An accomplished performance from Horsham earned The Hornets a third win on the spin, lifted them to eleventh in the league and maintained a 100% start to 2018 as they leapfrogged Whyteleafe and consigned the Surrey side to a first defeat in four matches.
There is a renewed swagger about The Hornets at the moment, with confidence riding high after excellent wins away at Guernsey and home to Lewes in the last few weeks, with real optimism that the side can hopefully push on and challenge for a place in the top ten as the season enters the business end of the campaign.
The news that Horsham produced another impressive result will surely have come as music to manager Dom Di Paola’s ears, with the Hornets gaffer away on leave, leaving first team affairs to his coaches Adam Westwood and Andy McCarthy.
The previous two visits to Church Lane had not been a pleasant experience for Horsham supporters, who visited twice during last season and saw their side thumped 3-1 to The Leafe and 3-0 against Walton Casuals – who ground shared here during the last campaign. This was an altogether markedly improved performance from those games, who picked up their first clean sheet since November with an impressive defensive display, while they were also clinical in front of goal.
The Hornets had the first chance of the game with just four minutes underway. A Horsham freekick was floated deep into the mix and headed backwards by Tony Nwachukwu, it fell for Joe Shelley who managed to spin and shoot on the turn, only for John Scarborough – wearing a protective face mask – to hook the ball away off the line.
With both sides getting the measure of each other early on, the home side had a half chance ten minutes later when Scott Day looped a header upwards that Josh Pelling easily plucked out, after the Leafe striker tried to force home an inswinging cross from Sam Clayton.
The home side however were struggling to create clear openings with Horsham’s defence coping well, and when a dangerous run on twenty minutes by Hassan Ibrahim threatened to carve the visitors open, it was easily intercepted by Shelley.
Horsham on the other hand were enjoying the better chances in front of goal, when five minutes later they went closest to opening the scoring as Charlie Harris delivered a super cross deep into the box, up lept the towering Lewis Hyde, yet the defender succeeded only in putting it over the bar.
Horsham were in front however on twenty-seven minutes thanks to Toby House’s fourteenth goal of the season. With Nwachukwu out wide, the midfielder slipped in a bouncing low cross that had enough pace to escape the Leafe defence, and it was met inside the box by House who pummelled it home with a deft first time hit.
Horsham looked to double their lead minutes later with an ambitious attempt by Scott Kirkwood who smashed a long ranger well wide, but Whyteleafe’s attempts to claw themselves back into the game were summed up with an atrocious miss from distance by Cormac Hegarty.
A freekick presented the hosts with a good opportunity to get back to level pegging with five minutes of the first half remaining, but as Clayton’s pin point delivery was met by the head of Day, the forward demonstrated he was having a bad one as he headed narrowly wide.
Day again was unable to capitalise on another positive breakaway by his side a minute later, this time as Shawn Clement-Peter showed pace to steam down the wing and clip the ball inside for Day on the edge of the box, but despite having the necessary space, he swung his boot at the ball and failed to hit the target when he should have tested Pelling.
H/T Whyteleafe 0 Horsham 1
With some of the Horsham supporters yet to emerge from the club house for the second half, Josh Pelling demonstrated why he was voted last season’s Player of the Season with a remarkable save just three minutes into the second period. A mazy dribble on the wing by Clemant-Peter allowed the midfielder to cut inside and centre the ball into the box, only for it to be half cleared as far as Clayton, who from just inside the box, fired straight towards the top corner, only for Pelling to produce a world class one handed save at full stretch.
Horsham nearly took a two goal lead afterwards as The Hornets broke quickly through Nwachukwu after winning back possession, who slipped it ahead of Kirkwood, but goalkeeper Kyle Merson was quickly off his line to smother the danger.
Once more though, Horsham looked the more likely side to score with Charlie Harries hitting a powerful piledriver straight at Merson that the Leafe ‘keeper needed to parry away, however the same player almost cost his side the lead at the other end, when his careless pass gifted possession to Tom Hutchings, who burst into the box, composed himself and fired across the face of goal, with the base of the upright coming to Horsham’s rescue.
Motivated by his miss, the home side poured forward once again in search of an equalising goal with a speedy break to rip Horsham apart at the back, as Day latched onto a threaded pass and spotted the run of teammate Hutchings making the run inside the box, yet the strikers touch let him down with Shelley mopping things up.
Having wasted two glorious chances to pull level, Horsham punished their hosts just after the hour mark. A great flicked cross over from Charlie Harries fed Jack Hartley who received the ball in the six yard box, and with Merson immediately in front of him, the youngster struck sweetly past the Leafe shot-stopper into the far corner.
With Horsham in the ascendency, a third goal would kill off the hosts, and they had a faint shout for a penalty moments later when substitute Liam MacDevitt fell down inside the box under a soft challenge, yet referee Benjamin Knight waved away the protests, correctly adjudging that the Horsham forward was already going to ground before contact was made.
It was then Horsham’s turn to hit the woodwork when Josh Street crossed in from the by-line for Harris to have a go with a first time shot that smashed the upright and bounced back out, before he screwed the rebound wide as The Hornets threatened to put the game beyond Whyteleafe. Hartley then had a decent chance to score his second of the game when he tricked his marker and created space for himself with a clever turn, but could only curl high and wide.
However the two goals was enough to seal another win for Di Paola’s side as they comfortably closed out the final ten minutes to ensure Horsham supporters returned home happy once again.
The Hornets now turn their attentions to Sussex Senior Cup action on Tuesday evening as they head to Pagham, before returning to Bostik League action next weekend when they take on Herne Bay at Culver Road.
Reporter: Matt Dale
Photos by John Lines