A 22-MINUTE hat-trick from Shane Saunders on Tuesday night left Hailsham Town on the brink of promotion.
Hailsham need one point from their final seven Sussex County Football League Division One matches to make absolutely sure of a top three finish after scoring four second half goals against Bexhill for the second time this season.
The first half was a decent contest. Saunders and Danny Leach both failed to make telling contact from in front of Bexhill’s goal after good work by Ben Billings and Jamie Salvidge in the first genuine opening.
Gavin Bourne saved low at his near post from Billings as Hailsham looked more threatening, but Bexhill then had a good spell and Casey Ham had the ball in the net after a nice piece of play with Ross Markham only to be flagged offside.
The hosts went ahead in the 29th minute. Salvidge lost out to Nathan Tudor on halfway and Chris Agutter played a lovely ball through for Ham to run onto and execute a terrific finish across Russell Tanner into the corner from 20 yards.
Bourne made a good save low to his right from a Leach free kick which took a nick off the wall. Hailsham seemed convinced that the handball by Warren Parsons which led to the free kick was inside the box rather than outside.
It was Bexhill’s turn to feel aggrieved in the 44th minute when the referee waved away their claims for a penalty after Paul Rogers went to ground under Paul Richardson’s challenge from behind.
Bexhill would have been even more miffed had an Ashley Jarvis header from a Billings cross moments later clipped the underside of the crossbar rather than the top of it.
Bexhill were forced to substitute the injured Parsons at half time and Martin Denny came on his place. But the change meant three players - Agutter, Paul Henty and Tudor - moved positions.
Hailsham took full advantage by equalising straight away. Jarvis played a good ball out to the right where Salvidge delivered an equally decent cross for Saunders to turn the ball home from close range.
Bexhill fell behind in the 56th minute. Despite losing Jarvis to injury a minute earlier, a good Hailsham move ended with a deep cross from the left by Billings being squared across goal by Salvidge for Saunders to tap home.
Saunders completed his treble 11 minutes later, heading home a Billings cross from the right from six yards. Saunders hurt himself in the act of scoring, though, and was substituted three minutes afterwards.
The impressive Rogers hit the base of Hailsham’s near post after combining well with Ashley Kidman in the 79th minute, but former Little Common midfielder Alexander put the result beyond doubt a minute later with a low drive from 25 yards which went in off the inside of the post.
After Leach had an effort disallowed for offside, a miserable second half for Bexhill was made complete when the usually deadly Ham blazed an added penalty over the crossbar following a foul by Craig Ottley on Dom Bristow.
Hailsham (4-4-2): Tanner 6; Dean Stevens 6, Lewis 7, Riddiford 6, Richardson 8; Salvidge 7 (J. Stevens 86), Alexander 7, Jarvis 7 (Ottley 55), Billings 8; Leach 6, Saunders 9 (Dallaway 70). Sub not used: Cavalier.