A Rob O’Toole hat-trick and Charlie Harris wonder strike helped bolster Horsham’s play-off credentials as they swept aside runaway league leaders Cray Wanderers, inflicting the Wands with their first league defeat of the season.
Harris’ fine eighty-second minute strike capped off a largely dominant display from the Hornets who maintain third place in the Bostik Division One South; their highest league position in twelve years.
O’Toole opened the scoring after 19 minutes, with a typical poacher’s goal before Ben Mundele restored parity for the visitors five minutes later, after a driving run saw him one-on-one with Josh Pelling, finishing coolly. O’Toole restored the home side’s lead on the half-hour mark, capitalising on a loose ball but Archie Johnson levelled once more, eight minutes into the second half.
With conditions worsening, O’Toole was on hand again with a near-post header on the hour mark as he completed a memorable hat-trick. However, it was Harris, who followed up last week’s stunner against Hythe and secured the victory with a fantastic twenty-yard strike eight minutes from time, making certain the home side would claim all three points.
Freezing, torrential conditions could do nothing to dampen the home side’s spirits as they claimed a fifth win in six games, keeping them in third place, firmly locked in the play-off hunt.
This result against the high-flyers a serious sign of intent for the rest of the league that Horsham are preparing to go all the way this season. The midweek loss at Three Bridges now all but a distant memory. Cray, unbeaten in the league heading into the match, had won every previous away game this season but they were no match for Horsham, who are quickly developing a reputation as being one of the most impressive sides in the division.
Outclassed, outplayed and outfought for most of the ninety minutes, there were only the occasional spells, most notably in the first fifteen minutes of the second half, where Wanderers looked on top.
Horsham’s high-intensity, high-pressure game plan, which they adopted from the outset, left the high-flying South Londoners seemingly unable to cope but it was the away side who would have the first clear-cut chance. Joe Taylor’s inch perfect pass putting Karl Dent through on goal, but the tame effort was too easy for Josh Pelling.
The hosts came close on eighteen minutes when Kieran Lavery’s cross flashed across goal, but O’Toole was unable to make contact. However, the forward would open the scoring soon after.
Tyrell Richardson-Brown heroically chased down the rebound after he had blocked on the halfway line, and the attacker’s persistence paid off as he beat Mitchell Nelson to the ball, knocking it forward to O’Toole. Like a classic poacher, O’Toole nipped in front of the keeper, slotting calmly into the empty net.
The lead would not last for long, however, as just five minutes later, Cray drew level. Taking advantage of Joe Shelley stepping up, Ben Mundele managed to skip past the defender, finding the bottom corner after a charging run into the box.
Yet, Horsham were clearly on a mission to reclaim the lead and they did just that, on the half-hour mark. Predicting a weightless backpass, Harris lunged in to a three-way sliding tackle with ‘keeper Nick Blue and Nelson, and as the ball popped out from the scrum, O’Toole was there to convert into an open net.
Wanderers’ ‘keeper Blue, whose lips surely reflected his surname by full-time, struggled with the whipped crosses, served by both Steve Metcalf and Harvey Sparks, and he had his defenders to thank after Shelley had a firm header cleared off the line from Harris’ corner.
H/T: Horsham 2-1 Cray Wanderers
The decision to drop deep after half-time proved costly for the Yellows as, just seven minutes after the restart, Horsham lost the lead for the second time. Bowled over by quick passing, and a revived attacking set-up from Cray, Horsham couldn’t keep track of Archie Johnson who easily latched onto a lay-off. Soaring into the box, Johnson fired perfectly underneath Pelling.
With both sides level once more, and Horsham playing numerous loose passes, the game was starting to slip away from the Hornets. But, as the rain lashed down, Horsham fans were wiping their eyes for a different reason when O’Toole completed his hat-trick in the sixty-first minute. A long ball forward looked to be heading out, but Sparks’ rapid run was rewarded as the left-back swung in a delicious cross. Awaiting the delivery at the near-post, O’Toole nonchalantly nodded past Blue to become Horsham’s top scorer this season with twelve goals.
Horsham were back on convincing form, controlling the play all over the pitch, while the Cray Wanderers tank looked empty. And, if it wasn’t for Blue, the Wands would have found themselves further behind with Richardson-Brown having two chances to extend the advantage.
It was only right though, that a game of such vigour and dynamism, would end on a truly wonderful strike. Charlie Harris, who’s found an unnerving habit of scoring extraordinary goals this season, picked the ball up on the edge of the box, after some more Horsham pressure, unleashing an unstoppable drive into the top left corner.
With both teams sprinting to the tunnel for some respite at the final whistle, home fans were undeniably joyous as the result sees Horsham keep hold of third place, only prevented from moving up to second by Hastings United who came from behind to beat VCD Athletic. Meanwhile, despite the Wands remaining eight points clear at the top, the loss will undoubtedly leave Cray fishing for answers.