Hythe Town’s long unbeaten home record was blown out of the water by a rampant Horsham who further strengthened their own promotion aspirations with another wonderful performance, sealed by a quite stunning free-kick by Charlie Harris.
The Cannons had not lost at their Reachfields base in 2018 but were up against it when goals from Tyrell Richardson-Brown and Jack Brivio put Horsham in the driving seat after twenty minutes, and the visitors went on to dominate the first half only to have their lead reduced before the break through an opportunist strike from Zak Ansah. When substitute Junior Aikhionbare restored parity just beyond the hour mark, the Hornets’ supporters might have been fearing the worst but an own goal by Nathan Daly, and that wonder strike by Harris, left Hythe incapable of mounting a second comeback and it was the travelling supporters who were left quite literally singing in the rain.
With the Hornets playing their first match on grass after six successive matches on the artificial surface at Culver Road, there were fears that this battle between the sides occupying third and fifth spots in the Bostik South East table might fall victim to the weather after the heavy overnight rain. But, credit to the Hythe groundstaff, there was never any doubt that this highly-anticipated meeting would go ahead albeit on a sticky pitch and in the face of sweeping rain throughout most of the afternoon.
There were two changes to the Horsham side narrowly beaten by Eastbourne Borough in midweek, with Brivio and Richardson-Brown restored to the starting line-up, and the latter took just four minutes to justify his inclusion when Mitchell Dickenson’s poor defensive header was collected by Rob O’Toole and pushed wide to the former Walton Casuals man who fired emphatically across Ryan Nicholls and into the far bottom corner of the net. It was just the start Horsham were looking for although Zach Fagan went in search of a quick leveller and blasted well wide of the target after Charlie Webster had got the better of Joe Shelley down the Hythe left.
The hosts were enjoying some decent possession but the opening exchanges were littered with overhit or misdirected passes by those in a red shirt. Instead it was Horsham, surprisingly given plenty of space in the midfield, who created the next opening when, after a promising attack had looked to have broken down deep within the Hythe half, Richardson-Brown recycled the ball for Harris whose left-foot shot went wide. There was another glimpse of an opening when Elliott Capel missed his clearance to leave Richardson-Brown in the clear inside the box but his low cross was unable to find a team-mate.
It was an impressive spell for Dom Di Paola’s side and they got the second goal their efforts deserved when, picking up a throw, Steve Metcalf played a lovely ball inside for Brivio, whose forceful run took him into the eighteen yard box before finishing confidently past Nicholls. The rain, that had abated a little earlier, now returned with a vengeance but it did little to dampen the enthusiasm of the Horsham supporters who were in fine voice on an otherwise miserable afternoon on the Kent coast. Such was the confidence in the Hornets ranks that O’Toole even produced a rabona to put Harvey Sparks away down the left but there was no-one in an amber shirt to get on the end of the full-back’s terrific cross. Sparks was also involved in the visitors’ next attack, just a minute later, when Brivio won the ball in midfield and laid the ball off for Sparks to fire in a shot that deflected behind for a corner.
The Hornets were the dominant side and only their profligacy kept the match within Hythe’s powers of recovery. Richardson-Brown wasted a good position when found by a fine pass by Kieran Lavery, only to put his cross too high and too long to be of any purpose, and then O’Toole sent a free header straight at Nicholls. Then, out of nothing, Hythe reduced the arrears when their talisman, Ansah, smashed the ball over the head of Josh Pelling with all the confidence of a man who had already netted twenty-three times in league and cup games this season. As Hythe’s first actual shot on target of the afternoon, the goal was as impressive as it was unexpected but Horsham went all out to restore their two goal advantage in the closing minutes of the half with Nicholls having to get down low to field a shot from Harris and Brivio saw an attempt deflected behind before the half-time whistle.
H/T Hythe Town 1 Horsham 2
There was a booking for Hythe’s Nathan Daly in the opening minute of the second half and, from the free-kick, Harris clipped a clever ball in to Shelley who was unable to connect as the balled zipped off the wet surface just eight yards from goal. Another chance followed for the Hornets a few minutes later when O’Toole and Sparks combined down the right and, after a lucky ricochet, the ball fell kindly for Lavery who was denied by a brave stop from Nicholls at close range. Hythe then replaced Capel, who had been given a torrid time by Richardson-Brown in the first half, with Aikhionbare and within minutes Fagan had fired one wide and Kieran Campbell elected to ignore a number of well-placed team-mates in favour of shooting woefully at goal, as the hosts looked to up the tempo. The increased pressure told as Harris and Sparks were booked by referee Graeme Ions, with the inevitable equaliser following straight after when Campbell somehow battled his way to the byline before cutting the ball back for Aikhionbare to scramble the ball home from virtually on the goal-line.
Campbell then blotted his copybook by picking up a caution for a foul on Brivio, with the free-kick bouncing over the heads of both O’Toole and Dylan Merchant, and when Salvyn Kisitu followed his team-mate into Mr Ion’s book, the next set-piece was nodded back by Richardson-Brown at the far post but straight at Nicholls who showed some impressive handling in the wet conditions.
It was turning into a pulsating finale befitting two of the division’s top teams but Aikhionbare spurned the chance to put his side in front when he shot wide from outside the box, to the clear annoyance of the Hythe management. Shelley became the next player to be cautioned but quickly made amends by playing a huge part in Horsham retaking the lead. An interception and surging run out of defence took him to halfway before playing the ball out to Sparks, who moved it on to Harris and then Lee Harding, who had replaced Lavery ten minutes earlier, and his dangerous cross was turned into his own net by the stretching Daly. But for Daly’s intervention, O’Toole would surely have scored himself but no-one of a Horsham persuasion could care as the supporters erupted in celebration behind Nicholls’ goal.
A minute later, another teasing ball into the box by Harris was just too far for Richardson-Brown to make contact at the far post but the former Eastbourne Borough man would soon get the sort of opportunity he relished when a foul by Jack Sammoutis on O’Toole, for which the Hythe forward was booked, presented him with a free-kick some thirty yards or more from goal. Although Harris had already proven his adeptness at set-pieces this season, few in the ground would have expected him to shoot especially after eighty-two minutes of hard graft on an exacting pitch, but shoot he did and the ball rifled into the next with such stunning ferocity that Nicholls got nowhere near it. ‘Give Me Lard’ rang out from the travelling faithful and they almost had a fifth goal to cheer when O’Toole’s touch inside gave Brivio the chance to run forty yards before picking out Harding whose shot brought a fine save out of Nicholls.
O’Toole was withdrawn to great applause with just a few minutes remaining and his replacement, Chris Smith, might have added even greater gloss to the victory had Nicholls not done supremely well to prevent Richardson-Brown’s driven cross from reaching him on the edge of the six yard box. By that stage, though, it was job done and the latest in a number of outstanding displays by the Hornets that takes them above Hythe and into third place behind Hastings United only on goal difference. A word, too, for referee Graeme Ions who had an excellent game in very difficult conditions.
Report by Mark Wells
Photos available here, courtesy of John Lines