Mark Hawthorne’s development squad made the relatively short trip to Surrey last night to take on their Isthmian Bluefin Sports Insurance Development League South counterparts South Park in their second league game of the season.

On the back of their opening league win at Three Bridges, Horsham’s U23’s took on a home side whose only previous outing had ended in a 4-2 home loss to reigning champions Tooting & Mitcham United. With persistent drizzle swirling around under the floodlights, Joel Mann captained a Hornets side that included first team squad members Harry Mills and Dylan Merchant as well as three 17 year olds and a 16 year old. In similar fashion to the Three Bridges fixture, Horsham got off to a slow start and sloppy defending resulted in South Park’s Boe Fowler finding the net from close range after just two minutes to make it one nil to the hosts.

But Horsham weren’t behind long and an error in the South Park defence, two minutes later, allowed the ever-reliable Archie Goddard the chance to level the score at 1-1. The drizzle became heavier and this added to the slick surface that both teams were having to contend with as the game swung from end to end. Goddard saw a half chance saved by Sparks ‘keeper Casey Tucker, which was then cleared for a corner, an intricate passing move by South Park saw Stephane Trah flagged marginally offside, and then Hornets ‘keeper Jack Gunn had to be alert to race out and clear as Fowler once again bore down on his goal.

Despite the home team enjoying better possession now, often due to Horsham’s habit of gifting the ball back to their opponents cheaply, it was the away team that threatened on the break with Goddard’s lofted flick past Tucker which, although goalbound, lacked any pace and was easily cleared off the line by an alert defender. Goddard then forced a defensive clearance which resulted in a corner to Horsham and, after initially clearing the danger, another defensive error in the 22nd minute presented Matieus Mulugeta the opportunity to scramble the ball over the line and give Horsham the lead for the first time in the match.

The game entered a scrappy stage with players slipping on the greasy surface, struggling to keep the ball and giving away needless free-kicks, but again Horsham created something out of nothing. An accurate pass found Goddard, who used good strength to hold off an opponent, but having taken an extra touch and pushed wide could only draw a save from the Sparks ‘keeper. From the resulting corner Merchant headed down with Tucker gathering easily.

The final 15 minutes of the half saw referee Adam Absolon the busiest man on the pitch. Horsham’s Gunn was fortunate to see the referee award a goal-kick, despite him getting his fingertips to a rasping shot from the left hand side of his 18 yard area. There was then a stoppage as the match ball was lost and the replacements found to be under inflated. With 5 minutes remaining Sparks number 7, Alberto Lumbango, found himself sin binned after something he said to the referee, the home bench protesting, incorrectly, that temporary dismissals did not apply in this competition.

With just over a minute of the half remaining the referee was busy again, this time correctly cautioning Hornets captain Mann for a reckless challenge in the centre circle which irked the home team, many of whom voiced their concern to the referee. Tempers hadn’t sufficiently cooled as the players left the field of play and a war of words continued as the players entered the changing block.

H/T South Park U23s 1 Horsham U23s 2

With South Park’s Tomek Frooms coming on, Horsham got the second half underway and started on the front foot, possibly aided by South Park still being down to 10 men as Lumbango remained in the sin bin. Hornets left back, Kieran Britland burst through the centre and unleashed a pile driver which was blocked by a Sparks player, leaving him in a crumpled heap on the floor and needing attention.Lumbango rejoined the game but could do nothing to prevent Horsham adding to their lead in the 53rd minute. Controlling a pass from midfield, and progressing into the penalty area, 17 year old Goddard sidestepped a couple of challenges and, ignoring pleas to pass from his team mates, coolly placed the ball into the right hand corner of Tucker’s net.

Recently signed, and one time youth player, Alex Parsons replaced Lewis Kelly in the 55th minute but it was South Park’s Oluwafemi Araba who, 5 minutes later, crashed a shot in off Gunn’s crossbar from close range after Horsham had failed to sufficiently clear at a corner. Despite conceding the second goal, Horsham were now much more composed in possession and continued to put pressure on South Park’s goal. In the 65th minute Goddard’s blushes were spared by assistant Aguilar’s flag as he scuffed a shot from an offside position and he was inches away from his hat-trick goal as a Mills pass skipped off the slick surface and just evaded him as the goalkeeper gathered it up. Will Gordon’s clever flick and turn set him away but Sparks’ number 5, Araba, raced across to cover his full-back and snuff out the danger.

Will Gordon then gave way to Sam Gallagher in the 70th minute, adding fresh legs to the visiting side ahead of South Park’s inevitable push for an equaliser, and Horsham endured a period of sustained pressure which resulted in the hosts getting the ball in Gunn’s net. This time the visitors were relieved to see assistant Bone’s flag rule out the goal for offside. Ten minutes later, 16 year old Harry Brooker replaced the ever dangerous Goddard and almost immediately made an impact. Reacting first to a bouncing ball, he couldn’t generate enough power on a left foot shot that, if scored, surely would have put the game to bed. Moments later, Hornets’ Harry Law went into the referee’s notebook for crunching challenge on an opponent, swiftly followed by Sparks’ number 2 Dani Balogun for a cynical foul on Parsons as he raced away down the left flank.

As the game entered the final few minutes there was to be no let up in the action. Gunn was alert to danger, and quick off his line, to clear a loose ball and Sam Gallagher’s tame shot was easily pushed away for a Horsham corner before the final dramatic event of the evening. With three minutes to play, referee Absolon pointed to the spot after what looked like an innocuous, and unnecessary, challenge by Mann. Gunn made himself look as big as possible as the Sparks player placed the ball and readied himself. As the referee signalled the kick to be taken a stuttered run up, and tame shot, allowed Gunn to get down to his right and push the ball away for a corner which was successfully defended. Horsham then played out the remaining two minutes with little incident to record a consecutive away win in the Isthmian Bluefin Sport Insurance Development League South Division.

F/T South Park U23s 2 Horsham U23s 3

Squad: Jack Gunn, Harry Mills, Kieran Britland, Matieus Mulugeta, Joel Mann (c), Dylan Merchant, Torin Paget, Harry Law, Archie Goddard, Lewis Kelly, Will Gordon, Harry Brooker, Aaron Danquah, Sam Gallagher, Alex Parsons, Trent Fawcet

Report by Shaun Scott

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