbran and Ricky Aguiar added further goals, the latter’s effort drilled from the edge of the box to give the visitors a commanding 3-0 half time lead.

The fourth goal arrived courtesy of Shaq Gwengue after a fine move and a smart finish, Rebels manager Adam Hinshelwood then making a raft of substitutions with most of the senior players making way.

EP’s best chance of the game came from a free kick just outside the box, the ball clipping the top of the Worthing crossbar on it’s way over and into the trees behind the goal.

As EP legs naturally tired as the game wore on Worthing added another three goals to the scoreline to give it a flattering look of 7-0 by the final whistle but a good workout for both sets of players.

On Wednesday morning I caught up with both Simon and Adam and both agreed having fans back in to watch was the biggest part of this game.

‘Fantastic to see fans back in the ground’ remarked Hull, ‘it gives everyone a lift and there was a great buzz around the Lashmar last night.’

‘Last night was an opportunity for us to have a look and learn about our youngsters. As yet we’ve been unable to have any training sessions with them but a great test against Adam’s quality outfit.’

‘That’s it for us now this season although we are planning pre-season training and that will start very early. Plenty to do but the boys are keen and the coaching staff are very willing.’

Hinshelwood was also very pleased to have supporters back, ‘it was great to play with fans in attendance again, it felt like a bit of normality for all of us.’

‘It’s been way too long to have that feeling, a simple cheer after a goal goes in, makes the game seem so much better and real.’

‘It’s been so important for us I believe to get together as a group for two reasons, firstly it would have been a long time if we had waited just for pre-season to get some match practise into the legs and I believe this would heighten the risk of injury.’

‘Secondly, for the players and everyone connected to have that engagement with the group again for mental health reasons and general well being it’s been massive for us all.’

And I think fans can identify with the mental health part, so many people I’ve spoken to over the months wanting a bit of normality, indeed seeing so many familiar faces in the crowd of 250 people shows how much it was wanted.

Great to be out with mates just enjoying the game, hopefully The Hive beckons for me for the next week to finish off the season then the hard work starts again trying to get this writing career off the ground, if any clubs are interested in what I can do for them you’ve only got to ask East Preston, Langney Wanderers or Met Police……………….