As comebacks go, this was astonishing. Horsham have witnessed quite a few this season, both for and against them, but the last gasp nature of this dramatic 2-3 win in Kent will linger long in the memories of the few Hornets fans who travelled to the county for the second time in a week as a terrific second half performance turned around a 2-0 deficit at half time to steal all three points at The Homeland Stadium.
Without a win in their previous nine matches in all competitions, The Nuts and Bolts looked set to be on their way to claiming their first league victory since August when Danny Parish and Sam Corne gave them a commanding league at half time. Yet Horsham responded after Dom Di Paola had sent his team out from the interval early, with Chris Smith reducing the arrears before Tyrell Richardson-Brown equalised, and then scored the winner with the last kick of the game in the final minute of seven added on.
Incredibly, this result is now the third time this season that Horsham have fallen behind by two clear goals and fought back to win the game. It should then perhaps be unsurprising that Di Paola’s squad have plenty of character to refuse to know that they are beaten, and the scenes both on and off the pitch as Horsham’s players, management and supporters celebrated when Richardson-Brown’s winner hit the net summed up just how much this meant to everyone who made journey into The Garden of England.
But spare a thought for the home side, who could not believe what had happened to them as they trudged down the tunnel at full time furious with themselves. Having hit Horsham with decisive breakaways and kept them at bay for much of the game, they simply lost their nerve after Smith struck with twenty-five minutes to go as Horsham proved they wanted it more.
A slow beginning to the game meant a near ten minute wait for the first half-chance to present itself as the two sides got stuck into each other. A loose pass across the defence was intercepted by Horsham’s new signing Nassim Dukali but the former Thamesmead man was too slow to release the ball for Smith as Ollie Rowe slid in to dispossess him.
Richardson-Brown then worked the ball behind the defence a minute later but, with few options in support, his ball inside the box was turned away by the home defence. Ten minutes later, Harry Ottaway picked up Harvey Sparks’ clearance and shot towards goal on the spin but Josh Pelling made a comfortable save as United looked to break the deadlock.
Horsham had a good chance to open the scoring, moments later, when George Hayward lofted the ball over the defence where he found Jack Brivo but, despite his best efforts to reposition his body and get a clean head to it, he could only head upwards and into the gloves of Sam Mott who gathered.
A clean breakaway from the home side soon yielded the first goal as immediately Ashford launched it into Horsham’s half, Joe Shelley struggled to cope with a tenacious Parish and, despite his deflected shot looping off the defender’s boot and towards the net, the striker made entirely sure by bundling in with a diving header, while for Horsham, the goal confirmed their 3000th conceded in their Isthmian history.
Four minutes later, the hosts doubled their lead. Once more Horsham could not deal with the quick breakaway as Ashford surged forward and crossed low into the box to lay it on a plate for Sam Corne who slotted in coolly.
With it all against them, Horsham looked for a route back into the contest just after the half hour mark when Brivio headed well over after meeting Sparks’ cross while the visitors tried to work another move in their favour when Smith was threaded behind the last man and slid his shot into the legs of Mott, but the linesman’s flag had already been raised after he had strayed marginally offside.
Ashford went close to killing off the contest four minutes before the interval. Horsham’s defence again struggled to cope with Parish, who flicked the ball out to Jerald Aboagye, but despite the full-back being taken out of position, he returned a dangerous square ball into the box that The Hornets eventually cleared.
H/T: Ashford United 2 Horsham 0
Having issued his team talk, Di Paola sent his played back to the pitch early and decided to make a change as James McElligott replaced Dukali with the visiting side clearly confident of salvaging the game.
A good chance came Horsham’s way five minutes after the restart when Richardson-Brown drilled a shot wide across the face of goal and, two minutes later, they went closer still when George Hayward hit a rasping effort from twenty-five yards out that dipped and struck the top of the crossbar as The Hornets continued to make their efforts count.
The visitors continued to press as they searched for a route back in and McElligott’s dink left to Charlie Harris allowed the patient midfielder to flash goalwards with his shot turned away.
Despite Horsham’s eagerness to attack, Ashford issued a reminder that one more goal from them would surely kill off any hopes of a comeback. Clark Woodcock’s youthful exuberance drew in Shelley who struggled to handle the midfielder and, as he broke, his pass intended for Parish was too close to Josh Pelling, who rushed out to hurry the danger away.
Parish – who was making his debut for the club – was clearly eager to impress his new side, flashing an acrobatic bicycle kick wide, but the pendulum finally swung in Horsham’s favour on sixty-five minutes. With Horsham probing around the edge of Ashford’s box, Smith dribbled across the edge and passed out to Hayward who crossed back inside the area. The hosts half-cleared but Smith showed hunger to regain possession and curled in a game-changer with a sweetly struck left foot shot that nestled into the top left corner.
Suddenly Ashford looked concerned, and with neither side trying anything apart from a desperate attempt way out from Corne going wide as expected, Horsham finally restored parity with just over ten minutes of normal time remaining. Richardson-Brown appeared to be going nowhere but a flash of electrifying pace saw him try his luck from twenty-five yards and he found the net, curling low into the far corner past a despairing Mott who failed to get across his goal in time to keep it out.
With neither team wanting to settle for a draw, a frenetic final ten minutes saw both sides compete fiercely for the ball and Aboagye’s imposing stature made it difficult for Horsham to dispossess him as he drove forward deep into the visitors’ half, but despite cutting inside and leaving Steve Metcalf behind, his invitation to shoot was wasted as he somehow fired it closer to the corner flag.
With seven minutes of injury time added on, increasing the chances of a winner, both sides knew their next chance would need to count and Ashford appeared set to take it when Parish was released thanks to a great diagonal ball that he raced onto, clean onside. But with just Pelling to beat, the Hornets shot-stopper saved his team with a crucial block, diving down at the feet of the Nuts and Bolts striker to deny what looked like a certain winner.
Yet a winner did come as the clock entered the final minute of the allotted added on time and sparked wild scenes of celebration from the visitors’ dug out, the away fans behind the goal and the players on the pitch. With Smith deciding not to settle for a draw, he burst forward down the wing and clipped in a low cross inside the box for Richardson-Brown, who swept in from close range with practically the last kick of the game as the guests went absolutely ballistic while some from the home side couldn’t contain their disappointment.
The victory takes Horsham up to seventh with five wins from ten. The Hornets are next in action as we visit Storrington in the Sussex Senior Cup on Tuesday evening, and we follow that up with a home tie in the FA Trophy against Potters Bar Town next Saturday.
Reporter: Matt Dale
Match photos by John Lines