There was plenty of late drama at Culver Road as Horsham staged a remarkable late fightback that, but for eagle-eyed referee Adrian Harris, would have produced an unlikely point. Trailing 4-1 with just seven of the regulation ninety minutes remaining, Hakeem Adelakun and then Steve Metcalf found the net for the Hornets to set up a tense finale in which Tony Nwachukwu’s stoppage time ‘goal’ was ruled out for handball.
Adelakun was a surprise, yet welcome, inclusion in the Horsham side, having apparently played his last match for the club some five games previously, but the sight of the former Burgess Hill man’s name on the teamsheet was tempered somewhat by the absence of Joe Shelley and Toby House. Both players were missed at opposing ends of the pitch as Horsham, without Shelley’s arial dominance, conceded three goals to set-pieces while, in attack, a number of presentable chances went begging that the predatory House might have expected to gobble up.
Horsham, hoping to avenge their 5-0 mauling in August’s reverse fixture at Princes Park, began brightly and a sumptuous pass off the outside of Darren Boswell’s right boot put Scott Kirkwood in the clear but his low cross was hacked behind for a corner. Charlie Harris, beginning a loan spell from Eastbourne Borough, saw a shot blocked from the resulting cross and, when Boswell cracked the ball back in from thirty yards, Mead ‘keeper Lewis Carey had to go full length to parry.
Thamesmead responded when Danny Parish managed to wriggle clear inside the box but his close range shot was blocked by the feet of Brannon Daly. But Daly had to pick the ball out of his net just a minute later when Ellis Green’s right-footed cross was headed in at the far post by Parish, who got above Metcalf to squeeze his header inside Daly’s near post. Echoes of that match in Dartford were felt when, just two minutes later, the visitors doubled their lead. Green’s strike went behind off a defender and, from his corner, Leon Smith powered in a header that was adjudged to have crossed the line before Matt Boiling’s spectacular clearance.
Given their confident start, it was a bitter pill for the Hornets and their followers to take but things might have got worse when Solomon Taiwo’s long range free-kick was only a foot or two too high. Yet the deficit might have been halved on eighteen minutes when Nwachukwu crossed low towards the penalty spot where Harris blazed over the top and then, five minutes later, Harris’ corner was missed by Nwachukwu and Hyde, taken by surprise, couldn’t steer the ball home. Harris then created a shooting chance for himself with a nice touch and turn but his attempt lacked power and Carey was able to watch the ball go harmlessly past the post.
It was a good response by the home side and it needed some more no-nonsense defending by Thamesmead to keep them out after Nwachukwu’s run and cross twice presented Dean Bown with half chances. Boiling was in the right place to keep out Parish, not once but twice, ten minutes before half-time, when Green’s cross was headed back by Paul Vines and guided goalwards by the Mead striker. Boiling got in front of Daly to kick the ball away and then, when Parish returned the rebound, the defender was on the line to hack clear. The Hornets almost took full advantage of their close shave when a superb run and pass from Adelakun presented a chance for Jack Hartley, but he could only shoot wide under pressure from a defender, with Boswell bringing the first half action to a close with a long range free-kick that was high and none-too-handsome.
H/T Horsham 0 Thamesmead Town 2
The opening seven minutes of the second half saw Smith and Tom O’Connor booked for the visitors, the latter incurring the wrath of the home bench for what they felt was an elbow on Metcalf, with Nwachukwu firing over the bar for the hosts. There was warm applause from the Horsham supporters when Nwachukwu, Harris, and Kirkwood combined to set up Hartley for a well-struck shot that went narrowly wide of Carey’s left hand post, but they were left frustrated when, in the hosts’ next attack, Nwachukwu turned Kirkwood’s chipped pass invitingly across the face of goal only for it to go unconverted as it flew just inches ahead of Bown.
A minute later it was 3-0 to the Kent club and, this time, it was down to a piece of individual brilliance rather than any defensive misgivings. The lively Parish, who had been at the heart of all of Thamesmead’s most threatening attacks, produced some fine footwork to leave his marker and skip past two more before thumping the ball past Daly from the edge of the penalty area. Dom Di Paola’s response was to withdraw Bown and send on Liam MacDevitt and, within three minutes, Horsham had reduced the arrears when a mistake by Smith let in Nwachukwu for a composed finish.
Curtis Gayler was sent on for his debut for Harris, and Josh Street for the booked Hartley, while Parish was replaced by Laurent Mendy, but it was Scott Kinch who made the most telling impact when he scored with his first touch after replacing Green, rising above the home defence to head in a deep free-kick.
The game appeared to be up for the Hornets and, even when Adelakun got on the end of Metcalf’s cross to head his first goal for the club, it looked like it would be a mere consolation goal with just seven minutes left to play. But Street got the supporters on their feet when, having received the ball back from Adelakun, his near post effort was repelled by Carey and Hyde nodded the resulting corner wide. Incredibly the deficit was down to just a single goal when Metcalf bundled Street’s eighty-ninth minute corner over the line and, suddenly, the great escape seemed on. Horsham poured forward and were awarded a succession of free-kicks and corners as Mead were forced to resort to desperate measures to keep them at bay and it was from one such set-piece that they thought they had achieved the unthinkable. Street swung a corner into the mixer, Nwachukwu leaped at the far post and the ball was in the net. Hornets supporters were on their feet, acclaiming a different kind of Christmas ‘miracle’ only for Mr Harris to disallow the goal for handball against the scorer.
It was a gallant attempt by the home side to rescue a seemingly lost cause but they were, once more, left to rue the conceding of early goals that ultimately left them with too great a mountain to climb.
Match photos by John Lines