Once every so often in football, something comes along that makes the average fan realise they still haven’t seen it all, some events are good, some bad. Of course, depending on which side you support will depend on your interpretation on whether or not you enjoyed it, but for Horsham supporters at Culver Road today, a Bank Holiday horror show unfolded in which somehow their team contrived to race into a healthy 3-0 lead, only for local rivals Haywards Heath Town to bring the score back to 3-3, and ultimately win the game 4-5 thanks to Lewis Finney’s injury time stunner.
The last time Horsham had suffered a defeat in such a manner was in 2016 when Eastbourne Town overturned a 3-1 lead to win with an identical scoreline. But while they themselves also stole that game right at the death, Horsham history buff Mark Wells was quickly delving into the records to establish the last time The Hornets had gone 3-0 up and failed to win, when Leighton Town fought back to secure a 3-3 draw in December 1995.
For Haywards Heath Town, credit will be due to the way they turned around their fortunes to stun their hosts. Not only had The Blues lost all three of their opening fixtures, and for the first time playing at Step Four in their history, the way in which they turned this game on it’s head will go down in history as they secured their first Isthmian League points at the expense of their Sussex rivals. For The Hornets though, history was made for all the wrong reasons, with the result the first time ever since World War II that Horsham have lost a league match after taking a 3-0 lead.
The fact is the game could have started very differently inside thirty seconds had Kane Louis managed to find the target with an unmarked header at the back post as he somehow nodded Max Miller’s cross wide. Ironically it was a miss that meant very little, but he must have been left to rue the chance when Horsham scored with their first attempt in only the second minute as Charlie Harris rifled a shot on target only for Rob O’Toole to touch the ball on it’s way in.
Horsham appeared to be on their way four minutes later when Darren Boswell saw the space open up in front of him as he smacked in a super shot from twenty-five yards out to double the lead, and it appeared Horsham would be set for an easy afternoon when with barely a quarter-of-an-hour played, Horsham scored number three. A helping hand from Nathan Cooper sent the ball backwards for Tyrell Richardson-Brown to latch onto, and he cut inside the box and wrongfooted goalkeeper Joshua Heyburn to ram the ball home at his near post.
With Horsham’s foot firmly pressed down on the pedal, a brilliant last ditch block denied O’Toole as he bravely charged down the striker’s effort but from nothing Heath pulled a goal back on twenty-five minutes. Luc Doherty’s cross was clearly never going to be met by anyone inside the Horsham penalty box, but the swing took the ball goalbound and over Josh Pelling’s head who could do nothing but watch it nestle behind him in his goal with the full-back slightly embarrassed.
Little did Doherty know that this would be the kick-start to an unlikely comeback.
Horsham looked to re-establish their three-goal cushion, a positive run by Joey Taylor out wide saw the left back time to whip in a cross where Richardson-Brown was waiting, but the gangly midfielder side footed straight into the gloves of Heyburn.
Looking for the spectacular after his fantastic match winning free-kick on Saturday, Harris tried his luck from forty yards, but his effort was never near to troubling Heyburn as the two sides departed the field for the break.
H/T: Horsham 3 Haywards Heath Town 1
Cue the unexpected during the second half as both sets of fans predicted a routine Horsham win. Soon after The Hornets wasted another good chance to extend their lead when Richardson-Brown’s pass into the box found nobody, yet the next goal came instead from the visitors.
Joe Shelley’s foul on former Hornet Max Miller out wide allowed Heath to float in a dangerous ball, and as Horsham’s defence failed to clear, the ball dropped kindly to another ex-Horsham man, Karl Akehurst who rifled into the roof of the net from six yards out.
With Dom Di Paola sensing that Horsham were in danger of letting this slip, striker Chris Smith was sent on in place of Richardson-Brown, but it took a superb challenge from Shelley to deny The Blues from drawing level when he picked the pocket of Louis who tried to go it alone despite the support of Miller close by.
Yet Town were not to be denied and drew themselves level regardless. A clean break away from Louis allowed the striker to get ahead and fire a shot towards the goal that Pelling spilled, but despite the Hornets shot-stopper desperately trying to scramble back, substitute Lewis Finney was on hand to tuck away into an empty net to stun the crowd.
Horsham’s response was to retake the lead four minutes later, thanks larglely down to an unforced error by Heath midfielder Naim Rouane who’s dreadful backpass was pounced upon by Chris Smith, and despite Heyburn forcing him out to reduce his angle, the striker’s finish was clinical as he found the net with a crisp left footed finish on the inside of his boot.
Town simply refused to give up, as Horsham failed yet again to deal with their guests with further poor defending from a corner this time allowing Max Miller to score against his old club with Horsham all over the place at the back.
With Haywards Heath clearly better organised than they were in the first half, a faint penalty appeal from Horsham was waved away by referee John Pike as O’Toole went down softly inside the box, but Horsham’s defensive fragility would haunt them for a fifth and final time of the afternoon as five additional minutes were confirmed as Horsham fans pondered how this game had eluded them.
In a finale fitting a script from a Wes Craven horror movie, Horsham conceded yet again two minutes into injury time. With Shelley and Pelling failing to communicate, the defender’s rushed clearance was kicked straight to Finney who couldn’t believe his luck, and urged to shoot from his teammates and visiting supporters, he obliged by hitting it directly down the centre of the goal, in off the underside of the crossbar as he raced over to the away dugout to celebrate as he was mobbed by everyone.
Horsham will be left shell-shocked at this result, but they will need to pick themselves up and go again on Saturday when we visit Whyteleafe.