Broadbridge Heath were left feeling their performance warranted more than a 5-1 reverse to Premier Division leaders Haywards Heath on Tuesday night.
On a bitterly cold evening at Hanbury Stadium, the table-toppers were looking to extend their lead at the top to six points, while The Bears were looking to make it back-to-back league wins for the first time since August.
Haywards Heath drew first blood in the third minute when George Hayward finished a good move down the right after being put in by Callum Saunders.
The Bears almost struck back immediately as Scott Weller rifled a shot just past Simon Lehkyj’s left-hand post.
However, it wasn’t long before Broadbridge Heath were level, Javlon Campbell fed Devon Fender and his cross was turned out by Tom Graves for a corner.
The resulting kick, taken by Tom Bold to the far post, found Campell and he had the simplest of tasks to tap in from six yards.
Haywards Heath responded well and Michael Chester had to make a great save to his left to deny top scorer Trevor McCreadie. Nine minutes later and Haywards Heath were back in front after McCreadie’s effort hit the post, before being kept out by Chester, only for Jamie Weston to finish from close range.
Broadbridge Heath started to take the game to Haywards Heath and were unlucky, on several occasions, not to draw level. Their best chance came when Lehkyj completely fumbled a fairly easy take, dropping the ball in the six-yard box, but a defender reacted the quickest to clear the danger.
In the closing minutes of the half crosses from both Martin and Jamie Robinson caused the Haywards Heath defenders problems, but they managed to clear to safety.
Weller failed to appear for the second half because of a foot injury, with George Cousins replacing him. Haywards Heath had a penalty appeal turned down early in the second half when the ball was hit from close range at Shaun Findlay on to his left arm – referee Greig Walker waving away their claims.
Two minutes later, Haywards Heath did extend their lead. Close control from Weston saw him advance into the Broadbridge Heath box pulling the ball back for Karly Akehurst who side-footed past Chester from 12 yards.
Fender then fed Robinson down the left, the full-back cutting in before hitting a right-foot shot just over the bar. The same player then returned the favour from the left, this time Fender heading wide of the right-hand post.
Martyn Flack then picked up his fifth booking of the season on 74 minutes, resulting in him missing the trip to Saltdean in the Sussex Senior Cup.
In the 84th minute some great work from Alfie Rogers saw him bundled over by Robinson in the box and McCreadie make no mistake from the penalty spot.
With two minutes left, McCreadie wrapped up the scoring as he latched onto Akehurst’s header to score from inside the six-yard box.
One plus for the visitors was Jake Holmes coming off the bench late on, returning after an absence of eight months.
The Bears now travel to Newhaven on Saturday.