Ryman League Division One South
Leylands Park, Burgess Hill
Match rating: 4
At the conclusion of my first game at East Grinstead, the original plan to drive just five miles westwards to watch Crawley Down Gatwick's fixture against Merstham was scuppered when I learned that The Haven had failed an 11am pitch inspection, and so instead I headed fifteen miles southwards to watch another match in the Ryman League Division One South.
Although today's visit to Leylands Park would be a revisit for me, the last time was back in 1995, when Burgess Hill Town were plying their trade in the Sussex County League. Situated just over a mile north of Burgess Hill town centre, and less than ten minutes walk from Wivelsfield train station, Leylands Park is similar to how I remembered it all those years ago - somewhat basic, but with a certain charm about the place.
One enters in one corner of the ground, and behind that goal is the clubhouse, with decking to the front from which people watched the match, whilst beyond the goal is a small wooden hut which apparently has been a recent addition. A low but fairly wide all-seater stand straddles the half way line, with only hard standing available around the rest of the pitch. Large trees lining one goal and the length opposite to the stand make an attractive background, and there is pleasant peaceful feel to the place. Congratulations to the club on a very reasonable admission fee when some clubs in the division disappointingly charge £10, whilst the programme looked good with a reasonable amount of information about the club, opponents and division, although there was a feeling that one was purchasing an advertising directory, with 27 of the 44 pages taken up with advertising.
Coming into this match, Burgess Hill were in thirteen place with 29 points from 19 games and with games in hand - up to four - on all teams above them. They came into this game in great form, losing just once in their last seven league games. Worthing were two place and one point better off than Burgess Hill, but had played four games more but have been in poor recent form, losing their last four league games, culminating in a 6-0 defeat at top of the table Peacehaven and Telscombe. They have just appointed a new manager, 29 year old former Brighton defender Adam Hinshelwood, and so the game would be a battle between two former Brighton players, Ian Chapman being in charge of Burgess Hill.
On a gloriously sunny but a little chilly afternoon, the pitch was very heavy, unsurprisingly given the recent rain, with some areas becoming very muddy in which the ball did not run freely. Burgess Hill started the match very much on the front foot and always looked much the more likely to score, which they eventually did on 33 minutes. A quick run down the right culminated in reaching the byline, and the low cross was fired into the roof of the net by Pat Harding. The home side doubled their lead within a minute, the ball was played low upfield and Scott Kirkwood managed to brush clear of a defender before firing a low shot across the keeper, just inside the post and into the net. That seemed to shock the visitors unsurprisingly, and they did well to go into the interval with just a two goal deficit.
Into the second half and Burgess Hill continued in the ascendancy, seeing a shot come off the posting 54 minutes before they did score a third on 56 minutes with a lovely goal. The ball was played diagonally over a defender, eventually crossed low from the left for Harding to hit home from close range. On 64 minutes the hosts made it four when a looping cross from the right was headed over the keeper and into the net. So dominant were Burgess Hill that it looked they might add a few more, so it was something of a surprise when Worthing pulled a goal back when a low cross was eventually bundled into the net at the far post. This signalled a change in the balance of play, as the hosts seemed to become a little sloppy and Worthing threatened to pull another goal back. They never did though and Burgess Hill had three absolute gilt edged chances to score a fifth in the final few minutes. But 4-1 was how it finished and Burgess Hill rise to ninth place in the table after an impressive display for the most part, whilst Worthing fell to twelth.