Referee John Pike proved to be a frustrating figure for Horsham supporters this afternoon, as his decision to send off Joe Shelley for two yellow cards, and award Haywards Heath Town a dubious penalty helped pave the way for The Blues to record a league double win over The Hornets.
In fairness to the match day official, few could complain about either of the yellow cards he showed to Shelley, with the defender ordered off just four minutes into the second half following his clip on Alex Laing with the score at 1-0. And although Horsham rarely looked likely to drag themselves level, he killed off any hopes of a comeback when, despite Josh Pelling clearly getting a glove on the ball, he ruled that Kieran Rowe had been taken down inside the box as Callum Saunders sealed the victory with just over twenty minutes remaining.
For Horsham, Dom Di Paola and co. will be disappointed that they couldn’t build upon their excellent 4-2 win against top-of-the-table Cray Wanderers last weekend. The hosts however, will be delighted with how their season is continuing to pan out. The win means they drew level on points with ourselves, with Horsham above in fourth purely thanks to a goal difference of +1 between the two Sussex teams. The Hornets however will rue their missed opportunity to sit second in the table on Christmas Day
Before the game, the Haywards Heath Town officials had spoken about how their season had turned around remarkably after the 4-5 reverse victory in which they had fought back from 3-0 down after just sixteen minutes. It is indeed quite the story at Hanbury Park as they contend for a play-off place in the Bostik League South East, just three seasons after winning Southern Combined Division One.
After winning the Southern Combination Premier Division last season, the hosts quickly set about making life difficult for the 2015/16 winners, as Karly Akehurst flashed over a shot within fifteen seconds from the kick off.
Soon after, Callum Saunders’ collected a threaded pass down the middle and looked to sneak in a shot across goalkeeper Josh Pelling, but he was thwarted by Harvey Sparks who got back to put off the Heath dangerman.
Horsham responded by going on the attack, the electrifying pace of Tyrell Richardson-Brown saw him race down the right flank, and he managed to swing in a low cross towards Chris Smith at the near post, however the former South Park striker’s touch was not clean and allowed Josh Heyburn to turn the danger away.
The Blues continued to ask questions of the Horsham defence as Saunders passed short close to the box towards former Horsham man Alex Laing – looking to make a point against his old club – but his curling effort from the edge of the area never looked like troubling Pelling, who held comfortably.
Another quick break from Horsham was once more orchestrated by a driving run by Richardson-Brown, who pulled back to tee up Rob O’Toole, yet Horsham’s top goalscorer – fresh from scoring a hat-trick the previous weekend – leaned backwards and fired over the bar.
The Blues were nearly gifted a goal on fifteen minutes after Dylan Merchant’s mistake in the box resulted in his failed clearance coming straight to Akehurst, yet he let The Hornets off as he stroked it horribly wide.
With both teams set up to attack, it appeared as though the midfield was continuously being bypassed but after a slight lull in action, the next chance fell to Horsham when on twenty-five minutes, Chris Smith jinxed his way inside the box and went for glory, looking to smash high into the roof of the net, but he lost his composure and fired well over.
Shelley would then receive the first of his two yellow cards for a high boot on Laing that resulted in a cut to the head and a change of shirt, and when play resumed, the winger struck the resulting dead ball well over the bar from twenty-five yards out.
The best move and chance then came with four minutes of the half remaining. A deft flick on from O’Toole was seized upon by Sparks, who attempted to apply the finish, yet he agonisingly slipped the ball wide of the far post.
H/T: Horsham 0 Haywards Heath Town 0
Despite going so close to taking a lead at the interval, Horsham were effectively down and out within four minutes of the second half.
With Horsham slow to come out of the traps, Heath moved quickly to play the ball out towards Saunders on the right wing, and with plenty of time and space at his disposal, he swung in a wonderfully weighted cross to Akehurst, who finished his run and nodded in from close range.
Horsham’s task was then made even harder two minutes after the goal. Laing’s speed and agility allowed him to get past Shelley, and for the second time of the afternoon, the Horsham defender fouled him, clipping him and sending him to the deck as Mr. Pike showed little hesitation to march him off for an early shower.
The Blues looked for a second goal shortly after, when a strong run from Heath full-back Joel Daly saw him get into a position where he was invited to shoot from twenty yards, yet he got his effort all wrong, booting well over.
Horsham attempted to force themselves level through a Joey Taylor corner, who’s swung in ball looked like it was going to swing inside the netting, only for the towering stature of Melford Simpson to head out and over on the goal line, but it was to be the closest Horsham would come as the Haywards Heath Town killed off the visitors with little over twenty minutes remaining.
A quick one-two resulted in Kieran Rowe bursting into the box, where he was met by Pelling who raced off his line to claw away from his feet. Despite Pelling clearly getting a firm pair of gloves on the ball and turning it away, the Heath full-back tumbled to the ground rather theatrically under contact and Pike once more ruled against The Hornets by pointing to the spot.
Pike’s decision might well have delighted the home support, but Horsham’s supporters at the other end appeared to have a right to be aggrieved with the decision, arguing that the ball was clearly knocked away fairly by the Horsham shot-stopper, yet for penalty taker Saunders, he couldn’t have cared less as he planted low down to the left hand side of the goal to make it 2-0 and seal the points.
It could have been worse for The Hornets shortly afterwards. Once again, the excellent Laing – who by now was pulling all the strings for his side – sent in a low cross as Horsham looked suspect at the back, Merchant and Lovegrove left it and it was swiped towards goal by the inrushing Akehurst who somehow smashed against the upright when he appeared odds-on to score as the ball bounced back out to Pelling.
Horsham will now need to wait until New Years Day when we next are in action, when we welcome Guernsey to Culver Road. Until then, have a very merry Christmas and a Happy New Year to all supporters.
Reporter: Matt Dale