21 January 2019
Horsham U11s 4 Storrington Community 2
Triumphant youngsters overcome pitch and opposition
From the highs of beating the league leaders to the lows of crashing out of the Senior Cup at Pagham, 2018 has been a year of ups and downs for Horsham Football Club. Committee member Mark Wells caught up with manager Dom Di Paola to get his views on the past twelve months and looks ahead to the second half of the season.
MW: The year couldn’t have started better for our supporters in beating Lewes on New Year’s Day!
DDP: Yes it was a good start and January wasn’t a bad month for us in general until we played Herne Bay at home. For the first time in a while we were looking up, I think we were about ninth and six points off the play-offs with the potential to really push on. But we lost that one and never really recovered from it. That put us nine points behind and the season might just as well have ended right there and then for all that we did after that and going out of the Senior Cup at Pagham was a real disappointment for everyone.
MW: We weren’t helped by a number of high profile injuries though.
DDP: We lost Jack Hartley in that match at Pagham, which was a massive blow to us and to the player himself as I’m certain he would have been Player of the Season. Unfortunately he missed the rest of the season and we also lost Lewis and Mets to injury and, in the end, it was a case of putting out anyone who we could get on the pitch. It was one of the most disappointing and forgettable seasons I’ve had and I couldn’t wait to draw a line under it and move on. I actually spent most of March and April looking at other games to try and prepare us fully for this season and find the sort of player who would make us more competitive. I seemed to be at a different match every night.
MW: We’ve seen from recent performances that the team is so much stronger than last season but did you have any doubts at the start, when we lost three of our first four league games?
DDP: It’s always going to take time to mould a team when you bring so many new players in but I still think we were let down pre-season as we weren’t able to play the calibre of opposition I wanted us to. Eastbourne Borough, Merstham and Burgess Hill all pulled out and, with no disrespect to those sides we did play, they weren’t anywhere near as strong as we’d like to have tested ourselves against and we paid the price for that early on. I could still see the green shoots in those first few games, though, despite the results. We didn’t deserve to lose to Sittingbourne and I thought we were excellent in the second half at Bracknell. At Whyteleafe we made a couple of mistakes that ultimately proved costly and I still say that Haywards Heath defeat was one of the most freakish matches I have ever been involved in.
There were some real highs, like winning at Carshalton, and from September onwards we began to click and I’ve had no real complaints since then. We got our tactics wrong down at Hastings where we took on a team that was flying high with two or three players who had been out for a long time and we’d also just lost Daryl Coleman, which was a big blow to the whole side. Our cup form has been excellent and I felt we were the better team against Poole Town but lost to two sloppy goals. We put together an excellent run but I suppose we were due a defeat as you can’t keep going forever and that’s what happened at Three Bridges. We have usually been pretty decent against Sussex clubs but you’re there to be shot at when you’re near the top and the boys have to recognise that moving forward. We have to ensure that we’re mentally right for every single match between now and the end of the season because you know that the opposition will want to knock you off your perch.
MW: Hythe aside, the players seem to have struggled a bit on grass in the last few games. Is it a struggle to adapt after playing on 3G?
DDP: We can’t use the state of the pitches as an excuse because the lads have been playing on grass since they were probably five or six years old. We’ve been very fortunate that the 3G at Culver Road has allowed us to play the sort of football we want to play but we have to be prepared to dig in when the weather’s bad, the pitches are muddy, and the opposition are getting in our faces so that’s the challenge I have set to the players for the rest of the season. At Three Bridges and Haywards Heath we saw how they got themselves up for the game and got the rewards, rather like we used to do against Lewes, and that is what we have to try and match because we’ve probably got another eight games on what I’d call questionable pitches and if we allow that to become an issue then perhaps I need to look at the make-up of the side. I’m very happy with the squad we’ve got right now but if I have to bring in two or three players to give us that edge then I will do so.