For the second Saturday running, Horsham came up against a side with one eye on a possible title challenge and, just like last weekend’s defeat to Greenwich Borough, it was the cutting edge of their opponents that proved decisive.
Unlike the midweek loss to ten man Pagham, Dom Di Paola would have had little reason to question the attitude of his players as they produced a committed display on a heavy pitch, only cleared to play following a morning inspection, but despite enjoying plenty of possession they went into the break with a two goal deficit that, until the latter stages of the match, they rarely threatened to overcome.
Although the frozen goalmouths had mercifully thawed before kick-off, the players had to battle driving rain and a strong wind at the start so the Hornets would have been grateful to have been playing with the elements in their favour during the opening forty-five minutes and their first attack produced a corner when Jack Strange blocked Tony Nwachukwu’s low drive. The resulting set-piece gave the first indication of the strength of the wind, as Curtis Gayler’s cross curled straight out of play, and home ‘keeper Danny Bracken was the next to fall foul of the conditions when his goal-kick hung up in the breeze but George Landais’ attempt to take advantage came to nought as he fired the ball back towards goal but narrowly wide.
Casuals’ first chance came just a minute later when Matt Axell got a vital toe to prevent Max Oldham’s pass from finding a team-mate and, from the subsequent corner-kick, Hamilton Antonio put his header the wrong side of the post. When Jordan Clarke was allowed to run unchecked into the Horsham box, the home side were once more thwarted by a yellow-shirted player when, this time, Joe Shelley produced the timely challenge, fully deserving his good fortune as the ball rebounded out of play off of an opponent. As the action returned to the other end of the ground, a good exchange between Shelley and Josh Street saw the latter pick out Landais on the edge of the area to turn and strike a low shot just wide.
It was an encouraging start by Horsham but their failure to turn possession into something more tangible proved their undoing on twenty-four minutes when Gabriel Odunaike’s deep cross was allowed to reach Clarke, who had time and space to curl his shot into the top corner for an excellent finish. The goal came undeniably against the run of play but lifted the hosts who might have doubled their lead five minutes later when a harsh free-kick, awarded against Lewis Hyde, was hit low into the box by Clarke and stabbed wide by Odunaike. Street, though, was making a few in-roads down the left and his next foray saw him try his luck from distance but Bracken was comfortably behind the ball. There was a touch of controversy when Casuals extended their lead, ten minutes after Clarke’s strike, when a quick counter-attack saw Oldham get ahead of Steve Metcalf but as the Hornets skipper put in the challenge, the ball squirmed away from Josh Pelling and rolled towards goal with Odunaike applying the final touch from a yard out. Horsham’s players raced to the officials to claim, perhaps with some justification, that their former player had been in an offside position before poking the ball over the line but the goal was allowed to stand and the visitors rather harshly trailed two nil.
The home side were now on top and a tremendous run by Ben Cheklit took him deep into the Horsham penalty area before sending a dangerous ball across the face of goal that was cleared from the foot of the post by debutant Henry Watson. Shelley came desperately close to reducing the deficit, four minutes before half-time, when he rose highest to glance Curtis Gayler’s free-kick against the post with Bracken beaten.
H/T Corinthian-Casuals 2 Horsham 0
Clarke blazed high over Pelling’s goal after the ball dropped fortuitously to him inside the Horsham area, three minutes after the restart, but the Hornets showed they were prepared to battle in the second half when Gayler burst through a challenge to stride forward and hit a low right-footer straight at Bracken. Shelley then hit one over the bar following a corner, before Darren Boswell and Alfie Rogers were sent on for Gayler and Street respectively, either side of a Landais chance that was saved. Shelley was booked for a challenge on Clarke, that prompted a posse of home players to demand referee Michael Begley take action, then Rogers had a great chance to pull a goal back when Tom Tolfrey turned away from his marker and slipped the ball in behind the full-back for the teenager to shoot straight at Bracken.
The second half, though remaining competitive, offered few clear goal-scoring opportunities but a terrific strike by Cheklit appeared to be kept out by Pelling although the award of a goal-kick suggested it might have been the woodwork that had come to the visitors’ rescue. Then, from a corner, a spot of ball-juggling by Callum McAllister ended with the defender’s overhead attempt go too high to trouble Pelling. The final chance of the game, though, came Horsham’s way when Rogers exchanged passes with fellow sub Toby House only to take too long to get his shot away allowing a defender to slide in to block.
Match report by Mark Wells
Photos by John Lines