If Horsham fans had to pick any of the teams to get promoted through the Bostik League South play-off’s at the end of the season, don’t be too surprised to hear ‘Cray Wanderers’ name mentioned more than anyone else, as once more, The Wands emerged victorious from our third meeting of the season.
Having lost 0-3 in the reverse fixture in early October at Culver Road, few will need reminding of the disaster that unfolded the week after when Wanderers obliterated The Hornets 8-0 in the FA Trophy. Yet whilst this match still yielded seven goals in total, it was to be in vain despite Horsham threatening an unlikely come-back from being 3-0 down after forty minutes. Goals from Alfie Rogers and George Landais giving Horsham hope, before Cray added a fourth midway through the second half to kill off Dom Di Poala’s plucky side, while Lewis Hyde added an injury time consolation.
For those who braved the bitter cold and snow, from a neutral’s perspective, this was a game that had all you could ask for. Two penalties, well taken goals and the occasional show of poor defending, however while no Horsham supporter would have realistically bet on Horsham salvaging something from the match at 3-0 down, the fact they managed to score three goals against arguably one of the leagues best footballing sides should hopefully give The Hornets confidence of achieving a top ten finish, even if it continues to elude them currently.
For shivering supporters on the terraces, there was little on the pitch to get warmed up about with a few half chances of note, starting with Tony Nwachukwu threating a short pass from out wide to Steve Metcalf, who saw his dangerous cross into the box easily plucked out by home goalkeeper Nick Blue.
The ever-industrious Karl Dent then found himself in with a chance two minutes later for the home side, as Horsham sent a clearance from within the box straight into his body, but Josh Pelling was quick to snuff out the danger as the Wands midfielder looked to convert the sudden opportunity.
The game continued in a chess-like fashion until the twentieth minute when Blue spilled what should have been a routine catch low down, but as the ball found its way back to Hyde, there was relief amongst the home support when the defender scuffed his shot and sent the ball up into the air.
The Wands duly punished their guests a minute later. A powerful run on the wing by Barney Williams saw the full-back surge past his man, and he delivered a low cross into the box that Horsham’s defenders all missed, it came to Junior Dadson who managed to fire at goal, but Josh Pelling did well to save from close range, yet there was little the Horsham shot-stopper could do about Charlie MacDonald tucking home the rebound into the bottom corner with the ‘keeper stricken on the ground.
Having witnessed their side crumble previously at Hayes Lane, Horsham fans might have been forgiven for thinking it would get much, much worse, and as five minutes passed, it nearly did when Dadson burst into the box and looked to shoot however he was dispossessed as Horsham defended bravely.
At the other end, a fifty-fifty ball was pursued by Nwachukwu and Blue, who rushed out of his box and appeared to charge the Horsham midfielder side on, but despite the appeals from Horsham supporters behind the goal, referee George Warren signalled for play to continue.
There was little doubting the next big call from Mr. Warren however, when a late challenge from Joe Shelley brought down MacDonald inside the box who went down loudly, but he dusted himself off to convert the spot-kick with a calmly rolled finish into the bottom left corner.
Horsham might have felt the score was a little harsh on them, yet things got worse three minutes later, when they threatened to implode and some poor defending allowed Cray to put Horsham under pressure as The Hornets failed to clear, and with the ball zipping towards Dent, the bearded midfield general took up the invitation to shoot from within the semi-circle, drilling in on his left foot.
Rather than fold, Horsham responded by pulling a goal back with three minutes of the half remaining as Horsham won a freekick out wide that was curled into the box, and as Wanderers struggled to defend the set-piece, Blue fumbled and allowed Alfie Rogers the chance to turn and find the net.
H/T: Cray Wanderers 3 Horsham 1
With snow now falling for the start of the second half, Horsham made a more determined push to show they were not snowflakes themselves with a half-hearted attempt from Landais warming up the palms of Blue early on.
Soon after, Pelling then had the chance to keep his gloves warm when he needed to be alert to push away a stinging effort from twenty-five yards out from skipper Lea Dawson, but with the next goal crucial, it was Horsham who found it when Darren Boswell was cynically felled inside the Cray box forcing Mr. Warren to point to the spot for the second time of the afternoon. George Landais did the honours, going for power and height as he smashed home.
Having lost three from their last five fixtures, Cray fans nerves became unsettled as they feared the win would be taken from them, but Dent attempted to alleviate those concerns when he escaped the attentions of his marker with a strong run and crossed in towards the box from the by-line as MacDonald glanced a header just wide.
Joe Shelley then volleyed over the bar as he nearly drew Horsham level but with fifteen minutes remaining, Cray guaranteed all three points and stopped the Hornets fightback in it’s tracks with a superbly taken goal. Substitute Aaron Rhule was afforded too much space to dart down the wing and the pacy forward delivered a beautiful cross that was met with an exquisite finish from Dadson who volleyed in with some style.
The goal knocked the wind out of Horsham, who appeared to concede the contest was now beyond them, but had it not been for some wayward finishing from the hosts, the score might have been heavier and when Rhule skipped past two defenders to set himself up with a one-on-one against Pelling, he let the visitors off the hook, blasting over from the edge of the box.
There was still time for the match to give it’s final goal deep into stoppage time when Nwachukwu was fouled out wide by Williams and the resulting freekick pumped into the box to be met with a towering header from Lewis Hyde who’s lack of a celebration knew it was too late to make any difference.
Horsham will now look to bounce back from this defeat when they visit lowly East Grinstead in our rearranged tie on Tuesday night, before we entertain Ramsgate, who make the long trip to Culver Road on Saturday.
Reporter: Matt Dale