The Hornets wrapped up their league campaign with a 1-2 win away against basement side Guernsey as Horsham secured second place in the division and left the Channel Islanders fighting for their Bostik League survival with a pivotal deciding game next weekend away at Sittingbourne to decide their fate.
The Green Lions had fallen to the bottom of the division on Saturday after being overtaken by Greenwich Borough, but their standing as the league’s bottom side didn’t deter the notoriously partisan supporters as the intimidating atmosphere at Footes Lane ensured Dom Di Paola’s side would experience a challenging game in which they had to work hard for the win.
In fairness to the hosts, they put up a far more spirited display than The Hornets experienced against Faversham Town two days previous, and were left to endure a tense final three minutes when Carlos Canha reduced the arrears late on as Horsham held on for the win.
Horsham now will enjoy a weekend off for the final round of fixtures due to our scheduled game against Thamesmead cancelled due to their liquidation earlier in the season, and while they now look forward to a play-off semi-final, they have officially recorded their highest league finish in thirteen seasons.
Horsham set about looking to silence the home supporters early on when in just the third minute, Lee Harding noticed the run of Rob O’Toole and slipped the ball forward into his path, and with a great chance to open the scoring the striker instead skewed his shot wide when he should have done better.
Ten minutes later, O’Toole found himself subjected to ridicule from the home support, and from the away fans, when he looked to force in on the volley, but got it completely wrong and ballooned woefully over the crossbar.
Looking to catch Guernsey on the counter, The Hornets strode up the pitch quickly on fifteen minutes as Kieran Lavery led a charge and played Chris Smith clean onside in a one-one-one against home goalkeeper Callum Stanton, however the twenty-eight year old failed to gather his composure, slamming against the crossbar, with Stanton getting the faintest of touches on the ball.
Horsham got the breakthrough in the twenty-first minute thanks to a well worked goal as they dissected the home defence. Lavery’s run saw him power down the right flank unchecked as Guernsey failed to challenge him, and he threaded the ball for Smith who calmly slotted with a composed finish.
Horsham looked to double their lead four minutes later, when Harding outfoxed his marker with an excellent mazy dribble deep in the Channel Islander’s own half, he skipped past two defenders and tried his luck, but with his effort charged down the rebound fell to Smith who also saw his attempt blocked as The Green Lions held out.
On the half hour mark, a super cross deep delivered by joint Player of the Season Harvey Sparks was send towards the far post where Lavery rushed in to meet it, the Dorking Wanderers loanee did well to climb up to meet the ball, however he succeeded in sending his towering header over the bar.
Lavery had another decent chance moments later when he brilliantly took down a long ball and managed to get a shot away, but this time his effort took a deflection and went out for a corner.
The hosts though finished the half strongly as they reminded Horsham they were no push-overs, when Liam Mahon struck a hopeful shot that Joe Mant gathered up easily, and the same player hit a rasping effort narrowly over four minutes from the break.
H/T: Guernsey 0 Horsham 1
Perhaps due to playing two games in three days, the first quarter-of-an-hour of the second half was a very scrappy affair. Yet with barely nothing happening, Horsham nearly doubled their lead with the first notable chance of the half. A poor back-pass from defender Frank Tobin was seized upon by Smith who poached the ball from his feet, yet Tobin atoned for his error by scurrying back and dispossessing the Hornets striker with a timely intervention inside the box.
With Horsham finding further chances limited due to the home side’s rugged determination to salvage a result, and their season, it took another thirteen minutes for the next chance to come. Horsham won a corner that was duely floated in by Harding and headed back across goal by O’Toole, as the ball dropped perfectly for Lavery, it should had been game over as he was invited to head unchallenged, however despite having a free header, he nodded just wide.
But Guernsey’s proneness to mistakes effectively sealed their own fate thirteen minutes from time. Keanu Marsh’s poor decision to play a badly timed back-pass to his own goalkeeper was seized upon by Harding who instinctively pounced and beat Stanton at his near post.
It was a goal that silenced the home support, albeit temporarily as Horsham failed to keep a clean sheet for the fourth time in five games. With two minutes of normal time remaining, a long throw in was sent into Horsham’s penalty area, where it was only half cleared and as the ball reached Carlos Canha, the midfielder – who scored a late equaliser in the reverse fixture on New Years Day – scored with a thunderbolt from the edge of the box to give the hosts hope of an unlikely comeback.
The 1000 strong Footes Lane crowd now in full voice, Horsham suddenly looked in danger of letting the win slip from their grasp, and the travelling Lardy Army must have feared the worst when five minutes of additional time was somehow found by the fourth official, as well as when Guernsey won themselves a freekick in a dangerous position at the edge of the box. Yet there was to be no twist in the tale as Canha’s whipped in ball snuck around the wall, but was clutched upon by Joe Mant as Horsham ran down the clock to see out the game.
Reporter: Matt Dale
Images available here, courtesy of John Lines