The Dean Cox era started with a trip to Whyteleafe to take on Sutton Common Rovers in the Emirates FA Cup Preliminary Round.
In absolute torrential, monsoon like rain in Surrey, the Hillians, donning the new Purple and Gold away kit, almost got off to the worst possible start. A slack backpass set away the home striker, returning Hill GK Taylor Seymour saved once, before getting up and tipping the rebound onto the post to get us out of some early strife. The hosts adjusted much quicker to the ridiculous conditions, a sweet strike came in from the edge of the area that stung the palms of the Sussex Cat. The Hill, not known to get any luck in any game of football ever, took the lead against the run of play with a big helping hand from the corner flag. The ball seemed to be rolling harmlessly out for a goal kick but the ball cannoned off the base of the corner flag, stayed in play and actually rebounded towards the home goal, Reece Hallard on debut latched onto it and crossed beautifully for Rob O’Toole to get across his man and flick the most delightful header across James Dillon and into the far corner, utterly unsaveable and the Hill had the lead in a sodden Surrey. That goal seemed to spark the Hill into life, the lively Hallard caught the Commoners defence sleeping from a quick throw in and he pulled it back to Kieran Pamment who scuffed his effort but it almost sneaked in at the near post. Good save from James Dillon. The game was suddenly opening up as we approached HT, Common get in behind the Hill defence down the right far too easily, all the SCR man had to do was square it to the ST for an easy tap in but before any of this could happen, right in the nick of time was captain for the day, Josh Spinks to produce a brilliant goalsaving clearance. The chances just kept coming. Reece Hallard who had been very impressive so far cut in from the right hand side, he had options in the middle to square it but he decided to go alone and curled his left footed effort inches past the post. As the teams were just about to go and dry off for 15 minutes, there was one final first half chance for the hosts, the Hill lost the ball cheaply in the midfield and suddenly a Commoner was one on one with Seymour, he beat the keeper but his effort went wide of the post in what was a huge let off.
The hosts had 45 minutes to find an equaliser and it almost just took them 45 seconds! Seymour had to be very alert to thwart an early low Common shot from the left hand side. SCR were getting closer and they almost equalised when they fired an effort on goal from 25 yards that smashed into the foot of the post. The Hill knew they needed a second goal and if it wasn’t for James Dillon, they would’ve got it. Marcel Powell found Rob O’Toole who in turn laid it off to Reece Hallard who fired his effort hard and low from the right hand side, it was arrowing into the bottom corner but an outstretched foot of Dillon somehow diverted it up and over the bar and kept the hosts in it. Another chance came and went for Hill and you got the feeling they would be made to pay for these missed opportunities. This one was straight off the training ground as Martyn Box whipped a free kick to the near post, Josh Spinks and Reece Hallard both made the run and all it needed was one of them to nod home but they both just got in each others way and ended up squandering the chance. If the Common were to force a replay, it would largely be down to James Dillon. A Hill corner was failed to be cleared and it fell to Rob O’Toole but his goalbound close range effort was thwarted by the chest of Dillon. Remember those missed chances I spoke about that would come back to haunt us? Yeah. That. In the 8th minute of 10 added on, the Hill gave away a daft set piece out wide on the right hand side. The ensuing free kick went over Seymour, was headed back across goal, a Commoner attempted to slam home but his teammate actually blocked on the line, Hill just didn’t react, the same man got the rebound, forced it goalwards again, it came out to Charlie Martin 10 yards who cooly volleyed home to send the Common into raptures and the Hill wondering how they had not held on.
On the balance of play, a draw over the 90 was probably a fair result but to concede so late on and so cheaply will be a tough early season pill to take.
We quickly dust ourselves down as we welcome Sutton Common Rovers to Mid Sussex on Tuesday evening, 7:30 KO for the replay to decide who will host either Hassocks or Erith Town in the next round.