A forth trip to Kent in a month proved a bridge too far for Horsham, as The Hornets recent resurgence came to a frustrating end in South East London against Phoenix Sports.
This was the first competitive fixture between the two sides, although Horsham had played the Dartford based side once in pre-season, as recently as July 2015 and the unfamiliarity appeared to knock Horsham’s confidence, as they fell behind immediately after kick off, and struggled to create chances as the home side stopped The Hornets recent accent up the league.
With Horsham going into the tie boosting the better form, manager Dom Di Paola will no doubt be disappointed with the defeat, with Sports themselves, not at their best as both sides produced lacklustre displays as the home side did just enough to secure the victory.
For the small army of Horsham supporters who had travelled on a cold December’s day, they had hardly made it around the pitch to stand behind the goal before seeing their side fall a goal behind. As Sports’ first attack of the game yielded a corner, Horsham’s defence froze as they failed to switch on, giving defender Danny Young the opportunity to head towards goal and into the net.
Despite the early setback, Horsham attempted to muster a response minutes later, but when Charlie Farmer’s low whipped cross was miscued backwards towards goal by Young, it was comfortably plucked to safety by goalkeeper Steve Phillips.
Sports could have found themselves two goals up soon afterwards, when Christie Pattisson broke down the wing to chase a delicately clipped ball ahead of him, and as he cut inside and fired towards goal, it took a decent block by Brannon Daly with his legs to deny the pacy winger.
Sports again looked dangerous on the other side of the side of the pitch through Kweku Ansah, collecting high up the pitch before firing wide across goal.
With Horsham finding it difficult to make inroads, Scott Kirkwood attempted to restore parity as he hit one from distance, after some clever play from Hakeem Adelakun fed Joe Shelley, and his smart flick to Kirkwood offered him a half chance however his shot was screwed horribly wide.
The home side then had a super chance to extend their lead, when Conrad Lee exploited space down the wing and was allowed to cross into the eighteen-yard box, with the ball dropping to Jeff Duah-Kessie, however the striker could only smash his volley into Horsham’s defence, and the reaction from the forward as he put his head in his hands indicated that he knew he should have done much better.
Meanwhile Charlie Farmer was struggling to deal with his role as fullback as he failed to cut out a pass towards Gil Carvalho, and the defender was fortunate not to cost his side further as he then slipped in the box as the Sports midfielder turned him, however his cross into the box was dealt with by Daly.
Horsham’s best chance of the half, came a minute before the interval as Phoenix Sports nearly gifted Horsham an equaliser. As Alex Duncan surged forward, his dangerous cross into the box caused Lee all sorts of trouble, as he got a touch on the ball and prodded it towards his own net, forcing Steve Phillips to palm away for a corner.
H/T: Phoenix Sports 1 Horsham 0
A slow start to the second half meant a wait of five minutes for the first chance of note, with Kirkwood once more hitting a long range effort, this time on target as Phillips warmed his gloves.
Horsham begin to look for a goal as Darren Boswell made his own attempt on goal as he looked to curl in a shot from the edge of the area, but despite looking for the far corner, he shot wide beyond the far post.
It was the hosts however who, arguably, continued to enjoy the better chances, and Horsham were fortunate when the woodwork denied Sports just before the hour mark. As Gil Carvalho swung in a cross from the right side, Tony Robinson was first to meet the ball, yet struck the bar as he let the visitors off the hook.
Boswell then once more had another chance as the game began to open up more as he was allowed time and space to wait for, and control a deep cross towards him, but he failed to hit the target as he fired narrowly wide.
With Sports looking for a second goal that would surely kill Horsham off, a killer ball was sent through for Ansah to race onto, with the forward controlling with a super first touch, but his square ball back into the box was half cleared back to him, and after going for goal with his second attempt, it took a strong save from Daly to thwart him as he dived to hold onto the ball.
With time running out for Horsham, frustration began to boil over from the bench as Horsham’s management let it be known to the officials that they were unhappy with several meaty challenges and occasional shirt pulling, as the inability for the Yellows to really test home custodian Phillips continued. This time as Jack Hartley’s cross contained to much power as substitute Toby House failed to control with his chest despite his best efforts.
The early first half goal appeared more and more likely to be enough to seal the win for Phoenix Sports as the final ten minutes beckoned, and so it proved late on, when Pattisson had a great chance to put the game to bed with a minute remaining as he was sent racing through on the outside, yet he too proved wasteful as he pummelled his shot wide, however it made no difference as Sports held on.
Horsham now turn their attention to the Sussex Senior Cup tie against Littlehampton on Tuesday night at Culver Road, before hoping to bounce back in the Bostik League South at home next Saturday to Sussex rivals, East Grinstead Town.
Reporter: Matt Dale