Horsham got 2018 underway with a bang as they overcame Bostik League South table-topping Lewes 2-1 at Culver Road in this pulsating New Years’ Day clash.
After securing a league double against The Rooks last season, this was the first time the two sides had met with the fixture coming a year after The Hornets inflicted a 1-2 win at The Dripping Pan on 2nd January 2017 and Dom Di Paola’s side repeated the trick twelve months on, putting a dent in Lewes’ title aspirations with the biggest crowd of the season at Culver Road there to witness the feat.
Such is Horsham’s recent good record against their Sussex rivals, the victory extended Horsham’s unbeaten run against the East Sussex side to four matches, and, while Lewes pressed and enjoyed much of the possession during the second half, few could object that Horsham were well worth the win after scoring two early goals before goalkeeper Brannon Daly was stretched off a minute before half time, leaving Dom Di Paola without a first choice goalkeeper for the second half. However, a brave performance from Charlie Harris as a stand-in goalkeeper and a battling display from the Horsham defence ensured the league leaders were snuffed out as Horsham dug deep for three more points.
It could have started differently however, when Lewes went closest in just the third minute when Daly flapped at a dangerous cross in towards his box, but the goalkeeper’s blushes where spared by Jack Hartley, clearing unorthodoxly on the goal line with the back of his heel.
Yet Horsham’s first attack yielded the first goal of the game. Some good work by Darren Boswell on the far wing saw the midfielder send in a deep cross, and it was met at the back post by Harris, unmarked, who headed across and towards goal, with the trajectory of the ball dropping just enough to creep under the crossbar as Chris Winterton was beaten.
Minutes later Winterton kept out a powerful shot from Curtis Gayler as his effort stung his palms, yet in the thirteenth minute, the Lewes ‘keeper was picking the ball out from his own net once again. With Hakeem Adelakun dictating play high up the pitch, he received a pass on the edge of the box, before turning and having a go from range, but there was little Winterton could do as his shot took a massive deflection to help the ball on into the top corner as Horsham supporters celebrated.
The league leaders appeared stunned and struggled to get themselves back in the game, as two minutes later, a surge on the wing by Ronnie Conlon saw him cross into the box towards Ghassimu Sow, whose control was poor and allowed Horsham to defend and clear the threat.
Horsham then had a great opportunity to make it 3-0, when Tony Nwachukwu’s flick on gave Gaylor the chance to steam forward, before releasing Nwachukwu who was unable to compose himself and fired directly at Winterton when he should have done better.
Lewes began to gradually find their way back into the game a bit more as they enjoyed greater possession but were unable to make it count, with their best chance of the half coming when former Hornet Billy Medlock stepped over a free kick awarded at the edge of the semi-circle, yet the dangerman failed to test Daly, as he fired directly at Horsham’s well drilled wall as Horsham held firm.
Lewes then threatened to gift Horsham another goal two minutes before the break as they cleared the ball away only so far to Harris, who swiped at the ball from outside the box as Lewes’ defence offered him an invitation to shoot, but the shot proved no trouble for Winterton who gathered calmly at his near post.
With Horsham seemingly heading for the break in control, the complexity of the match changed in an instant as first half stoppage time began. As Daly came for a dangerous cross, he collided with several players in the box and fell heavily with play needing to be stopped for several minutes as the Hornets shot-stopper laid stricken and unable to continue. With Daly having to be stretched off the pitch, the lack of a back-up goalkeeper on the bench meant Di Paola turned to Harris to occupy Daly’s place between the sticks with Daly taken to hospital.
H/T: Horsham 2 Lewes 0
Without a first choice goalkeeper, Horsham’s game plan turned from that of a dominant force to a defensive position, as they went about the second half with the intention of preserving their lead. However, the decision to invite pressure on was welcomed by the visitors, who sensed a comeback was on the cards.
With Horsham unable to retain possession and clearing the ball away rather than holding onto it, it was little surprise that Lewes pulled a goal back on the hour mark when after some pressure around the Horsham area, Sow unleashed a thunderbolt from twenty-five yards out that Harris could do little about.
Horsham had a sniff to restore their two goal lead when they were awarded a free-kick some thirty yards from goal, but Gayler’s inswinger was too close to Winterton who claimed the ball comfortably.
With the majority of the second half action coming at the other end, Horsham supporters were relieved to see Sow head narrowly wide as he connected with a free-kick swung in from out wide, while substitute Omar Lawson attempted to drag Lewes level with an attempt that took a deflection to help take the sting out of his shot as Harris got down well to smother.
With time running out for Lewes, a long final ten minutes was to be endured for Horsham supporters, as Jonte Smith saw his shot shielded wide before a succession of Lewes corners came to nothing as Horsham defended superbly.
With Horsham getting deeper and deeper, a crucial interception from Steve Metcalf saw the ball hooked away for yet another corner, with Joe Shelley displaying an excellent command of the area, as he headed the resulting set-piece away.
The Hornets had a chance to wrap things up late on through Nwachukwu, who held strong to hold off his man as he darted into the box from the by-line and dragged back towards Josh Street who blasted towards goal, but his fine strike was swatted away by Winteron.
A third Horsham goal then proved elusive a minute before the end of normal time as Nwachukwu led a Horsham counter, carrying the ball outside Lewes’ box where he used Street as support before possession was turned over to Adelakun, who attempted to apply the finish but saw his shot take a nick off a defender with Winterton well placed.
With a surprising six minutes of injury time underway, there was still time for one final heart-in-mouth instance as Winterton took a free-kick from high up in his own half, with the ball sailing through a crowd of players inside the Horsham box and ultimately going wide as Horsham fans breathed a huge sigh of relief as they celebrated a fine win against their old rivals.
Horsham are next in action on Saturday when we entertain VCD Athletic at Culver Road in the Bostik League South.
Reporter: Matt Dale
Images: John Lines