Horsham’s young development squad make the short journey to the familiar surroundings of the Sussex County FA’s Lancing headquarters tomorrow where they will take on East Sussex rivals Langney Wanderers U23s in the final of the Sussex County U23 Challenge Cup.

The journey to the final began back on October 1st when, in the first round, they were drawn at home to Arundel and the young Hornets wasted no time in setting about their task. Showing no mercy to a young, but committed, Arundel side 17 year old Archie Goddard took advantage of a rather soft penalty award to thump the spot kick past Nick Fisher in the Mullets goal. Before the half-time interval Goddard added another two goals from open play and another successfully converted penalty to leave the visitors 4-0 down and with it all to do in the second half. There was to be no respite, however, as substitute Matieus Mulugeta scored within minutes of his introduction to make it 5-0. Torin Paget got the sixth before 16 year old Harry Brooker, on for Goddard, helped himself to a brace of goals to leave the final score at 8-0.

Horsham were then presented with a mouthwatering 2nd round home tie against very near neighbours Broadbridge Heath, on October 31st, and this was to be a much tighter affair. Managed by Graham Shergold, a good friend of Hornets’ manager Mark Hawthorne, this game ebbed and flowed right up to the final minute. Horsham were missing prolific goalscorer Goddard and left back Kieran Britland through injury but welcomed Charlie Harris into the squad and half-time arrived with the score line goalless. However, within two minutes of the restart, Broadbridge Heath took the lead through Blake. Heath continued to play on the front foot and Hawthorne acted decisively with a change in personnel, one whom – Sam Karl – wasted little time in bringing the Hornets level with a smart finish.

Horsham then enjoyed their best period of the game and took a deserved lead in the 74th minute when Harris, well inside his own half, spotted the goalkeeper off his line and sent a beautifully-weighted ball into the unguarded net to give Horsham a 2-1 lead. But Heath refused to be beaten and capitalised on a defensive mix up in the 81st minute to level the scores and then saw a third goal ruled out for offside. Then, with seconds remaining, Will Gordon struck a low shot into the corner of the net only for the linesman’s flag to be raised! This time however, after consulting with each other, the referee and his assistant agreed that the player in an offside position had had no influence in play and the goal stood to leave the final score 3-2.

Horsham were once again drawn at home, this time to Eastbourne Town U23s in the 3rd round, and again this game had its share of thrills and spills. Town opened the scoring after 20 minutes, with Goddard equalising for the Hornets minutes later. Horsham took the lead soon after, through a Harry Law curler, the aftermath of which saw a member of the Eastbourne coaching staff dismissed from the technical area. Goddard got his second of the night to put the Hornets 3-1 up and seemingly in control but Town’s George Cooke then got two quickfire goals as the away team surged back to level only to be reduced to ten men when Harry Colbran was dismissed for a two-footed challenge. Extra-time saw chances for both sides but with numerical advantage it was the Hornets who took the lead from a header by Torin Paget. Undeterred, Town struck back, Cooke claiming his hat-trick goal, but Goddard claimed his own hat trick with 8 minutes to go before getting his 4th to kill off the tie with only a few minutes remaining, leaving the final score (after extra time) 6-4 in the Hornets’ favour.

The semi-final draw required Horsham to take to the road, but only 12 miles away, to near neighbours Loxwood. The original date fell foul of the weather but after a drier period the Hornets arrived at ‘the Nest’ and a natural grass surface for the first, and only, time in the competition. Horsham welcomed back Kieran Holmes from a lengthy injury lay-off and he would play a pivotal part in this tie. The first half was a cagey affair with neither side really taking control. Seb Jacobides has his crossbar to thank as he was caught out with a speculative effort, midway through the first half, but failed to heed the warning when, with just seconds of the half remaining and from a good 30 yards out, a well worked free-kick was thumped in to give Loxwood the lead. Hawthorne reacted immediately at half time replacing Jacobides with the more experienced Lewis Blaney in goal and, shortly after, brought on Holmes for the injured captain Alex Parsons.

Horsham looked much more of a threat now and Goddard soon out-muscled a defender before calmly slotting in the 56th minute to bring the tie level. Minutes later Ned Pierre found himself in possession in the Loxwood penalty area and managed to squirm the ball to Holmes whose shot hit the inside of the post and crossed the line to give the visitors a lead. Blaney denied Loxwood an equaliser when he made a brilliant reflex save down to his left to turn the ball away after a wicked deflection. Horsham enjoyed little real possession for the remainder of the game with some heroic defending from Kieran Britland, Joel Mann, Trent Fawcett and, in particular, Dan Webster as Loxwood pressed for a winner. Then with seconds remaining a cross from the right seemed to be handled by Britland. Loxwood were adamant it was inside the area, referee Smith consulted with his assistant and, much to the relief of Horsham, awarded a free-kick just outside of the area. The set-piece kick was defended successfully as the final whistle signalled a hard fought 2-1 victory to the Hornets.

And so to the final and our county opponents Langney Wanderers, who hail from Eastbourne and are managed by former Horsham boss Simon Colbran. Relative new kids on the block Wanderers, who were founded in 2009/10, have had a very successful short history. Having played at Shinewater Association, and then Eastbourne United Association’s Oval, they are now tenants at Eastbourne Borough’s Priory Lane for at least the rest of this season and next. In 2017/18 They were runners up in the Southern Combination Football League Division 1, gaining promotion to the Premier division, and Division One Cup finalists entering the FA Cup for the first time in their history in 2018/19 and remain in the Southern Combination Football League Premier Division to this day.

Their U23 squad compete in the Southern Combination Football League U23 League East Division and currently sit in 6th place (of 10) with 14 points, having won 4, drawn 2 and lost 6 of their 12 league games played so far this season. Their route to the final was slightly shorter than the Hornets, having beaten Worthing United 2-0, Pagham 6-0 and Newhaven 2-0 in previous rounds.

Kick off at Culver Road, Lancing BN15 9AX is at 7.15pm on Tuesday 11th February 2020.
Admission £6 Adults, £4 OAP, U16’s Free. Programmes £1.50
Please be aware there is strictly no parking in Culver Road.
If you can’t get to the game be sure to follow the Twitter updates @HorshamFC23s from 7pm.

Preview by Shaun Scott.

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