An 87th minute Hassocks equaliser halted Horsham YMCA from bouncing back to winning ways, as they drew 3-3 in Division 1 action at Gorings Mead on Tuesday evening.
YM were reduced to ten men for the second game running after midfielder Dave Brown was shown a straight red card by referee Daniel Jeffery for kicking out at Robins’ forward Mark Price just ten minutes in, before the visitors made things worse for Peter Buckland’s side when Tom Davees opened the scoring two minutes later.
The hosts recovered from their second sorry start in as many games as Anthony Hibbert headed home against his former club right on the stroke of half time, and then continued to battle hard with a man less after the break.
Top goalscorer Nick Sullivan made it 2-1 midway through the second period, only for the Robins to draw level when Ashley Marsh headed into the far corner shortly after.
A resilient YM hit back and retook the lead four minutes later, as striker Sullivan this time turned provider for brother Dan to tap home from close range at the far post.
But as was the case against Lewes in the Sussex Senior Cup last week, a late visitors’ goal from front man Phil Johnson earned his side a share of the spoils three minutes from time.
YM manager Buckland commented: “I feel like I’ve lost a game of football. As soon as Browny was sent off, if someone had said would you take 3-3 now, it would have been tempting to say yes. But having said that, the players put in such a good shift with ten men, and particularly after going 3-2 up and then conceding so close to stoppage time, I felt we could have won.
“It’s easy to blame the referee, but he had an absolute shocker. Not because of the Browny sending off, because that was a red card, but because of the other decisions.
“I know it’s easy for a manager to stand here after a game and blame the referee, but on this occasion I feel fully vindicated. He has had an absolute nightmare and he gave us absolutely nothing.”
Buckland and his side can have no complaints with Brown’s sending off, as the YM winger threw a leg at Hassocks’ wide man Price. However, they will feel aggrieved at the fact that Brown’s reaction was in retaliation to a poor challenge from the Robins’ midfielder that went without comment or caution from the referee.
Despite the disadvantage in personnel, YM still managed to carve out chances as Dan Sullivan clipped an effort off target and brother Nick somehow stabbed a dangerous Dan Evans cross on the stretch wide of the far post.
Hassocks should have extended their lead nine minutes before the break when Johnson was released clean through, but he lacked the composure required and fired wide of the upright.
And the hosts punished the Robins striker for his squandered opportunity in added time at the end of the first half, when a quick Evans throw found Nick Sullivan and his clipped cross was headed home by Hibbert.
The second period failed to kick start until midway through proceedings, when YM took the lead for the first time in the fixture. The ever impressive Luke Gedling broke the play up well in midfield before delightfully feeding Sullivan, who took the ball in his stride and finished with aplomb to mark his fourteenth goal of the season.
The home side weren’t ahead for long however, as just eight minutes after, Hassocks produced an equaliser when a dubiously awarded free kick was whipped into the box by Davees, and defender Marsh’s flicked header found its way into the far corner to make it 2-2.
Buckland’s side edged their noses back in front just four minutes later though, as an Evans cross from the left was flicked on by Nick Sullivan and dropped to brother Dan who poked the ball home unmarked at the far post.
YM had chances to put some breathing space between themselves and the third-from-bottom visitors, but Josh Brown could only head over from a floated Dean Carden cross and substitute Liam Hunter tamely side footed wide from the edge of the area when well placed.
And the hosts were made to rue those missed chances three minutes from time. Despite Dan Sullivan appearing to have been fouled, play continued and after a patient build up, Hassocks’ Bradley Bant laid Johnson in the box and he coolly slotted into the far corner to cut short the YM celebrations.
Buckland added: “The ref’s had a nightmare. It’s almost as if he was pulling in the opposite direction to us. Dan Sullivan clears it, follows the ball out, the guy fouls him and the ref gives nothing and it leads to a goal. There was also a foul on Ash [Dugdale] for the first goal. Ash doesn’t go to the ground easily. He was in control of the situation and their player fouls him.”
YM remain seventh in the Division 1 standings, but are now thirteen points adrift of league leaders Dorking Wanderers, although boss Buckland remains positive.
“After playing eighty-five minutes with ten men, how valuable will that point prove to be at the end of the season?
“It was a good performance. The players showed a lot of character. There were some great performances, but I thought that Luke Gedling was absolutely superb. He was the best player on the pitch by a country mile. It was just a shame that we couldn’t hold out.
“If we can be on our game and get three points on Saturday that will put us on thirty four points, which I think is exactly what we were on at the halfway stage last season. The run in will be strong for us again and we only missed out by a point last season, so all is not dead.”