A first back-to-back victory since November was secured at Culver Road at the expense of visitors VCD Athletic as Horsham maintained their 100% record in 2018, as The Hornets twice came from behind in an entertaining game riddled with mistakes from both sides.
This was just the second occasion the two sides had met each other. With the only previous encounter coming in the FA Cup back in 2012, however with the prospect of league points up for grab on this occasion, it was Dom Di Paola’s side who edged out The Vickers to take nine points from their last four matches, a result that means Horsham jump four places up the table to eleventh place.
Before the game, manager Dom Di Paola spoke about how he would prepare his side no differently to that of the visit of Lewes after watching his side beat the league-leaders 2-1 on Monday. Thus he named an unchanged side with the exception of Josh Pelling coming in on loan from Dorking Wanderers in place of the injured Brannon Daly.
Those safe hands immediately were tested with just three minutes on the clock, when VCD delivered a good cross into the box for Warren Mfula who drifted in through the middle of the box as Horsham’s defenders lost him, but the Vickers hitman – making his debut for the club – failed to connect cleanly and headed straight into Pelling’s gloves.
Horsham went close a minute later with their own attempt on goal, when Charlie Harris fizzed an effort wide from the edge of the box, yet The Yellows squandered a superb opportunity to take the lead on five minutes. As Tony Nwachukwu was set free for a one-on-one against Joe Mant, it appeared an easy chance for the Horsham Youth product, yet with the entire goal to aim for, and despite opening up his foot to apply the finish, he aimed too close to the visiting shot-stopper who denied him with a brave block.
The importance of the save was realised ten minutes later, when VCD punished Horsham for defensive sloppiness. It was all too casual for Horsham as the defence backed off and allowed Mfula the time and space to create room for himself at the edge of the box, and he duly obliged by spotting the gap and applying a cool finish into the bottom right hand corner.
Horsham were level within five minutes when they won a free kick out on the wing that Curtis Gaylor delivered into the box. Despite the big shout from Mant who went to claim the catch, a challenge from Joe Shelley managed to unsettle him and after the pair collided in the air, the spilled catch was prodded home by Nwachukwu who atoned for his earlier miss.
Remarkably though, Horsham handed VCD the initiative once again with an absolute gift. With Steve Metcalf in possession at the back, his decision to pass back to Pelling proved to be a howler, as he completely lost track of where his teammates where, and in stole Mfula for arguably the easiest goal he’ll score all season.
Siao Blackwood saw his decent long range effort drive wide of Pelling’s goal, while at the other end, Darren Boswell attempted to restore parity once more, when he turned inside to leave behind his marker, before curling a dangerous ball in towards goal the Mant did well to parry.
A mistake from Charlie Farmer almost allowed Mfula the chance to complete his hat-trick after the defender allowed the ball to bounce behind him, however Pelling was quick off his line to smother the danger.
Barely half an hour had passed before the game had its fourth goal and it came the way of the home side. As Nwachukwu collected Jack Hartley’s pass, the forward showed great awareness inside the box to slip the ball across to an unmarked Toby House, where the young striker took a touch to compose himself, before calmly finishing in off the base of the post for his thirteenth goal of the season.
Nwachukwu suffered further profligacy in front of goal later on when he spurned another fine chance to put his side ahead. With House tenaciously chasing down a long ball and keeping it under control, his pass to Metcalf was in turned squared to Nwachukwu unmarked inside the box who tapped weakly at Mant.
Nwachuckwu however was having greater success at providing assists, and he provided his second of the match a minute before half time as he got directly involved in Horsham’s eventual winner. A hesitant run into The Vickers half saw him battle with Blackwood, before opting to lay off to Boswell at the far post where the winger smashed home with his first touch from a difficult angle.
H/T: Horsham 3 VCD Athletic 2
With five goals all scored in the first half, it was anyone’s guess how many might come during the second period, yet the following forty-five minutes failed to scale the heights of what had preceded.
Yet Horsham could have put the game out of VCD’s reach on fifty minutes had it not been for a poor pass inside the box from House, who did well to chase a long ball over the top, before cutting inside, but with Nwachukwu in support, the pass was played far too close to Mant who got down low and held on.
A sustained spell of possession from the visitors then threatened to open up Horsham as the hosts struggled to regain the ball and were hemmed back yet they failed to test Pelling with neither side looking particularly threatening.
With the visitors beginning to tire, a fourth Horsham goal would surely kill the guests off, and they nearly grabbed it when Charlie Harris latched onto Boswell’s through ball, but he could only watch in frustration as he clipped the ball across the face of goal where it beat Mant, and Nwachukwu sliding in at the far post in vain.
Some excellent play from Boswell turning on the ball before cutting inside from the wing threatened to carve The Vickers open, but his cut back towards Hartley was wasted as he shot into the side netting.
VCD almost made Horsham pay late on when Aymun El-Moyhalbel tricked his way through the Horsham defence to find himself clear on goal against Pelling, but the 2016/17 Player of the Season stood up well to him to block with his body from close range as he helped secure his side a further three points in a tense finale with the goalkeeper once again being required to save low down from Blackwood’s poor header inside the box.
Reporter: Matt Dale
Match Photos: John Lines