Kieran Lavery notched the first goal of his loan spell from Dorking Wanderers as Horsham eased to victory at VCD Athletic to close the gap on Hastings and Ashford in the race for promotion. The goal provided the basis for a dominant first half display by the Hornets, who deservedly doubled their lead on the stroke of half-time when Chris Smith netted from the spot. VCD came out fired up after the break and substitute Malachi Hudson reduced the arrears, just three minutes after the restart, before Rob O’Toole settled any Horsham nerves by adding a third goal just before the hour mark.
It was only the second time since late September that Lavery has added to his impressive tally of career goals but was the perfect response to Dom Di Paola’s decision to include the former South Park marksman in preference to Tyrell Richardson-Brown in what was the only change to the starting eleven that rescued a 1-1 midweek draw with Hastings. But it was Lavery’s former Sparks team-mate Smith who went closest to opening the scoring on seven minutes when he met Harvey Sparks’ low cross only to stab the ball wide of the near post. The VCD goal came under threat again, two minutes later, when Smith charged down an attempted clearance by goalkeeper Jordan Beeney sending the ball spinning towards the goal only for the grateful Beeney to reach it just ahead of O’Toole.
Steve Metcalf, whose last gasp goal had maintained Horsham’s long unbeaten home record on Tuesday night, was proving a willing outlet down the right and his superbly whipped in cross deserved greater reward, especially after Beeney had spilled the ball inside his six yard box. VCD had mustered very little by way of response, despite the best efforts of nippy winger Aymun El-Moyhalbel, and they would have had few complaints when they went behind on nineteen minutes. Smith’s nicely-weighted ball inside the full-back was latched onto by Lee Harding and when his toe poke went beneath the advancing Beeney and came back off a post, Lavery was quickest to the loose ball, taking a touch to bring it under control before rifling it high into the net out of reach of the covering defender.
Smith was enjoying a lively first half and brought the best out of Beeney with a powerful angled right-foot drive that was destined for the top of the net until the ‘keeper stuck up an arm to tip the ball behind for a corner. It was thirty-two minutes before the hosts mustered anything resembling an effort on goal when Jack Steventon headed a good five yards wide of Josh Pelling’s goal from a corner and then, five minutes later, Jake McIntyre put a long range free-kick high over the crossbar with the visitors looking set to rue their failure to put further distance between themselves and their opponents. It took a piece of good fortune that they should do so, just seconds before half-time, when Joe Denny was rather harshly adjudged to have handled inside penalty area and Smith stepped up to stroke the ball competently inside Beeney’s left hand post as the ‘keeper dived to his right.
H/T VCD Athletic 0 Horsham 2
VCD responded to the setback by replacing Steventon and Alastair Gordon with Ali Fuseini and Malachi Hudson at the break and the switch paid almost instant dividends when Alex Gaggin collected a tremendous crossfield pass from Junior Baker and crossed low into the box where Hudson, with what must have been his first touch, swept the ball home. It was just the response manager Keith McMahon would have demanded and the Hornets had to endure an uncomfortable ten minutes or so as the pacy duo gave added zip to the home side’s attack. Smith was cautioned for a strong challenge on Gaggin that upset a number of VCD players and Joe Shelley was fortunate not to have collected a second yellow for a foul on Fuseini by referee Matthew Pollington who elected to administer a final warning than send the Horsham man for an early bath. From the resulting free-kick, Fuseini curled the set-piece narrowly wide of Pelling’s right hand post.
However, having weathered the storm, the Hornets restored the two goal cushion on fifty-nine minutes when Beeney could only push a Sparks corner into the air and O’Toole rose above Baker to head home from three yards. Moments later, O’Toole went for placement over power after being picked out by Jack Brivio on the edge of the box and saw his shot blocked at full stretch by Denny, with Baker doing likewise to prevent Brivio from applying the perfect finish to a dazzling run into the box. Horsham had rediscovered their swagger and another overlapping run by Metcalf saw his driven cross fly just beyond the far post while another fine run by Harding ended with the winger firing over the crossbar.
Had goal-line technology been introduced at Bostik League level, Horsham might have had a case for another goal when Harding’s wind-assisted corner was scrambled off the line by Baker although Mr Pollington had already spotted a push by O’Toole. However the referee needed no such assistance in spotting a foul by Dominic Odusanya on Tyrell Richardson-Brown, just minutes after the Horsham man had replaced Lavery, resulting in booking for the hosts’ number nine. Hudson followed his team-mate into the book for a very late challenge on Metcalf as Horsham continued to enjoy the bulk of possession. In the final ten minutes Harding’s positive burst saw his goalbound shot blocked, Richardson-Brown drew a half-hearted round of ‘donkey riding’ from the travelling fans behind Beeney’s goal for a wild strike that skewed out for a throw, and George Hayward was just inches from connecting with O’Toole’s cute assist. But there was to be no fourth goal for the Hornets who would content themselves with the three points that, with Ashford without a game and Hastings held to a 1-1 draw at lowly Whitstable Town, moved them to within three points of second place.
Match report by Mark Wells
Match photos by John Lines here