Bexhill United Football Club closed in on the league leaders with a hard-earned victory over 10-man opposition on Saturday.
A 75th minute goal from sub Liam Foster gave the Pirates a 1-0 win at home to a Wick side which had a player sent-off in the 37th minute of the Southern Combination League Division One fixture.
With table-topping AFC Varndeanians losing at home to third-placed Steyning Town, the result moved Bexhill within three points of the summit.
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The pattern for the match was set fairly early as Wick seemed content to get bodies behind the ball and make themselves difficult to break down, which they did very effectively.
For all Bexhill’s possession, they didn’t fashion many goalscoring opportunities during the first half on a bright but chilly afternoon, although they should’ve scored in the ninth minute when Drew Greenall volleyed over from close range after Jack Shonk’s cross wasn’t dealt with by the visitors.
After that, Jack McLean cut in from the left and saw a low shot gathered by Wick goalkeeper Keelan Belcher at the second attempt and Shonk’s near post flick from a Jamie Bunn free kick on the left was held by Belcher.
Wick went down to 10 men in the 37th minute when midfielder Jamie Cradock was shown his second yellow card in quick succession. Both were for foul tackles, the second of them a late lunge on Chris Rea which sparked a melee between the two sets of players and Bexhill defender Lewis McGuigan was booked in the aftermath.
Bexhill almost broke through in first half added time, but McLean’s shot was blocked after he went past three opponents on a superb run.
The home side continued to probe after the break, but didn’t really come close to scoring until Greenall was denied by a goal-saving block from Daniel Cox after Belcher parried Gordon Cuddington’s deflected shot in the 64th minute.
McLean was giving Wick’s right-back a torrid time and Bexhill’s skilful left winger skipped past a trio of opponents before Belcher produced a smothering save.
Shonk glanced a header from Jamie Bunn’s left wing corner wide of the far post shortly before the unfortunate Greenall volleyed Craig Ottley’s cross from the left against the crossbar.
It was beginning to look like it might be one of those days until Bexhill finally made the breakthrough. McLean played the ball inside to Foster, who took the ball nicely into his stride with his first touch before poking a low shot past Belcher, to the relief and delight of his team-mates.
Wick spent slightly more time in Bexhill territory thereafter, although Bexhill goalkeeper Dan Rose still left the field at the end of the game without having had a shot to save.
Wayne Giles twice came close to adding a second for Bexhill in quick succession. He firstly got on the end of Ottley’s ball over the top and held off the defender before seeing his shot saved. Seconds later his left-footed shot was well saved by Belcher diving to his left.
Bexhill: Rose, Rea (Foster 66), Ottley, McFarlane, McGuigan, Holden, Shonk, J. Bunn, Greenall (Giles 77), S. Bunn (Cuddington 60), McLean. Sub not used: Gouet.
Southern Combination League Division One top half standings (played 12 matches unless stated): 1 AFC Varndeanians 31pts (+23 goal difference), 2 BEXHILL UNITED 28 (+33), 3 Steyning Town (11) 27 (+18), 4 Alfold 26 (+19), 5 Seaford Town 22 (+3), 6 Wick (11) 21 (+5), 7 Hailsham Town 20 (+12), 8 Littlehampton Town 19 (-1), 9 Selsey 18 (+4).
* BEXHILL United’s scheduled Sussex Senior Challenge Cup second round tie at home to Burgess Hill Town on Tuesday night will be played at a later date as the Hillians now have an FA Trophy replay against Worthing.