Tom Tolfrey’s late header helped Horsham end their recent run of defeats to bounce back with a win and three welcomed points against Phoenix Sports on a sunny February afternoon at Culver Road.
Consecutive defeats in the league had seen The Hornets slip to fourteenth ahead of the fixture against the visitors, making their first visit to Horsham’s home ground (albeit, at Culver Road). With manager Dom Di Paola away, first team duties were handed to Assistant Adam Westwood, and the coach opted for an attacking line up, utilising a 3-4-3 formation as Horsham went searching for goals having not found the net in 270 minutes of football.
It was a tactic that Westwood will feel was vindicated as his experimental side registered an overdue win, with George Landais opening the scoring with a sublime solo effort on fourteen minutes, but while Sports rallied to deservedly draw level, Tolfrey’s glancing header with seven minutes remaining, ensured The Hornets climbed to twelfth in the Bostik League South.
Perhaps unsurprisingly, given Horsham’s attack-minded approach on the field, the home side started on the front foot, taking just four minutes to threaten the Sports goalmouth when a teasing cross was delivered towards a lurking Tolfrey, only for the visitors to turn the danger away for a corner.
The Hornets then fashioned another opportunity just two minutes later, when Alfie Rogers showed excellent vision to release Landais on the wing with a delicate pass, the on-loan Lewes hitman cutting inside and delivering a tasty looking return cross for an unmarked Rogers at the far post, however the teenager’s technique saw the move break down as he sliced disappointingly wide.
Having twice succeeded in cutting open the Phoenix Sports defence already, Horsham made it third time lucky as they broke the deadlock thanks to a superb piece of individual play by Landais, who collected the ball just inside the Sports half and ran at the defence, beating three defenders before finding himself one-on-one with goalkeeper Steve Phillips as he nonchalantly applied a finish low down for a coolly taken goal.
Almost immediately after the restart, the visitors searched for an instant response through Jeff Duah-Kessie, making a mazy run on the wing, cutting inside and squaring for Kweku Ansah who skewed his shot wide after allowing the ball to run just past him.
Horsham had an excellent chance to double their lead on twenty minutes when Rogers controlled well with his chest and found himself in front of Phillips, but he prodded straight at the goalkeeper who made a brave save, while Toby House was unable to get to the rebound as Sports escaped.
Rogers then failed to take advantage of another chance when he could only direct a flicked header past the post from a difficult angle at the back post.
Phoenix Sports gradually looked to impose themselves on the game and launched an attack of their own and, as Joe Shelley and Lewis Hyde struggled to deal with a downward header inside the box from Gil Carvalho, Josh Pelling was quick to gather the danger with they an-Kessie getting caught up with the Horsham defence.
Pelling was then needed to beat away a glanced half-chance header shortly before half time as Horsham struggled to clear a corner but Horsham had the final chance before the break as Scott Kirkwood braved a boot to the face to play in Landais who shot across the face of goal from a tight angle, only for his decent effort to fizz beyond the far post.
H/T: Horsham 1 Phoenix Sports 0
Presumably woken up by a half-time ticking off from Phoenix Sports manager Paul Bryon, the visitors began the second half brightly as they looked to claw themselves back into the contest. They were nearly helped just three minutes after the restart from a uncharacteristic error at the back by Shelley, who allowed the ball to travel beyond him where Ansah collected before rolling to Duah-Kessie, yet the striker let Horsham off the hook, failing to convert the chance as he side-footed wide.
Two minutes later, Ryan Andrews managed to skip past Josh Street easily and pull back at the by-line for Ansah in a dangerous position inside the box, but again the visitors failed to hit the target as he curled wide when he should have done better.
With Horsham’s defence beginning to struggle at the back, Duah-Kessie and Ansah once more combined to try and force the equaliser with Ansah finding himself closely marked by Hyde who did enough to put the striker off as he flashed a poor effort wide.
With Horsham struggling to get out of their own half and with their distribution letting them down, Phoenix Sports deservedly found an equaliser on the hour mark with Horsham’s midfield going absent as a direct pass out to Duah-Kessie cut Horsham apart, and the resulting cross was met with a looping header from Ansah who saw his effort drop in time to beat Pelling at his right-hand post.
The goal seemed to kick start Horsham back into life, after a slow start to the second period, and they began to zip the ball about the park with more purpose. But when Rogers found himself in plenty of space in a decent position, his composure proved lacking as he smashed woefully wide despite having the time to test Phillips at the very least.
With less than fifteen minutes remaining, a fierce drive from Tolfrey almost snuck in at the far post as he darted in and tried his luck from distance, with the ball taking a slight deflection on the way to prevent it heading into the net as it went out for a corner.
However, Tolfrey would prove to be the man of the moment as he opened his Horsham account with seven minutes of normal time left, when he rose well to flick a backwards header into the corner after connecting with Scott Kirkwood’s cross into the six-yard box.
Sports then threatened to spoil Horsham’s party two minutes after restarting when substitute Alfie Aldridge hit a shot from the edge of the box that took a wicked deflection off a Horsham shirt, before Pelling dived low down to keep out the danger.
Horsham almost wrapped things up before full time when Rogers spotted a fantastic run by Darren Boswell who ghosted behind the Sports defence but, despite receiving a pinpoint pass, the midfielder took a touch too many and shot direct at Phillips who blocked bravely on his line before Horsham ran down the clock to earn themselves a first win since January.
Reporter: Matt Dale
Images John Lines