East Preston Football Club are the league leaders in the Southern Combination League Division 1 standings once again.
Ryan Hallett, Jack Barnes and Lukas Franzen-Jones all struck as EP sealed a comfortable 3-0 win at Billingshurst.
Going into the weekend fixtures, East Preston trailed place-above league leaders Saltdean United by two points.
With Saltdean not in action on Saturday, Bob Paine’s side capitalised on their game in hand ensuring they went back to the summit
It now looks to be a thrilling race to be crowned Division 1 champions this season as EP currently lead the way by a point with only five games left to play.
Despite having such a great chance of going up as league winners, EP boss Paine’s only focus is on making sure of promotion at present.
He said: “As it stands now we need only six points from our final five league games to ensure promotion, anything after that will be a bonus.
“Once again as a team we were excellent defensively. That was our 16th clean sheet of the season and we’ve conceded only 25 goals in 29 league games.
“The boys that score the goals quite rightly get the glory, but without a solid defensive base you won’t win football matches. The whole team works very hard to ensure we protect our goal.”
Things didn’t start well for EP and they were forced into a change after five minutes.
Winger Hayden Hunter felt a recurrence of a previous hamstring problem forcing him off with Dom Taylor coming on in his place.
Despite that early setback, East Preston played some decent football but their usual quality seemed to be missing.
Having failed to trouble Michael Norris in Billingshurst’s goal, EP went ahead after 22 minutes.
Livewire Jared Rance found Hallett and his drive from the edge somehow crept through Norris' hands and into the net.
Jack Barnes blasted a shot just wide four minutes later but that was as good as it got with East Preston struggling to create many clear cut opportunities.
Hurst started the second well, earning a number of free-kicks but EP’s defence stood firm to remain in front.
With the game entering the final stages, East Preston cruised home in the end.
Rance was once again the provider two minutes from the end, finding Barnes with a pass and his first-time shot nestled in the bottom corner.
Substitute Franzen-Jones then added extra gloss by bagging a third three minutes into stoppage-time.
Rance completed a hat-trick of assists, picking out the winger, who then flicked the ball in the air and volleyed home. EP travel to Storrington in the league on Saturday.
EAST PRESTON: Cook; Josh Parazo, Lyne, Etherington, Jacob Parazo; Hallett, Barnes; Bull, Rance, Hunter; Huet. Subs: Franzen-Jones (Bull, 59), Taylor (Hunter, 3), Stevenson (Hallett, 74), Gilbertson, Purkis.
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