A week after their first league defeat of the season, Mark Hawthorne’s U23 squad made the long journey to Hastings United where they were to face an equally formidable opponent who boasted 6 players in the starting 11 listed on the club’s website as first team players.
Horsham got proceedings underway kicking towards the clubhouse end and the first real action of the half resulted in prodigious goalscorer, Archie Goddard, requiring treatment for a dead leg and limping gingerly as he made his way to the touchline. Hastings, as they would throughout this encounter, retained the ball impressively playing in neat, accurate, triangles always seeming to have a player free to receive the ball even in tight situations as Horsham tried to press them. In the 5th minute a huge throw into the Horsham penalty area from the right caused frenzied defending as Hastings captain Kenny Pogue looked to use his height to good effect but the danger was eventually cleared.
Despite their early dominance, Hastings would be punished for a lapse in concentration in the 7th minute. Referee Gordon was hit by the ball and, in accordance with the new law change and Horsham having been in possession, they received the drop ball unchallenged. Goddard, alive to the through ball, steadied himself before calmly firing past a motionless Ben Cornelius in the Hastings goal and into the bottom right hand corner of the net. Hastings retained the bulk of the possession thereafter and Jack Gunn did well to save a free-kick to right before a neat one two between Harry Law and Sam Karl presented Torin Paget with a chance to fire just wide for Horsham.
Having already been guilty of a couple of infringements, referee Gordon had no choice but to caution Horsham’s Alex Parsons in the 22nd minute, after a cynical foul in midfield. Hastings would mete out their own punishment on Parsons later in the game but punished Horsham collectively far more severely in the preceding minutes. With 25 minutes gone, a Hastings free-kick was poorly defended at the far post and the experienced Pogue gobbled up the chance he was presented to bring Hastings level. Only two minutes later another defensive error presented Hastings’ Daniel Hull with a chance that eventually came off a Horsham player and was credited as an own goal. Horsham quickly surrendered possession from the kick-off and were punished once more as Davide Rodari rifled in a low shot to make in 3-1.
Horsham managed to compose themselves after being shell-shocked by the 3 goal salvo despite Hastings continuing to dominate possession. Pogue won a corner for Hastings which was defended effectively but Horsham were struggling to clear their lines and Sam Karl received a long lecture from the referee after a robust challenge in midfield. The final minutes of the half saw Horsham defend another two dangerous long throws into their penalty area without conceding again.
H/T Hastings United 3 Horsham 1
Hawthorne rang the changes at half-time, withdrawing the ineffective Paget and introducing Kieran Holmes. Gunn was alive to push away a Hastings free-kick from a central position for a corner before Hawthorne was forced into another change in the 50th minute with left back Kieran Britland, in obvious discomfort, making way for Sam Gallagher. After another good save by Gunn, Hastings added to their tally when the resulting corner found an unmarked Ollie Black who made no mistake, firing past the helpless keeper.
Horsham then probably enjoyed their best spell of the game as their passing game came together and they retained the ball for prolonged periods. Goddard, with 11 goals in league and cup this season, did well to win a corner in the 54th minute. Hastings defended the set-piece well but 4 minutes later contrived to invite Goddard to try his luck from the penalty spot. A back pass to Cornelius was charged down by Horsham’s Matieus Mulugeta, Hastings claiming the former had been fouled in the process, and, as the ball ran loose, Mulugeta was first to his feet only for Cornelius to use his feet to hold him back and prevent him reaching the ball. Referee Gordon awarded the penalty, cautioning the goalkeeper as he felt he’d made a genuine attempt to play the ball instead of a deliberate holding offence. Goddard made no mistake from the penalty spot, smashing it high into the net and chalking up his 12th goal in 6 games.
Tempers flared in the 66th minute as players converged, pushing and shoving each other on the edge of the Hastings penalty area. Horsham had been awarded a free-kick on the right for a blatant shirt pull as they threatened to break away, which earned the offender a caution, and this was swiftly followed by another Hastings caution as the ball was lashed away into the stand behind the dug outs. Before the kick could be taken the referee, who was certainly earning his match fee at this point, sent a Hastings player and Horsham’s Goddard to the sin bin as they refused to cease their bickering. As Gordon returned to his position for the free-kick, another Hastings player said too much and was also duly invited to sit out the next 10 minutes of the game.
Will Gordon replaced injured captain Joel Mann as Horsham made the extra man count and enjoyed more possession without seriously threatening Hastings’ goal. Before the three sin binned players could return, Hastings were further reduced in numbers as Ollie Black’s wild, and highly dangerous, challenge on Parsons was instantly met with the referee’s red card. Parsons was fortunate not to be badly injured and it was disappointing to see the offending player almost congratulated by coaching staff and fans as he left the pitch.
Horsham pressed their numerical advantage in the final minutes, at one point 8 v 10, until the sin binned players rejoined the game. Karl forced a corner which came to nothing, Harry Law hit a rising speculative shot which cleared the crossbar and Gordon scuffed a shot which was easily gathered by Cornelius.
F/T: Hastings United 4 Horsham 2
Injuries to captain Joel Mann and left back Kieran Britland will be a concern of to the young Hornets as they quickly return to competitive action on Thursday in the Sussex County U23 Challenge Cup at the Camping World Community Stadium.
Mark Hawthorne gave his thoughts after this game and was impressed with the quality of the opposition.
5.Joel Mann (Capt)
12.Sam Gallagher (for Britland)
14.Kieran Holmes (for Paget)
16.Will Gordon (for Mann)
17.Harry Brooker unused
GK.Ross Butterfill unused