The Emirates FA Cup served up another incredible memory today for Horsham supporters, as Culver Road witnessed a truly remarkable game of football that saw The Hornets emerge 4-3 winners for a place in the Third Qualifying Round draw, and bank a cool £9000 in prize money.
This was a game that had everything, with drama and a script that might well have been written and directed by Steven Spielberg – it was that good. Despite Heybridge Swifts racing into a 0-2 lead, The Hornets pegged them back to level the scores 2-2 at half time, and when Swifts retook the lead during the second half, goals from Rob O’Toole and Chris Smith completed a superb comeback in the final fifteen minutes as Hornets fans saluted their team off at the final whistle while Swifts finished the game with ten men.
While Horsham fans will more than likely be more interested in the fact their team won, spare a thought for Swifts fans who made the long journey down. This was the second game in a row in which their team had surrendered a 2-0 lead despite Horsham conceding two of the softest goals likely to be seen this season as it appeared Horsham might be in for tough afternoon, thus credit however must still go to Dom Di Paola’s side, who refused to give up and continued to battle to ensure they go into the draw on Monday.
With conditions appalling, the visitors appeared to be quick to adjust to the slipperiness of the ball and pitch as the rain lashed down, and it took them just six minutes to open the scoring as Horsham struggled to deal with the pace and tenacity of Swifts’ movement as a low centre found George Craddock in plenty of space, and his goalbound shot took a deflection to nestle past Josh Pelling to give Swifts the lead early on.
With Horsham struggling to get going, The Hornets found themselves with a mountain to climb on fourteen minutes, when they conceded an embarrassingly soft goal from a set piece. With the corner sent over towards the near post, the failure of anyone in a yellow shirt to deal with the danger meant that the ball bounced off Alejandro Seoane-Barber who barely needed to do anything as it tricked into the net.
The Lardy Boys began to fear the worst, yet found a route back into the contest five minutes later when Rob O’Toole’s header back across into the box was picked up upon by Steve Metcalf who directed his looped header upwards, and over visiting goalkeeper Danny Sambridge.
A fierce strike from full-back Joey Taylor was struck cleanly from outside the areas, but he failed to keep it down as the ball lifted upwards and over the bar.
Having conceded from a corner, Horsham then scored from one themselves when Joe Shelley climbed up to beat Alie Njie as he forced home to bring the scores level.
Charlie Harris’ freekick from just outside the area was hit towards the top right corner, but was saved brilliantly by Sambridge, while another Shelley header – again from a corner – was clawed away by the visiting shot-stopper as Horsham began to ask questions of the Heybridge defence.
H/T: Horsham 2 Heybridge Swifts 2
With the game anybody’s to win, Horsham began the second period looking to get the next goal to put them in front for the first time as they pressed and won another corner. The dangerous ball being drifted over for Lewis Hyde to meet, however despite space available, he failed to direct goalwards, instead sending the ball across the face of goal as the move broke down.
Will Hoare’s freekick pumped into the box then flew beyond everyone inside the box as Shelley missed with the header, while Lee Harding tried to apply the finish at the back post, yet Swifts managed to turn the danger away.
A moment of controversy then arrived when Harding burst into the box and found himself shoulder charged off the ball by Seoane-Barber who made no attempt to play the ball, yet despite the linesman flagging, referee Mr. Ryan Head remained unmoved as waved for play to continue to the fury of the Horsham supporters who felt the Hornets forward had been unfairly challenged.
A minute later, Horsham found themselves behind again having barely digested the referee’s decision. A marauding run by Nicolas Brown culminated in a speculative effort from twenty five yards taking a deflection off Daryl Coleman and creeping in beyond Pelling who couldn’t reach his far post in time.
Di Paola’s response was to throw on former Bognor Regis Town midfielder Harvey Sparks in exchange for Will Hoare, as Horsham added more firepower and went for a more attacking formation, and the move paid dividends six minutes later when he chased a threaded ball to send in a superbly whipped low ball for Rob O’Toole to poach as he slid in from close range to make it 3-3.
Galvanised, The Hornets found the bit between their teeth as they decided to make the visitors pay, and they should have gone in front minutes afterwards. Tyrell Richardson-Brown’s lovely dinked ball to Chris Smith appeared destined for him to net, but despite being in a super position to put The Hornets in front, he failed to find his composure and blasted woefully over the bar.
Horsham began to tighten their grip, with Richardson-Brown cushioning the ball down nicely for Smith who took a touch and stroked just wide but the pressure told six minutes from time as Smith bundled in from eight yards out, forcing in the rebound after Sambridge had parried Sparks’ initial effort.
With the goal sparking scenes off and on the pitch as Horsham fans went wild, Swifts striker Luke Callender’s loss of temper resulted in his sending off off three minutes later when he talked his way into the referee’s book for an early shower, as Horsham looked to kill the game off against ten men. With the game heading into injury time, Richardson-Brown skipped past Njie easily to find himself behind the defence, but despite being urged to finish the move himself, his pass across the face of goal failed to find anyone when it would have proved better to have been more selfish.
A nail-biting finish with twenty seconds remaining saw Swifts win a corner in which everyone including Sambridge was sent up into the box for, but the roar of delight as Horsham cleared their lines, followed by the whistle summed up a wonderful afternoon as Hornets fans dare to dream of another famous FA Cup run.