Horsham supporters have been spoilt during their side’s FA Cup run this season. From the victory over last season’s league champions Carshalton, a five goal display at home to Corinthian, that seven goal thriller against Heybridge Swifts and now this absorbing tie against higher-ranking opponents Poole Town, the excitement has kept on coming.
Goalmouth action might have been in short supply, certainly compared with a fortnight ago, but this match had spectators gripped from the moment Richard Gillespie gave the visitors the lead after little more than ninety seconds and reached a crescendo just before half-time when Joe Shelley headed in Horsham’s equaliser. Both sides had the opportunity to win it after the break, most notably late substitute Harvey Sparks, but neither goal could be breached again so it’s off to The Black Gold Stadium on Tuesday night to decide who goes through to the final qualifying round.
The dreadful conditions kept the crowd down to a more modest attendance than had been hoped but there was no shortage in cup tie atmosphere as a sizeable number of Poole fans took over the clubhouse before kick-off, making themselves heard in the absence of the club’s Lardy Army who had assembled in their usual pre-match watering hole. When they arrived, they would have discovered that Dom Di Paola had stayed loyal to the team that started Tuesday’s winning league match with Phoenix Sports with strikers Chris Smith and Rob O’Toole joining Charlie Harris, Sparks, and U23s goalkeeper Tom Baxter on the bench. The visitors had two changes to their line-up that had thrashed Farnborough 6-0 last weekend, with Sam Griffin replacing the injured Will Spetch and the experienced Gillespie coming in for ineligible Yeovil loanee Korrey Henry, scorer of a hat-trick in that victory against the Hampshire club.
Gillespie took less than two minutes to make his mark, nipping in ahead of Josh Pelling to head a right-wing cross past the ‘keeper and inside his near post as the Hornets made a disastrous start. Yet Horsham have shown terrific battling spirit in recent weeks and almost hit back immediately when Tyrell Richardson-Brown battled away up front to set up a shooting chance for James McElligott, whose effort flew over the bar. Di Paola had highlighted the threat of Luke Roberts before the match and the fleet-footed number eleven went close to doubling Poole’s lead when he collected a pass and skipped past Steve Metcalf before drilling a left-foot shot wide of the near post.
Gillespie really ought to have made it two, albeit rather fortuitously, when put through on goal but with only Dean Lovegrove between himself and the goal, the former Bashley man took too many touches and fell over his own feet before managing to lay the ball off to Roberts who was quickly dispossessed and the danger cleared. Boosted by that early lead, Poole looked the more confident side – as you might expect from a side some twenty-nine places above Horsham in the footballing pyramid – and the Hornets were thankful that Metcalf was in the right place to clear a goalbound header off the line from a corner.
The hosts were finding it hard to create any clear-cut chances, with the ball holding up in the strong crosswinds, but when Richardson-Brown finally managed to get the better of the full-back, his tremendous cross caused havoc at the far post where neither Jack Brivio nor Will Hoare could scramble the ball in. Then George Hayward had a sight of goal but he elected to pull the ball back to towards the penalty spot, rather than shoot, and the ball was hacked clear. Midfielder Jez Bedford then displayed the sort of footwork that took him to Portsmouth earlier in his career when he twisted away from Metcalf, tight to the goal line, to set up Griffin for a chance that he curled over the bar from the edge of the area.
Despite the visitors enjoying the better of the first half, you sensed that Horsham were far from out of this contest and so it proved when, a minute before the break, McElligott and Joey Taylor combined to force a corner from which Joe Shelley rose highest, in typical fashion, to head the ball down, over the covering defender, and into the opposite corner for the equaliser.
H/T Horsham 1 Poole Town 1
The weather abated briefly at the start of the second half but there was little of note in the opening quarter of an hour, save for the introduction of Harris and O’Toole for Hayward and McElligott and the surprising replacement of Gillespie by Steve Devlin. Full-back Jordan Alawode-Williams wasted the first opening of the half when he lashed Dylan Merchant’s underhit clearance wildly wild of the target and Corby Moore was even more profligate when Harris possession in midfield and the ball ricocheted beyond the Horsham defence. As Pelling raced out of his box, he was left exposed by the spin of the ball but Moore overhit the ball as he attempted to go round the ‘keeper and Dean Lovegrove was on hand to clean up.
A good run and pass by Taylor ended with Richardson-Brown striking a decent low shot that Poole ‘keeper Luke Cairney needed to watch carefully to prevent it from slipping under his body as the sweeping rain returned and then Hoare blazed a great effort just beyond the far post, following good approach play by Lovegrove and O’Toole. The match then became punctuated by a series of free-kicks, and bookings for Marvin Brooks and Brivio, more the result of tiredness and the exacting conditions than any real malice, but the Horsham nerves were jangling when Devlin met one set-piece only to head wide of goal with a quarter of an hour remaining.
Richardson-Brown was withdrawn in favour of Sparks, and Richard Gilot for Roberts, for a final ten minutes in which the Hornets twice went close to claiming a famous victory. First a terrific pass by Brivio sent Sparks racing away but, closed down by a defender, he elected to shoot early and was inches away from finding the bottom corner with a well-struck left-footer. Poole did have the ball in the Horsham net, three minutes from time, but Moore’s shot was disallowed for a foul on Shelley before Brivio and Sparks combined once more with the substitute hitting a tremendous rising shot that only just cleared the crossbar. It was a rousing end to an enthralling match with all eyes now on Monday’s draw and the knowledge of who the opponents will be for the victors in Tuesday night’s replay.
Match sponsors: Martin Frogley and Paul William Arnold
A selection of photos by (a very soggy) Kyle Hemsley can be found here
Download the match programme here