Form books and league tables can normally be chucked out the window when it comes to local derby games but there was to be no upset at Colwell Road as St Francis Rangers secured local bragging rights with a 2-1 victory over Hassocks.
Both sides had missed chances to take victory in a typically full blooded affair before the home side struck the decisive blow in the 87th minute, Tom Saunders scoring with a fierce header for his second of the afternoon.
The tone of squandered opportunities was set as early as the fifth minute, Hassocks failing to clear a free kick with Josh Hawkes somehow putting a gilt edged chance wide of the post in the resulting goalmouth melee.
The Robins suffered a blow just ten minutes in, Ryan Collins limping off against his former side with an ankle injury which could keep the young midfielder out for several weeks.
His place was taken by Jamie Hillwood and the lightning quick forward was straight into the action, firing a shot straight at Rob Gordon in the home goal from the edge of the area.
Phil Johnson’s pace was panicking the home defence every time he was given the opportunity to run at them and it was from one such instance that the opening goal arrived with 17 minutes gone, Dan Stokes playing a perfectly weighted pass which the Robins top scorer latched onto to round Gordon and roll home for his 11th of the campaign.
That goal didn’t sit well with Rangers who began to lose their discipline as a result with referee Darren Eaton being the main target of their anger, even on the rare occasions when he made a correct decision.
With the tackles flying in, Hassocks were indebted to Sam Brock for keeping them in the lead when he tipped a dipping free kick in a dangerous central position from the impressive James Westlake over the bar at full stretch.
Rangers returned from the break having regained their composure and it was no coincidence that that resulted in a sustained period of pressure on Brock’s goal which led a charmed life to say the least in the opening 20 minutes of the second half as it was peppered with efforts.
The best of those came when Stephen Smith put a free header wide and Brock made a save with his back which he knew little about before Saunders grabbed the first of his brace, placing a shot low and hard into the bottom corner when the rebound fell to him after Westlake had rattled the post when in on goal.
As the pitch cut up and both sides became sloppy in possession as a result, it could have gone either way - Rowan Wallis doing superbly to head a Rangers effort off the line and then the rangy Hassocks defender saw himself denied in similar circumstances from a corner.
Hillwood cut inside and out of nowhere smashed an effort against the crossbar with five minutes remaining from the edge of the box with Gordon helpless before the game was secured for Rangers with three minutes remaining.
Defending set pieces has been a real Achilles heel for Hassocks this season and they hadn’t looked comfortable dealing with Westlake’s superb deliveries all afternoon which finally told as Saunders rose highest above Dan Jacques to head home emphatically.
St Francis: Gordon; Brown, Walsh, Lawrence, Akehurst; Westlake, Hawkes, S Saunders, Weston; Smith, T Saunders.
Subs: Butler (S Saunders 83), Carolan (Weston 88), Arnoux (unused).
Hassocks: Brock; Common, Marsh, Wallis, Jacques; Stokes, Bant, Pitcher, Collins, Davess; Johnson.
Subs: Hillwood (Collins 10), Rose (Hillwood 84), Booth, Price, P Wickwar (unused).
Starman: James Westlake was at the heart of most of Rangers’ good things while for Hassocks, Phil Johnson was a constant menace yet again.