“A big three points,” joked Hassocks assistant Brad Sweetman as Jack Troak slammed in the 10th goal of the night at the end of an extraordinary 120 minutes of Sussex Senior Cup football at Mill Road.
The Robins bench were in good spirits by that point, and why not? They were now 6-4 ahead and dreaming of a glamour clash with one of the big boys of Sussex football such as Brighton’s Under 21s or Crawley Town in the second round of the competition.
The mood in the home dugout a few feet away couldn’t have been more stark as the Arundel management were left scratching their heads - how had they taken the lead four times against their higher division opponents and yet ended the game with nothing to show for their efforts?
That was just one of the many questions to come out of a thrilling contest. Others included how have Hassocks gone from a side who couldn’t finish their dinner to notching 12 goals in their past two games and where does Mark Dalgleish keep plucking teenage defenders from?
Being handed senior debuts here were 19-year-old Thomas Jupp at left back and 17-year-old Luke Marshall at right back.
Both impressed and both could have scored, Jupp going close with a bending second half free kick which the Mullets’ goalkeeper turned away. From the resulting corner, the towering Marshall struck a post with a header.
As for the free scoring recent performances, well it appears that Troak, James Littlejohn and Ben Bacon are all beginning to hit form at exactly the same juncture. A timely boost for Dalgleish ahead of an October full of winnable games.
After 15 relatively quiet opening minutes, it was a brilliant piece of opportunism from Eli Amoo that gave Arundel the lead for the first time.
Amoo was some 35 yards out from goal when the ball fell at his feet, a result of a poor clearing header from Josh Green who’d come haring out of his area and an unfortunate slip from Dan Stokes.
The shout of “shoot” came from the stand but that looked like it would be a brave decision until Amoo hit a stunning volley over the head of the stranded Green and into the top corner.
Arundel weren’t ahead for long as six minutes later, the Robins scored a devastating counter attacking goal.
A long ball out of defence set Littlejohn away down the right and his low cross was perfectly placed for Troak to fire home without breaking stride.
Littlejohn and Harvey Enticknap both stung the palms of the Arundel goalkeeper after some pleasing build up play before Arundel notched their second, an in-swinging corner from the left somehow evading Greento fly straight in.
Hassocks levelled things up on 36 minutes, Enticknap releasing Bull who took the shot on early and from a tight angle to finish with aplomb across the keeper and into the bottom corner.
Four blocks in a row from a combination of goalkeeper, defender, goalkeeper, defender denied Troak, Jamie Hillwood, Littlejohn and Troak again.
Arundel then made it 3-2, a fine curling effort from the edge of the box leaving Green clutching at thin air as the shot cannoned in off the upright.
That was on 42 minutes. On 43 minutes, Hassocks equalised for the third time when Littlejohn scampered away down the left and his low cross was turned in by one of two Arundel defenders sliding in to try and prevent the ball reaching Bull.
After that breathless opening 45 minutes, the second half was a bit of a bore in comparison as neither side could add to the score line.
That wasn’t for the want of trying though, particularly from a Hassocks point of view.
Enticknap, Littlejohn and substitute Bacon all drew good saves as well as those aforementioned opportunities for the teenage defensive duo of Jupp and Marshall.
At the other end, Mills produced a goal line block from Callum Chalmers, Harry Callaghan rattled the bar with his first touch after coming on and Green had to be alert to snatch Chalmers’ clipped pass over the top from the boot of Charlie Waldron.
Extra time beckoned and it was Arundel who struck first in the additional 30 minutes, Chalmers finding himself with the chance to run at Harry Mills who he duly tied into knots before firing past Green for 4-3.
The following 11 minutes represented the longest period that Arundel led for, until Bacon buried a one-on-one low into the corner for 4-4.
Penalties were looming large as the tie entered the final five minutes still level and given what had gone before, it wouldn’t have been a surprise if the shootout went on until the early hours of the morning and ended 31-30.
Thankfully, we didn’t need to find out. Stokes’ placed shot after a Bacon effort was blocked put Hassocks ahead for the first time with four minutes remaining and Bacon then played in Troak for the sixth in the final seconds.
Hassocks: Green; Marshall, Mills, Kublickas, Jupp; Enticknap, Stokes; Hillwood, Bull, Troak; Littlejohn.
Subs: Bacon, Benson, Pope (used).