‘A night of heroes’ was how Bexhill United Football Club manager Ryan Light summed up his team’s tremendous cup victory over higher grade opposition.
Macron Store Southern Combination Football League Division One team Bexhill won 1-0 after extra-time away to Premier Division outfit Hassocks in round two of the Peter Bentley Challenge Cup yesterday (Tuesday).
Corey Wheeler came off the bench to score the all-important goal in the very first minute of extra-time as Bexhill earned a trip to Horsham YMCA in the last 16.
Light said: “It was a night of heroes; everybody put a monumental effort in. To win after 120 minutes against a team in the top six of the division above was a fantastic effort from what we know is a great group.”
Determined not to concede early on, Bexhill initially put 10 men behind the ball in a 4-5-1 formation and tried to hit the opposition on the break.
Light felt the cautious approach worked to a degree as although Hassocks passed the ball nicely, Bexhill’s back four stayed strong and goalkeeper Dan Rose made three good saves during the first half.
Bexhill had a golden opportunity to snatch the lead on the stroke of half time. Gordon Cuddington got to Kevin Barden’s throughball just before the goalkeeper and was taken down for a penalty, but the usually deadly Craig Ottley saw his spot-kick well saved.
Believing another 45 minutes would be a long time for his team to defend, Light took the brave decision at half time to press Hassocks’ back three high up the pitch during the second period.
Although a few eyebrows were raised in the dressing room at the time, the change of approach worked a treat as Bexhill were the instantly on the front foot and were the better side in the second 45 minutes.
Bexhill’s ball retention was good and they mounted some decent attacks, with substitute Wheeler in sublime form as he caused Hassocks no end of problems down the left.
Wayne Giles had a great chance to put Bexhill ahead, but his free header from inside the six yard box following a Connor Robertson cross was saved.
Bexhill did land the decisive blow 30 seconds into extra-time. Robertson clipped the ball out to the left and Wheeler skipped past his man before finding the far corner as the goalkeeper came out.
Bexhill remained composed in possession and Light felt they fashioned the better chances in extra-time, although Hassocks hit the angle of the crossbar from one of the well over 20 corners they earned in the match.
“It was an amazing night,” added Light, who singled out the ‘outstanding’ Craig McFarlane for special mention having effected three goal-line clearances and won seemingly all of his headers. “I couldn’t be happier with the performance.”
Bexhill: Rose; Rea, Robertson, McFarlane, Ottley (McGuigan); Holden, Cuddington, Giles; Lopez (Harffey), Butchers (Wheeler), Barden.