Horsham returned to winning ways with a hard-earned victory away to struggling Faversham, who played the entire second half a man short following the dismissal of captain Harry Goodger in first half stoppage time. The burly forward, who had been fortunate to escape an earlier booking for some rather robust play that was all elbows and brawn, saw red for a scything lunge on Charlie Harris in front of both dug-outs to bring to a close a disappointing opening period for the hosts who had gone behind after just three minutes to Rob O’Toole’s fourteenth goal of the season. Yet the side who sit just one place off the foot of the table put in a gritty performance after the break and frustrated their promotion-chasing visitors before being finally finished off by a Jack Brivio strike, three minutes from time.
Having collected just four points from their previous four matches, nothing less than a victory would do for the Hornets if they were to maintain their position in the play-off places while Faversham knew that defeat for them, and a win for Herne Bay at home to Sevenoaks, would dump the Lilywhites to the foot of the table. The end product was a match that was more attritional than entertaining, despite getting off to a fast start. The match was barely a minute old when Ashley Miller’s lob caught out Josh Pelling and dropped just wide of the target, with many among the 184 crowd believing the ball had landed in the net. But there was little doubt about O’Toole’s strike that followed, two minutes later, when George Hayward slipped in Chris Smith inside the box and his unselfish pass enabled his strike partner to confidently sidefoot the ball past Will Godmon to the delight of the handful of travelling spectators behind the goal.
Yet any thoughts that this would be a walk in the park for Dom Di Paola’s side were soon forgotten as Faversham battled back and Ben Chapman curled a free-kick just past Pelling’s near post from just outside the box. A corner for the Hornets produced a half chance for Smith but he was unable to get his shot away after taking Dean Lovegrove’s knock down on the chest and was crowded out as he tried to turn while, back at the other end of the pitch, a good run by Dan Carrington ended in a free-kick that saw full-back Danny Walder test the agility of Pelling, who got down smartly to save at the base of his post.
Having struggled to find the net in recent weeks, with just the one goal scored since mid-November, Smith looked set to double Horsham’s lead on twenty minutes when Charlie Harris’ free-kick fell invitingly for the former South Park man on the edge of the six yard box but his flashing volley fizzed across the face of goal and behind, with the striker’s appeals for a corner going unrewarded by referee Rhys Battye. O’Toole should also have done better, moments later, when another Harris set-piece dropped to him on the penalty spot but he miskicked badly and the ball was cleared.
Although not exactly playing their usual fluent football, the Hornets continued to create the better openings and a teasing low cross by Harris saw Godmon bravely punch clear at the feet of O’Toole, who was rather harshly penalised as the two collided, leaving the ‘keeper to receive treatment from the physio. A minute later and a flare-up between Hayward and Jamie Maxted saw both men receive bookings after Maxted had reacted strongly to a high, but fair, challenge by Hayward who appeared to take the ball cleanly. The incident sparked indignation from both sets of supporters, with clearly opposing views, and seemed to be the catalyst for the deterioration of the match as Mr Battye, a late replacement for Chris Myatt, displayed a propensity for punishing the more innocuous challenges while choosing to ignore rather more serious infringements.
Smith had one final opportunity to get his name on the scoresheet in the dying embers of the half when he ran at the Faversham defence, playing a rather fortuitous one-two with Jack Brivio on the edge of the area, and hitting a left foot shot that was well held by Godmon. But then Ryan Huckle went close to equalising when he met a George Monger corner only to head wide. Then came the incident with Goodger that left Sparks lying in a heap and the home skipper heading for an early bath before a moment of magic from Lee Harding nearly produced a wonder goal. With barely seconds of the half remaining, Harding took on and beat two defenders before cutting inside and skipping past another white-shirted opponent only to see his curling effort clip the outside of Godmon’s right hand post.
H/T Faversham Town 0 Horsham 1
Playing down the slope in the second half, Horsham had an early chance to extend their lead when Steve Metcalf delivered a fine cross that O’Toole failed to get sufficient force behind and sent in a weak header that was easy for Godmon. Smith went closer, five minutes later, when he headed the ball against an upright after O’Toole had this time become provider with a right-sided cross. But that was, in all honesty, as good as it got as a spectacle for the next half hour as the Horsham faithful grew increasingly frustrated at the performance of the match officials. Niggly off-the-ball indiscretions went unseen and unpunished while Godmon saw fit to race forty yards out of his goal to ensure the referee took appropriate action against a Horsham player for a trip on an opponent, as around a dozen players jostled and pushed each other around Mr Battye.
There was a scare for Horsham when O’Toole went down holding his shoulder, midway through the half, that needed the attention of Steph Apps and the concern was that the longer the game went on, the more likely it would be that ten-man Faversham would find an equaliser just as Guernsey had done four days earlier. However, led by the lively and nippy Chapman, the hosts had periods of decent possession but were unable to produce anything in the way of threats upon Pelling’s goal. At the other end, the Lilywhites’ hard-working and uncompromising defence made sure the promptings of Harris, Sparks and Brivio went unrewarded although it took a superb header from Huckle to prevent Harding’s cross from dropping under the bar with fifteen minutes left.
A minute later an underhit backpass saw O’Toole and Godmon meet the ball simultaneously, with the goalkeeper apparently coming off second best and Mr Battye deeming O’Toole’s challenge to be a reckless one worthy of a caution, to the sheer disbelief of the Horsham contingent. Sensing, perhaps, that his striker needed a little protection – both against further injury and a possible second booking – Di Paola immediately replaced O’Toole with Joey Taylor. A wild swing by Danny Walder, that thankfully missed making contact with Metcalf by a fraction, only stoked up the fervour behind Godmon’s goal as the full-back avoided any punishment, so the relief when the visitors secured the victory with the final attack of the match was palpable.
Taylor’s run into the box was checked by Matt Bourne but the ball was recycled by Joe Shelley and laid off to Harris who spotted Brivio’s run into the area and flighted an inch perfect ball into his path that the midfielder took one touch to control before slipping the ball under Godmon to make it 2-0. It was hard work in the end but the Hornets had got the victory they needed and remain in fourth place, level on points with Whyteleafe whom they host next Saturday.
Report by Mark Wells
Photos available here, courtesy of John Lines