A Mickel Miller header, seven minutes before half-time, was enough to secure all three points for Carshalton Athletic but this was a hugely improved performance from the Hornets who showed no hangover from their weekend drubbing at Cray.
Manager Dom di Paola had threatened to ring the changes, unsurprisingly so after shipping eight goals in that FA Trophy exit, and he was true to his word with Will Robinson handed his first start since arriving on loan from Lewes, former Arundel ‘keeper James Fernandes taking over in goal, and Liam MacDevitt going straight into the attack after rejoining the club from Lewes earlier in the day.
Crucially, though, it was the decision to drop Joe Shelley into the middle of the defence that paid dividends and, but for one lapse in concentration, would have worked to perfection. The midfield powerhouse was a rock at the back, bringing some much needed physicality to a defence that had so often been outmuscled in recent weeks, while the inclusion of Alex Duncan and Steve Metcalf at full-backs – and Charlie Farmer continuing to impress in the middle – meant that di Paola was close to having the luxury of playing his near first choice defence for the first time since the opening week of the season. Behind them, Fernandes put in a confident display, pushing one effort on to the crossbar and competently dealing with a number of speculative efforts from a Carshalton side that had recently scored twenty-nine goals in nine matches before losing back-to-back matches at Hastings and Heybridge Swifts.
The Robins went in search of an early goal that, given recent performances, might have upset their hosts’ already fragile confidence but Fernandes was well-positioned to field a low shot from Ricky Korboa after just four minutes but that was as close as the visitors came to threatening a breakthrough for the next half hour as the Hornets began to grow into the game. Scott Kirkwood brought a diving save from Robins ‘keeper Billy Bishop and then a Kirkwood corner was allowed to go across the face of goal without getting a touch, after Jack Hartley’s low cross had earlier been turned behind his own goal by a Carshalton defender.
Robinson then struck a low drive that was comfortably taken by Bishop before the match settled into a midfield tussle, with Robins player-manager Peter Adeniyi orchestrating things in the middle of the park although without either he or his team-mates able to provide a cutting edge. It was Horsham who had the next effort on goal when Antone Douglas’ foul on Hartley enabled Metcalf to clip a cheeky free-kick to Bishop’s blind side, only to crash into the side netting. A full half an hour had elapsed before Fernandes was brought into the action again but, after showing some neat skill to control the bouncing ball, Ola Sogbanmu’s shot lacked the power to truly test the debutant ‘keeper.
MacDevitt’s pace was giving the Robins full-back a testing evening and one fantastic cross just cried out for someone to apply the decisive touch as it fizzed across the six yard box, and then Josh Street’s left-footed strike needed to be saved by Bishop following some eye-catching approach play by Hartley, who enjoyed one of his best displays in a Horsham shirt.
Yet inevitably, perhaps, it was Carshalton who got their noses in front when Tommy Bradford dinked an inviting ball into the area where the unmarked Miller headed into the net, via the outstretched glove of Fernandes. It was a harsh blow for the home side, who were denied a possible route back into the contest in their next attack when MacDevitt was wiped out by a strong challenge by Danny Dudley twenty-five yards from goal. The centre-half was shown the yellow card but Horsham were unable to exact full retribution as Kirkwood drilled the ball wide after Metcalf’s free-kick had come back off the wall.
The closing moments of the half saw Carshalton on the attack and, after Miller had flashed a shot high and wide, Shelley was booked for a two-footed challenge, with Hartley joining his team-mate in the book during the flashpoint, but Mekhail McLaughlin was only inches away from making a telling contact on the end of Bradford’s free-kick.
H/T Horsham 0 Carshalton Athletic 1
There were worrying signs for Horsham when, just five minutes after the interval, Kirkwood stayed down after stretching to win possession and needed treatment from Steph Apps before being able to continue although, thankfully, the midfielder was able to complete the ninety minutes as he battles his way back after injury. The home side breathed another sigh of relief, on fifty-four minutes, when Adeniyi’s superbly-weighted pass put Miller in behind Metcalf but Fernandes was quickly off his line to deflect the shot up on to the crossbar before being cleared from danger, the goalkeeper’s agility no doubt getting the nod of approval from former Horsham stoppers Alan Keary and Keith Etheridge, who were watching from the stands.
It was, though, a stop-start opening ten minutes or so as a Carshalton player also required a visit from the physio, causing a further break in play, but there was no let-up for the home defence on the resumption when Sogbanmu picked out Bobby Price and when he raced into the box to set up Bradford, the striker could only turn and clip his shot against the outside of the post.
But it wasn’t just by good fortune that the Horsham goal survived intact in the second half as an expertly-timed tackle by Farmer stopped Korboa in his tracks after Adeniyi had ghosted effortlessly into the box to set up another shooting opportunity. In the visitors’ next attack, Korboa managed to get his shot away but Fernandes had covered his angles well and was able to get his body behind the ball to make an effective stop.
Carshalton were enjoying nearly all the possession now but, with the goal advantage, seemed content to play keep ball, with Adeniyi its fulcrum. When they did penetrate the Horsham backline, as Korboa did to great effect when some dazzling footwork left three defenders totally bemused, another in an amber shirt was there to block. For the most part, Carshalton resorted to shooting from distance and a Bradford strike that went through a crowd of players again found Fernandes in the right place to make the save.
The Hornets made a change with twenty minutes left to play, replacing Duncan with Toby House and pushing MacDevitt to full-back, and House was almost instantly in to the action when had pounced on some indecision at the back to set up Kirkwood for a shot that was blocked by goalkeeper Bishop. It was the closest Horsham had come to threatening an equaliser in the second half but was enough to give them renewed hope. But, while Hartley’s energetic running gave Carshalton a few scares down the right, the lack of a recognised frontman meant they would end the night without the rewards their endeavours merited.
Match report: Mark Wells
Images by John Lines