Charlie Harris’ magnificent freekick was enough to ensure Horsham secured their progress in this season’s Emirates FA Cup Preliminary Round as his strike saw The Hornets clinch an excellent 1-0 win late on against Bostik Premier League side Carshalton Athletic at Colston Avenue.
When the draw was made earlier in the summer, few Horsham supporters would have fancied the trip to last season’s Bostik South Champions yet Dom Di Paola’s side pulled off a superb team display to secure passage to the 1st Qualifying Round, while also recording a third straight victory – all of which have been away from home.
It can be quite easy to get carried away in football, but despite an opening day defeat to Sittingbourne, Dom Di Paola’s side have shown they are looking to be a more robust and cohesive unit if recent results are to go by, with a season of ins and outs over the summer strengthening the squad. Yet while all of the squad worked tirelessly to close down and limit the opposition, few fans would argue that the stand out player was from the old-guard, with Joe Shelley exceptional in defence, helping to ensure his side kept a clean sheet against the Robins.
Carshalton fashioned the first chance of the game after just six minutes when midfielder Ola Sogbanmu demonstrated excellent control to bring down a long ball with his chest and lay the ball out for Levi Phillips, but the striker failed to take advantage, lashing his shot wide of goal.
Horsham quickly issued a reminder that league placing means very little in the FA Cup, as a long ball over the top was held up well by Rob O’Toole for strike partner Chris Smith to run onto, but Robins defender Danny Dudley’s challenge managed to knock the ball away, while Smith tumbled to the ground. Despite shouts for a penalty from the Horsham supporters behind the goal, the referee was close enough to the action to immediately wave away the protests.
With both teams patient with the ball and working well to keep possession, chances were rather limited with neither team willing to take chances, but another Horsham break on eighteen minutes almost threatened an opening when O’Toole sent in a lovely cross for Smith, but Paris Hamilton-Downes quickly mopped up and saw to it that the ball was driven away.
Horsham began to test the visitors once more through Lee Harding who’s vision to spot a pass almost unlocked The Robins’ defence, but his through pass was intercepted by last defender Hamilton-Downes who snuffed out the attack before Smith could reach the ball.
Again, Horsham looked to find the breakthrough, with O’Toole once more chasing down a long ball as he collected from the far wing, beat his marker and sent in a fine cross towards the centre of the penalty area, but this time Smith could only manage to direct his header over the bar.
Hamilton-Downes was finding himself in amongst the thick of the action as he continued to defend for his team two minutes later, ensuring his physical presence was enough to put Smith off as he attempted to convert from another of O’Toole’s centres as Horsham began to get on top.
It was then the turn of the hosts to put Horsham under pressure. A Jordan Cheadle shot from twenty-five yards was skewed horribly wide along the ground, while an equally poor attempt from Michael Dixon was blasted over the bar while he was leaning backwards in what could be best described as ambitious.
An enforced change for the hosts before the break meant that Sogbanmu had to give way due to injury for Joel Flavien-Howard, but there was a sence of real danger for The Hornets on the stroke of half time when Michael Aziaya stole possession and steamed forward into Horsham’s half, before his pass into the middle found Ricky Korboa, yet despite taking several steps to create space for himself, he could only blast a shot well over.
H/T: Carshalton Athletic 0 Horsham 0
Having played so well during the first half, thoughts turned to if Horsham could sustain their performance levels during the second, with thoughts amongst Hornets supporters pondering on if a draw, and subsequent replay would be something of a missed opportunity after impressing the travelling fans.
However, despite an early shot on target by Falvien-Howard, who turned quickly to hit it low but straight down the middle forcing a comfortable save for Josh Pelling, the assault on Horsham’s goal did not come.
A header over the bar was sent clear by Joe Shelley at the other end after Horsham won a free kick, but the game continued to showcase the art of defending as a super last-ditch challenge by Harris disposed Flavian-Howard before he had the chance to pull the trigger from the edge of the area.
The Champions were finding themselves limited to such half-chances as Horsham continued to defend well and midway through the second half, a long ball pumped down the channel for Jacob Mendy threatened to cause problems, but the midfielder failed to find any way past James McElligott who stuck to his man and forced him to overhit his cross.
Pelling was finally tested properly with fifteen minutes remaining, having to stay strong to bat away a fierce effort from Dixon, and the 2016/17 Player of the Season was called into action five minutes later, when he almost found himself caught out by Cheadle’s deep cross as he back-peddled to claw away with the ball threatening to drop into the corner of the net.
From the resulting corner, Dixon managed to head onto the roof of the net as the home crowd sensed a late winner. That the winner would instead come from the visitors was probably not what those home fans expected, but a clumsy challenge just outside the ‘D’ presented Horsham with a fantastic opportunity. With the ball placed central to home goalkeeper Billy Bishops’ goal – who had not yet been tested all game – and with the wall well organised, it needed something special. Up stepped Charlie Harris who curled a sensational effort around the wall and into the top right corner to the sheer delight of the Horsham fans and leave Carshalton stunned by what they had just witnessed.
Knowing they would need to hold on for three more minutes, plus an additional four to be added on in stoppage time, there was still time for a heart-in-mouth moment when Kalvin Morath-Gibbs send in a high ball into a crowed box, but Horsham supporters breathed a sigh of relief as Dixon spun around and failed to connect as Pelling came to claim the ball.
Horsham will now have to wait until Wednesday 29th August to find out who they play in the 1st Qualifying Round, but before that we return to action at Culver Road, this time for Bostik League points on Bank Holiday Monday.
Reporter: Matt Dale