The Hornets survived a tricky afternoon in South East London to maintain their grip on second spot and complete a league double over their hosts, thanks to goals in each half from Joe Shelley and Chris Smith. A fierce wind, heavy pitch, and a home side battling desperately against relegation conspired to make this a testing afternoon for Dom Di Paola’s side, who provided the perfect response to last weekend’s reverse at CrayWanderers.
One-time Eltham resident Frankie Howerd coined the phrase ‘titter ye not’ but it has been more tottering than tittering for Greenwich Borough this season as they strive to avoid losing their Isthmian League status after just three seasons. Having been beaten play-off semi-finalists in each of their first two campaigns, after their promotion from the Southern Counties East League, few would have anticipated the Cannons propping up the league this time round but that is the situation they find themselves in with Guernsey’s 2-2 draw at Herne Bay in the early kick-off casting Borough three points adrift at the foot of the table. Their efforts to avoid the drop prompted joint-managers Steve O’Boyle and Steve Sallis to tempt Jack Sammoutis back to the club from Hythe Town on Thursday and the forward was one of four new signings to be included in the home line-up along with Charlie Allen, Teshuane Tyreece-Walters and Theo Fairweather-Johnson. The Hornets made two enforced changes to the eleven that started last weekend’s match at Cray with Steve Metcalf replacing the injured Lewis Hyde and Chris Smith coming in for Dan Pearse, who begins a three match suspension.
With the wind swirling across the pitch, first one way and then the next, it was difficult to see which side would benefit from it most at the start of the match but in the end it was a clumsy challenge that provided Horsham with the perfect platform on which to build their winning afternoon. Lee Harding was obstructed by Bertie Valler, midway between the touchline and the left-hand side of the Greenwich penalty box, and when Harding drilled in the perfect free-kick, Shelley arrived to glance in a decisive header that young Crystal Palace loanee goalkeeper Ollie Webber was powerless to keep out. The match was little more than three minutes old. Given their parlous position, one might have expected the home side to capitulate but, instead, they created two very presentable chances to equalise, both falling to Tyreece-Walters. The first came on seven minutes when he met a left-wing corner only to head, unmarked, over the crossbar from eight yards. Then, a couple of minutes later, an even better chance came his way when Sammoutis and Allen combined for Fairweather-Johnson to cross to the far post but, the ball having gone over the head of Shelley, Tyreece-Walters again headed off target.
Rob O’Toole’s attempts to use the wind to his advantage resulted in nothing more than a goal-kick after his audacious forty-yard strike failed to get more than a foot or two off the ground and went a good ten yards wide of goal. Smith was next to get a sight of goal, from much closer range, when he snuck in between defender and goalkeeper to reach a probing pass from Harding but Webber did well to block the striker’s attempts to squeeze the ball in from the angle. With most of the action taking place at the Greenwich end of the pitch, Jack Brivio was next to chance his arm, curling a shot not too far beyond the angle of post and bar after latching on to a clearance on the edge of the box. It ought to have been two nil when Smith, who was at the heart of most of Horsham’s better moves, battled hard to get possession of the ball before clipping it towards the far post where Harding, unmarked and in the clear, put a first-time shot wide of the Webber’s left-hand post from no more than a couple of yards out.
A booking for veteran defender Jamie Stuart, for a lunge on O’Toole, gave Kieran Lavery a shooting chance from the set-piece but he sent it straight at Webber and then a dangerous run by Smith opened up the home defence, only to run the ball just over the line for a goal-kick as the Greenwich players argued among themselves at their poor attempt at playing the ball out from the back. Harding was given the set-piece duties when the hosts conceded another free-kick in a near-identical position to that which led to the goal but, this time, he went for the far corner and agonised as the ball sailed too high and too wide of the target. The final action again took place around Webber’s goal when George Hayward whipped in an inviting cross that was just a yard or two ahead of Lavery.
H/T Greenwich Borough 0 Horsham 2
If anything, the wind intensified in the second half but, once more, the Hornets were able to profit from a defensive misdemeanour when they doubled their advantage nine minutes after the restart. As Brivio curled in a free-kick, referee Jonathan Bolland spotted a shove on Shelley by Fairweather-Johnson and instantly pointed to the spot. Smith had to respot the ball after it had blown off its marker yet held his nerve to confidently wait for Webber to commit himself then stroking the ball down the middle of the goal.
Greenwich refused to throw in the towel and Shelley felt the full force of a thumping drive by Millwall youngster Joe Wicks, with Josh Pelling later having to sprint from his area to clear after Tyreece-Walters chased a long clearance from a Horsham corner. The Hornets’ ‘keeper then showed a safe pair of hands and good positioning when getting behind Wicks’ well-struck low drive from the edge of the box and Webber proved similarly solid when Brivio’s twenty-five yarder came back off the goalkeeper’s legs as the match became ever more open. However, the wind and pitch were becoming increasingly disruptive factors and they were undoubtedly to blame for preventing Smith from netting a third for the visitors when he took substitute Tyrell Richardson-Brown’s cute lay-off in his path only for a bobble to deny the striker a clear run at goal.
A strong run by Metcalf took the full-back from the halfway line to deep inside the Borough penalty area, where only a desperate tackle denied him to chance of picking out a team-mate, but Olutoysi Olusanya might have set up a grandstand finale had he not been bravely blocked by Pelling after being slipped in just seven or eight yards from goal. There was general tittering (Frankie would have disapproved!) from the travelling fans when Olusanya put a shot into orbit that would have been more at home at Murrayfield or Twickenham and, just before the end, Harding put Richardson-Brown through only to be thwarted by Webber.
Report by Mark Wells
Match photos available here, courtesy of John Lines