The Hornets set up a first round tie at Bracknell Town after comfortably overcoming Haywards Heath in a game that was a curious mix of error-strewn defending and sublime football. Heath manager Shaun Saunders will certainly be hoping that his backline tighten up ahead of Monday’s league meeting at Culver Road after watching his side ship three sloppy goals that put the Hornets in complete control of this Velocity Trophy tie inside the opening twenty-five minutes, while the visitors contributed to the fun with an own goal. The hosts did at least have the comfort of scoring the game’s best goal, a spectacular late strike by former Hornet Karl Akehurst but few could argue that Dom Di Paola’s side were not worthy of the victory, despite the generosity of their opponents.
After last season’s debacle at Walton Casuals in this competition, when both Horsham and Walton Casuals were eliminated after fielding ineligible players, there was a slight scare ahead of kick-off when it was discovered that Saturday’s team sheet had been submitted in error. Thankfully the mistake was spotted In time with the corrected version showing five changes to the side that started the weekend match at Sevenoaks Town. Lee Harding, Joey Taylor, Charlie Harris, Chris Smith and Joe Shelley were all rested, with the latter trio on the bench along with Jack Hartley and Lewis Hyde, while Charlie Farmer, James McElligott, Tyrell Richardson-Brown and George Landais came in for their first start of the season along with ex-Blue George Hayward.
With the blinding late August sun just about dropped beneath the line of neighbouring houses by 7.45pm, it was the hosts who kicked off – twice, in fact, following encroachment by several eager Horsham players – and they played themselves into trouble inside the opening thirty seconds when Josh Heyburn collected a backpass and sidestepped Will Hoare only to run straight into Richardson-Brown, with the ‘keeper grateful that the blocked ball dropped kindly into his arms. It was, though, a sign of things to come and when a misplaced pass by Luc Doherty went behind team-mate Nathan Cooper, Rob O’Toole was there to stroke the ball beyond Heyburn for the opening goal after just eight minutes. It ought to have been 2-0, less than a minute later, when Richardson-Brown raced away down the right but cut the ball back too close to Heyburn with Hoare unmarked in the middle. Next it was a poor touch by Heath skipper Naim Rouane that put the home defence under pressure when Hoare pounced and played a clever ball into O’Toole but, forced wide by Heyburn, the ball was scrambled away for a corner.
A quarter of an hour had passed before Heath had their first effort on goal, when Akehurst’s shot went just a few yards wide of Josh Pelling’s right-hand post. The Hornets then had Daryl Coleman and George Landais booked for fouls before disaster befell Heyburn when, after a decent spell of home pressure, his attempt to return a long clearance to a team-mate went only as far as Richardson-Brown who, somehow, initially shot straight at the retreating Doherty with the goal gaping before making no mistake from the rebound. Moments later it was 3-0 when, this time, Rouane was the errant home player as he lost possession cheaply to Hayward. The energetic midfielder quickly spread the ball out wide to Hoare who sped beyond the full-back before sliding the ball across to the far post where Landais applied the simple tap-in.
Three goals to the good with barely half an hour played, and with Pelling yet to make save, it was all going too well for the Hornets. So maybe there was a touch of complacency about the goal that gave Heath a lifeline when Coleman, receiving a short kick-out from Pelling, was closed down quickly and turned to knock the ball back towards the goal only to hold his head in horror as it rolled harmlessly across the line with Pelling on the far corner of his six yard box. It was a goal fully in keeping with those that had gone before it but gave the home side the confidence to push on in search of a second and perhaps they should have found it when Doherty’s cross at first eluded Akehurst who was somewhat fortunate to see the ball bounce back into his path off McElligott’s shins but the number ten saw his instant snapshot well smothered by Pelling from close range.
Another opening quickly followed when a ball was clipped over the top for Max Miller to chase and cut back for Akehurst who slipped and another shooting opportunity went begging. A determined run by Doherty, one of Heath’s more eye-catching performers, saw him get past five Horsham challenges on his way into the penalty area only to spoil his good approach play by shooting into the side net. But the hosts continued to press to the half-time whistle and Dan Perry dragged his shot wastefully wide from a lay-off by Finney, just before the break, with a caution for Dean Lovegrove for time-wasting bringing a lively first half to a close.
H/T Haywards Heath Town 1 Horsham 3
The Hornets sent on Smith and Harris for O’Toole and Hoare at the start of the second half and it was the latter who had the first chance of the second period when Farmer flicked on Coleman’s long throw and Harris’ glancing header was well saved by Heyburn. Shortly after, a nice run by McElligott was matched by a clever flick to Landais but, having beaten the covering defender, the former Lewes man was unable to beat Heyburn to the loose ball. It needed a hasty clearance by Farmer to prevent Heath from reducing the arrears further after Miller had done well to bring the ball out of the corner, having appeared to be hemmed in by two defenders, with Akehurst backheeling his low cross dangerously into the six yard box.
The Horsham defence was opened up again, just after the hour, when Akehurst and Miller combined to set up Finney but Miller’s pass was slightly underhit forcing Finney to snatch at his shot and making for a comfortable save for Pelling. When the action returned to the other end, Landais sliced a shot wide after a good run and pass from Hayward and the same player almost had a sniff of goal when Cooper’s backpass put Heyburn under pressure. But, despite getting to the ball first, Landais was unable to steer his shot past the ‘keeper. But if at first you don’t succeed, try, try and try again and a minute later Landais turned provider by holding the ball up before setting up Smith for a low, crisp, strike into the bottom corner to restore the three goal advantage. That would prove to be Landais’ final contribution to the evening’s entertainment as he was withdrawn in favour of Hartley, who would have a further twenty-five minutes of game time to add to that of the ninety spent with the under twenty-threes the night before as he continues his recovery back to full fitness.
Smith was unusually profligate when he turned and left a defender on the floor only to drag his effort harmlessly wide with two or three well-placed team-mates calling for a pass. But Horsham were now in full control, relentlessly harrying and chasing the ball down before breaking in good number and, after a couple of strong challenges by Hayward and Hartley, Harris sent a dipping shot just wide from distance. Heath’s only reply came from a decent free-kick by substitute Scott Chamberlain that was well covered by Pelling, even though it took two bites of the cherry to get the ball under his control. Then some nice link up play between McElligott, Smith and Hartley created an opening that was spurned by Hartley, whose shot was more in danger of poleaxing Richardson-Brown than troubling Heyburn in the home goal, had the forward not taken swift evasive action!
Heath pulled another goal back with five minutes remaining when a lucky ricochet fell kindly into the path of Miller, whose lay-off was thumped over Pelling and under the crossbar by Akehurst for a fine goal. From the restart, Heath immediately regained possession and went on the counter-attack with Miller putting a presentable chance wide from twenty yards. With coach Adam Westwood screaming to his players to slow things down, they recovered their three goal advantage when Richardson-Brown gambled on chasing down yet another soft backpass and got his long legs to the ball ahead of Heyburn before putting it on a plate for Smith who applied the composed finish. Horsham were unlucky not to score a sixth in stoppage time when a fantastic ball was played inside for Hayward and when his shot produced a last-ditch block by a defender, the ball dropped to Smith whose chip beat the goalkeeper only to come back into play off the bar.
Match photos can be seen here, courtesy of John Lines