Heath edged past the Albion for Community Shield success
Combination League Champions Haywards Heath Town edged past the young professionals of Sussex Senior Cup winners Brighton & Hove Albion to win the season opening Sussex Community Shield in aid of Chestnut Tree House at Culver Road for the fourth time in their history.
A solitary goal by Callum Saunders from the spot midway through the first-half proved enough to settle the encounter and ensured that Shaun Saunders side now hold three pieces of silverware simultaneously, having also added the Peter Bentley Cup to the league title last time out.
This was a match that featured two newly promoted sides, with Simon Rusk’s young Seagulls set for their first taste of life in Premier League 2 Division 1, where they will mix it with the likes of Arsenal, Liverpool, Chelsea and Manchester City.
Saunders was delighted with the resilient and hard fought nature of their win, and said: “I’m very pleased, whenever you play any Brighton side no matter whether it’s their first team, development or youth team, you know that you’re going to have to set up to be disciplined, physical, well drilled and organised both with and without the ball. I felt we did that tonight, after the double last season and a very good summer, it’s kept our winning run going, 21 unbeaten now, so we want to keep that going as far as we can.
“Our shape was good, we defended ever so well and with Callum (Saunders), Lew Finney and Melford (Simpson) up top, we carry a real counter attacking threat so although it was backs to the wall stuff at times, we always looked dangerous going forward as well. I’m buzzing and delighted, it’s a great start to the season and we’re looking forward to our first year at a higher level.”
Heath won the Southern Combination Football League at the second time of asking last season, and the Mid-Sussex side started brightly as Karl Akehurst and Melford Simpson both went close early on.
At the other end, Jack Spong fired over after neat build up play, before Heath were handed - quite literally - the chance to break the deadlock on 21 minutes. Tariq Shahib was adjudged to have handled from Simpson’s flicked header, and Saunders slotted the resultant spot-kick down the middle and beyond the despairing Billy Collings.
Simpson, a menace throughout with his power and physicality, had another header saved and Finney had an effort blocked by Shahib as Heath turned the screw in search of a potentially decisive second.
Ashman flashed a shot wide from distance but still it was Heath who continued to carve out the better chances. Collings was called into action again to keep out the livewire Simpson, and Akehurst went close again from distance.
A tie in which chances were at a premium appeared to be drifting to a benign conclusion but, rather like the stormy weather that suddenly engulfed the County HQ, the contest sparked into life.
Brighton had rarely looked a threat but, as the clock ticked into injury time, they went within inches of a leveller twice in quick succession.
First, substitute Sam Packham headed agonisingly wide having been picked out by Jayden Onen, before another header seconds later - this time from Stefan Ljubicic - dropped a fraction past the post with Josh Heyburn scrambling.
An equaliser would have forced penalties and it almost came with the final action, as Heyburn came to his side’s rescue in the fifth additional minute. He saved superbly from a Ljubicic free-kick, the resultant flag kick fell to the same player but he was unable to provide a dramatic ending to this season’s opening curtain raiser.
(A selection of photographs can be found on Facebook - courtesy of Simon Roe Photography)
(Video highlights are available above and also on YouTube - courtesy of Your Instant Replay)
Stats: (Brighton & Hove Albion - Haywards Heath Town)
Goals: 0-1; Shots: 7-7; Shots-on-target: 2-2; Corners: 5-6; Fouls: 6-6; Offside: 2-2; Yellow cards: 0-0; Red cards: 0-0.
Brighton & Hove Albion: Collings ©, Shihab, Tanimowo, Weire, Clark-Eden, Tutt, Vukoje, Onen, Cashman, Ljubicic, Spong.
Subs: Packham, Bentley, Roberts, Davies, Cochrane.
Haywards Heath Town: Heyburn, Doherty, Fenton, Akehurst, Cooper, Spinks, Saunders, Rouane ©, Simpson, Louis, Finney.
Subs: Cradock, Miller, Roddy, Napper, Collyer.
Match report by Jamie Spoor.