Despite a spirited performance, Horsham were unable to spoil the Lewes promotion party as the Rooks celebrated the victory that assures them of Premier Division football next season.
Given what was at stake, the home side showed few nerves and looked on course for a big win over their old rivals when Jonte Smith and Gus Sow found the net inside the opening quarter of an hour. A well-crafted goal by Dean Bown, who later hit the crossbar, reduced the deficit to give the Hornets hope but Harry Reed effectively killed off the contest when he restored the home side’s two goal advantage just before the break. Two goals in the final eleven minutes gave supporters of both sides something to cheer in the closing moments but it was the home side’s fans who were the happier as they acclaimed their players long after the final whistle.
Over seven hundred spectators filed through the turnstiles to watch the match, that had been rescheduled after being rained off on Easter Monday, and the vast majority were cheering wildly just four minutes in when Sow’s cross picked out the unmarked Smith whose first time shot ripped into the net. It was hardly the start Joe Taylor, standing in for the unavailable Josh Pelling, would have wanted and the young stopper was beaten again in Lewes’ next meaningful attack on fifteen minutes. A free-kick, played in low to the near post, wasn’t properly cleared and Sow lashed the ball past the blameless Taylor at his near post.
George Landais was another notable absentee from the Hornets’ line-up, an agreement made between the two clubs when Landais joined Horsham from Lewes earlier this year, and it was almost twenty minutes before the visitors fashioned their first attempt on goal but Hakeem Adelakun’s daisty-cutter failed to carry enough power to give Chris Winterton too much concern in the Lewes goal. Sow ought to have made it 3-0 when the ball was pulled back for him from the byeline but he miscued in front of goal and the ball was hastily cleared. Taylor then came to his side’s rescue when Adelakun’s misplaced pass was easily intercepted by Sow who threaded the ball through for Bouwe Bosma to power in a shot that was saved by the ‘keeper’s legs.
It was pretty much one-way traffic at this stage, with Horsham unable to retain pressure for any great periods, but they got themselves a lifeline just before the half hour when Matt Axell ran at the defence before off-loading to Shane Cojocarel. The Barnet loanee moved the ball on smartly for Bown who burst through a challenge before placing the ball wide of Winterton for a very well-taken taken goal. Three minutes later and a super cross by Curtis Gayler was only just too high for Bown and Joe Shelley at the far post, the ball flicking off the former’s head and going behind for a goal-kick. Scott Kirkwood and Lewes’ Smith were both cautioned by referee Tristan Greaves as a little bit of edge crept into the game, although a lengthy talking to for Darren Boswell seemed a little unnecessary from the man in the middle after the midfielder’s first foul of the night.
Despite being second best for much of the first half, the Hornets would have been satisfied to have gone in to the break just a goal in arrears but Harry Reed made sure the half-time oranges would taste that little bit sweeter in the home dressing room when he was on hand to tap home the rebound after Taylor had parried a firm strike by Ronnie Conlon. The goal came just four minutes before the interval but, far from deflated, the Hornets responded admirably and Bown sent in a tremendous drive that bounced back off the underside of Winterton’s goal before being thumped clear. Yet it needed Taylor’s agility to prevent Leon Redwood from adding a fourth goal before the turnaround when he turned the full-back’s shot round the post.
H/T Lewes 3 Horsham 1
Horsham changed things round, early in the second half, when Toby House replaced Boswell but it was Lewes who continued to make most of the running when the ball was played cleverly over the top of the Horsham defence for Conlon to hit a shot that was well blocked by Taylor. The visitors’ goal had another escape, just a few minutes later, when Redwood drilled in a low free-kick that went straight through a posse of players and appeared to strike the base of the far post, bouncing clear of danger.
It was another piece of trickery by Bown that produced the Hornets’ best chance of the second half when he pushed the ball through the legs of his marker and showed good strength to get to the byeline before cutting in only to see his shot blocked, the ball rebounding just behind House at the far post. Another loose pass by Adelakun resulted in a booking for Shelley when a quick pass sent the winger away, only to be wiped out by the no-nonsense centre-half amid cries of ‘off, off’ by the partisan home crowd. The homesters didn’t get the dismissal they craved but that was quickly forgotten when the resulting free-kick was cleared behind for a corner from which Frankie Chappell headed in goal number four.
There were eleven minutes to go and the Lewes fans now found their voices, singing ‘we are going up’, but they were given a jolt when Horsham cut the deficit on eighty-seven minutes with another fine effort. A corner was only cleared as far as Shane Cojocarel, who played it back out to Gayler before racing towards the far side of the box where he was well-placed to collect Winterton’s punched clearance on his chest before executing the perfect volley back over the keeper’s head and under the crossbar for his third goal in five days. An impressive strike it may have been but it was too late to have any significance on the night, other than to reward the loyal travelling supporters, while the home fans were left to hope that their side can now complete the campaign by taking the title.
Match report by Mark Wells
Images by John Lines