What a difference a few days can make. From the depths of despair on Saturday, the Hornets produced one of their best performances of the season in defeating Premier Division Burgess Hill to progress through to the second round of the Velocity Trophy.
Admittedly the visitors will have had one eye on Saturday’s Emirates FA Cup tie against Wealdstone, with a number of first team regulars rested, but Horsham, too, were understrength and had shipped ten goals in their last two games. But, boosted by a seventh minute goal from Charlie Farmer, the home side oozed confidence and composure and added two more goals before the break, resisted the temptation to fall back into their sloppy ways after the visitors pulled a goal back in the second half, and scored again before running out 4-2 winners.
Yet the evening began ominously, with Tom Lawley picking up an injury during the warm-up and having to be replaced by Charlie Oatway, and when the powerful Tim Cook fired a fierce effort just wide after only three minutes it looked like the Hornets and their supporters would be in for a long night. Yet Horsham hit back and, after Jack Newhouse had won the ball in midfield, Budd quickly released Rob O’Toole who looked set to shoot at goal until he was brought down by the giant Brandan Diau, who was booked for his indiscretion. From the free-kick, Steve Metcalf’s goalbound strike was palmed over his own crossbar by Max Huxter. It was, though, merely a brief respite for the visiting ‘keeper as, from the resulting corner, Budd’s cross picked out the unmarked Farmer who headed Horsham in front.
The Hillians’ defence looked shaky in the few minutes that followed, before Diau displayed all his power to dispossess O’Toole and stride purposefully into the Horsham half before leathering a shot just wide from all of forty yards. But Horsham had the bit between their teeth and when Huxter rode his luck after miscuing a clearance, Metcalf returned the ball to Newhouse who drilled an inviting pass across the face of goal where the stretching O’Toole just failed to make contact. It didn’t matter, though, as Horsham doubled their lead just a minute later. It was a goal out of nothing when, after some fine pressure in midfield, the ball ran on for Hillians old boy Budd who looked up and struck a tremendous drive past the helpless Huxter and into the top corner for the skipper’s first goal of the campaign.
Little more than a quarter of an hour gone and already facing an uphill struggle, the visitors withdrew defender Alusine Bangura and sent on Jemal Johnson, who would later prove to be one of Hill’s liveliest performers. A long range effort by Cook, that went well wide of the target, perhaps summed up the visitors’ desperation to get back into the tie but they threatened again, just before the half hour, when Aaron Smith-Joseph’s lay off was smacked against Farmer by Lee Harding from fifteen yards, although it looked unlikely to have troubled ‘keeper Josh James had the centre-half not produced the block. Cook really ought to have given the Hillians a lifeline when he was the recipient of a fortunate ricochet inside the box, following a quick counter-attack, but hurriedly blasted over and the visitors were made to pay when they went further behind.
It was yet another set-piece that did the damage, this time Lewis Hyde glancing home Budd’s free-kick, before Hill fashioned their first shot on target in the final minute of the half when a neat exchange between Cook and Smith-Joseph ended with the latter firing straight at James.
H/T Horsham 3 Burgess Hill Town 0
Recent signing Hakeem Adalukan was replaced by Curtis Griffin at the start of the second half and just four minutes had elapsed before the substitute was celebrating with his team-mates as Smith-Joseph held off Farmer before slipping the ball beneath the advancing James. With the driving rain unrelenting, Dom di Paola sent on the fresh legs of the returning Scott Harris and George Gaskin for Hyde and Dan Mobsby and the move seemed to re-energise the Hornets who went close to restoring their three goal cushion when O’Toole sent Gaskin clear but Huxter spread himself well to block with his legs.
Just a minute later, a crucial challenge by Metcalf on Cook prevented what looked a certain goal as the burly striker bore down on goal. A goal then, given Horsham’s fragile confidence born out of their last two defeats, might have proved a game-changer but instead Horsham went back up the other goal where a mistake by Huxter let in Gaskin, whose shot was kept out by the backpedalling ‘keeper. Adam Hunt, moved back from his midfield position to full-back following the substitution of Hyde, should have made it four when another fine Budd corner found him all alone inside the penalty box but he put his header wide of the far post.
Matt Nezval was introduced for Smith-Joseph on sixty-two minutes and almost found himself on the scoresheet within seven minutes when picked out by Johnson, after fine work by the substitute to get to the byline, but his near post volley was just wide of James’ goal. Moments later it was 4-1. Hunt’s defence-splitting pass sent Newhouse away down the left and the youngster delivered a confident finish, shooting under the ‘keeper to register his first goal for the Hornets since arriving from Worthing.
There was a scare for Horsham, five minutes from time, when James advanced from his area and sent Cook crashing to the ground. The ‘keeper appeared to be the last man but referee Shelby Elson, who had allowed a number of challenges to go unpunished earlier in the match, decided that a caution would be sufficient action with Cook putting the resultant free-kick wide. The Hillians continued to push forward in search of another goal and Horsham thought they had escaped the danger when Farmer put the ball behind his own goal, from a cross by the dangerous Johnson, but from Harding’s corner Cheick Toure powered in a header to make it 4-2.
Just a minute of the ninety remained at this stage but there was still chance for the visitors to go close on two further occasions; the first when Oli Bankole’s shot cleared the crossbar from another Johnson assist, and then a firmly struck shot by Cook that took a touch off James Thurgar to deflect it over the crossbar. It was, though, too little too late for the Premier Division side who had too much to do to recover from Horsham’s devastating first half showing.
Report by Mark Wells
Match photos can be viewed here, courtesy of John Lines