On a sticky pitch Charlton Park came unstuck against a revved-up Haywards Heath side on Saturday, but weakened by gaps in key positions the team cannot be anything but praised for the commitment they showed. This was an abrasive encounter and it came as a relief, when the referee eventually blew the whistle in semi-darkness, that he had not seen some misdemeanour from either side that he might have deemed worthy of a red card.

Heath deserved their win, mainly because their strong midfield defence was able to prevent Park’s ball-carriers from getting across the gainline and they showed just that bit more ability to run on the mud rather than be weighed down by it. The visitors were unable to play the game in the home side’s 22 enough and when they did fashion a line-break the support was not there in enough numbers.

After twenty minutes of midfield huff and puff Heath took the lead with a try from their prop after a fine break down the centre. Then came what Charlton will consider a crucial passage. A strong driving maul ended with a penalty when skipper Rob Saunderson looked through, and Park felt mighty aggrieved that their huge superiority in six successive scrums only merited further penalties. Ironically Terry Read eventually piled over for a try to bring it back to 7-5, but the pattern had been set. Just before the break a further try in the corner extended the deficit to 12-5.

The second half grew more and more fractious. Ed Mason was rightly yellow-carded for a dangerous tackle but a clearer and more dangerous clothesline on Ade Adeyire was completely ignored. Heath extended their lead through a penalty and then another try under a pile of bodies. A yellow for a home player in injury time led to late pressure from the visitors – relieved when a sliced attempted cross-kick from the newly arrived Alan Knuckey went twenty yards backwards.

So, a deserved win for Haywards Heath. They were solid, tackled well and followed kicks. Park were kept under pressure and needed a game-changer or simply a big boot. No-one should feel they let anyone down and the Christmas jumpers post-match attire was completely overshadowed by Terry Read’s outrageous pyjama suit.

Next week it’s Christmas lunch at Broad Walk for the visit of Barking; book with Chris Wheal.