Sussex County League Division One
The Sports Pavilion, Lingfield
I decided to take advantage of Thursday evening football today, with a return to the Gatwick flight path for the second time in three days for this Sussex League match. It would mean a revisit for me, although under quite different circumstances to my last visit seven seasons ago, when I had a very pleasant 10 mile round trip walk through countryside on a late summer's afternoon from Edenbridge train station. Driving on a chilly evening would be the order of the day today.
The Sports Pavilion is located about a five minute walk from Lingfield village and remains a rather basic venue mostly due to the fact that the facilities are shared with the cricket club - indeed, it was only permitted to host Division One football this season following a successful appeal to the FA last summer. After entering the ground through a turnstile, all facilities are along that length of the pitch. Stradding the half way line is a large building housing the clubhouse and changing rooms, whilst a rounded roof provides overhang for a balcony area to watch the action from, whilst in front of the clubhouse are a number of picnic tables. In the far corner along this length is a quite a roomy all-seater stand made of breeze blocks but with obstructing pillars along the front. Hard standing is only available along the length and behind the goal closest to the turnstile block, and from the stand to the goal behind the other goal. Behind the rest of the ground is the cricket field, and I recall on a pleasant day, the ground enjoys a nice rural setting. The programme was rather basic, although the outer shell was attractive and informative, and credit to the club for producing a programme specifically for this evening's game rather than issue the one that was produced for the original date(s) of the fixture.
Both of tonight's team still have work to do in order to save themselves from relegation. Lingfield went into this game in thirteenth place in the 20 team division, with 32 points from 26 games, and are eight points clear of the official relegation places - subject to ground gradings not playing a part - although they have two games in hand on third bottom Lancing.Although they won on Tuesday, at home to bottom of the table Worthing United (who had picked up just five points from their 26 league games this season), they had lost their previous six league games, and picked up just one point from eight games. Hailsham are in much more danger of relegation, currently second bottom and seven points adrift of safety with 19 points from 24 games. They have been in the bottom two for most of the season, although things seemed to have been picking up for them when they won three straight league games from mid January, only to then go on to lose their next three games - the three games before tonight, the last of which was on Tuesday, a crucial defeat at home to fellow strugglers Arundel.
And indeed, within a minute of the restart, Hailsham extended their lead. A free kick was looped into the box, and Andrew Whittingham got on the end of a knock down before firing into the net via a deflection. Hailsham made it four to seemingly seal a precious three points on 57 minutes when Harry Ludlow struck the ball into the net following a lay-off from the right of the box. However, Lingfield gave themselves a sniff of a comeback on 67 minutes. After an initial aerial cross into the box was cleared, this time a powerful low drive across the box evaded three or four players before being tapped home by David Dean. Things went relatively quiet for the next quarter of an hour, which suited the visitors, until the home side pulled another goal back. A header from a corner was blocked, and the loose ball was stabbed home by Dean to make it 3-4. Suddenly, it looked more likely that Lingfield would claim a dramatic comeback point, however as the game entered added on time, it was Hailsham who scored their fifth with a breakaway goal after sustained pressure from Lingfield. Two players sprung the offside trap to close down on the keeper and the initial shot from well outside the area was only partially parried by the keeper enabling Dallaway to run on to tap the ball into the unguarded net. However there was still time for Lingfield to score again, the ball spun into the path of Sammy Clements, who tucked the ball past the keeper. This proved to be too little too late, although were there to have been another ten minutes of play, any result would have been possible, given the fragile nature of the defences on display this evening.