Horsham brought down the curtain to their 2017-18 season, but despite the game yielding seven goals in total, The Hornets were on the wrong end of a 2-5 loss – their fourth consecutive defeat – as Horsham suffered another frustrating afternoon in the Bostik League South at Culver Road.
Despite being 3-0 down at half time, Horsham will have every right to be upset at the decision from referee Mr. John Pike to award Whyteleafe a contentious penalty with the score at 2-3 after Horsham’s courageous second half performance threatened an unlikely comeback, and there was to be further frustration at the official’s performance later on when his inability to prevent himself interfering with play saw a promising Horsham move break down and helped the visitors launch a counter attack that they scored from to put the game to bed in a frantic final twenty minutes.
In some ways, Horsham’s supporters shouldn’t have been too surprised with Mr. Pike’s display. Before the game the official had insisted upon Horsham’s traditional home kit of amber shirts and green shorts be changed to that of an entirely amber kit, somehow concerned about a potential clash between the white shirts and green shorts of the visiting side.
True, Horsham’s dreadful start to the game effectively meant most supporters in the ground never expected anything other than defeat at the interval, but no one would deny at full time that things might have been different with Horsham arguably the better side during the second half having knocked at the door continuously with their performance at least meriting a point.
Understandably, many Hornets fans this season will have probably been glad to see the end of the season, having endured the campaign away from the town at Sussex FA Headquarters in Lancing, and consigned to mid-table mediocrity with nothing to play for, and a string of successive defeats deflating the mood ahead of the game, yet a hearty and vocal turnout of supporters provided Dom Di Paola’s side to produce one last chance to leave their supporters happy.
Consistency has been a problem in terms of producing results this season, but an unwanted regular statistic has been their penchant for conceding goals early on in games. Once again, Horsham were at it again, this time shipping the opener in just the third minute of play as Horsham made it far too easy for their opponents. With Charlie Farmer letting Nkori-Venceslas Bola go, the forward strode forward and passed to Scott Day, who hit it first time with a fantastic dipping effort the crept underneath the crossbar and left goalkeeper Josh Pelling unable to do anything about it.
Horsham looked to respond via George Landais, but he saw his shot deflect out towards the touchline, where Darren Boswell managed to keep it in play, but his delivery back inside the box went begging with no one inside to convert as Antone Douglas mopped up.
Horsham’s defensive fragilities however threatened to derail their bid to get back into the game, and they were fortunate not to fall further behind when a great ball through the middle unlocked the defence for Bola to chase down, but his touch in front of Pelling proved too heavy as he took it out for a goal kick.
Horsham’s best outlet was through Dean Bown, who’s persistence constantly proved a thorn in Whyteleafe’s side, and when he reacted first to a loose ball high up the pitch, he cleverly passed to Hakeem Adelakun to take a shot, but the powerful midfielder could only hit a feeble shot on his weaker right foot.
Once again though, mistakes within Horsham’s back line threatened to undo The Hornets, and when Farmer failed to cut out what should have been a routine misplaced pass, it allowed Bola the chance to run free at goal as the ball fell to him, but there was relief when he drove his effort across the face of goal and out for a goal kick.
Just before the half hour mark though, Horsham had their first real shot on target. Bown again managing to cut out a loose pass just outside the ‘Leafe box, and he quickly played the ball out to Landais who smacked a fierce shot at goal that was superbly turned away by Merson for a corner.
Bown himself was then unable to convert the resulting dead ball delivery, leaning backwards and firing over as he attempted to hammer home.
Despite pressing for a leveller, Horsham found themselves further behind a minute later. An incisive ball out wide was latched on to by Bola, and he sent in a fine cross that was met at the back post by Scott Day who swept in.
Four minutes later, Whyteleafe scored again, with success again coming from the wing. This occasion Sam Clayton providing the assist when his high cross found Bola totally unmarked inside the box and he made no mistake with a well-directed header.
Horsham had a decent chance to pull a goal back just before half time, but Joe Shelley’s towering header was put inches wide as he rose at the near post to meet a corner.
H/T: Horsham 0 Whyteleafe 3
To Horsham’s credit, they emerged from the traps for the second half determined to put things right. The home side could have nearly found a breakthrough just three minutes into the restart when Bown threaded in Alfie Rogers, and from within the penalty area the teenager turned to evade his marker, and unleashed a powerful shot the stung the palms of Merson who managed to turn it away.
Bown’s pace would then let him down soon afterwards when he was given the chance to launch an attack in a two-on-three situation, but he was unable to get beyond both Douglas or Antonio Simeone while he failed to spot the overlap of Rogers making himself available.
Horsham continued to attack the visitors. Once more with Bown providing the source of inspiration as he collected Landais’ knock on and raced ahead to cross into the box, but with Rogers poised, he failed to convert with his toe poke blocked on the line by Merson.
Horsham finally got the goal their play deserved on the hour mark and in some style when Boswell carried the ball forward and fired in a wonderstrike from just outside the corner of the box to bring The Hornets back into the contest.
It could have been even better minutes later as Curtis Gaylor smashed a fierce shot from just outside the area just wide, but Horsham were not to be denied their second goal of the match with twenty minutes remaining as the comeback appeared on.
Once more, Boswell collected high up the pitch, and still mindful of the skill and techinique the midfielder demonstrated just ten minutes previously, the Whyteleafe defence stood off as he strode forward and took up the invitation to shoot from the edge of the semi-circle, with his low drive bouncing up off the surface in front of Merson to wrong foot the visiting ‘keeper.
Game on, or so Horsham fans thought. Mr. Pike clearly had other ideas though, when just seven minutes later he awarded Leafe a penalty and turned the game on its head. Former Hornet Ikechi Eze had only been on the field for four minutes when he went down inside the penalty area, despite Bown clearly making contact with the ball and sending it out for a corner, yet there was astonishment from Horsham supporters as Mr. Pike ruled for a foul and pointed to the spot. Sam Clayton’s low strike was hit hard enough to beat Pelling despite the Horsham custodian getting a palm to the ball as the realisation he had been unable to keep it out quickly dawning on some Horsham supporters who initially thought he had saved it.
With Whyteleafe realising they now were firmly back in control, Pelling came to his sides aid moments later to thwart Day and deny him his hat-trick, clearing well with his legs from the Leafe’ hitman who shot directly at him.
Horsham’s anger at Mr. Pike then reached new heights as the match entered it’s final ten minutes. Having got in the way of play not for the first time, Horsham saw a promising attack break down when the officiator’s slow reflexes prevented a ball from reaching it’s intended target. It provided Whyteleafe with an excellent opportunity to counter, and within twenty seconds they had the ball in the back of Horsham’s net once again as Bola was threaded through with a precise pass and the forward nudged the ball past the onrushing Pelling and slotted into an empty net as Horsham fans lambasted the referee for robbing them of the final fifteen minutes.
Despite the defeat, Horsham finish the 2017-18 campaign in fifteenth place, an improvement from our sixteenth placed finish last season.
Di Paola will now focus on preparing his side for next season, and with the club expected to move into their new ground at some point during the forthcoming campaign it already promises to be a memorable one, both on, and off the pitch.
Reporter: Matt Dale