Promotion-chasing Horsham partially rediscovered the cutting edge that had deserted them at East Grinstead during the week to complete a notable league double over a Hythe side whose own play-off hopes have floundered in recent weeks. First half goals by Man of the Match Lee Harding and the equally impressive George Hayward provided the basis on which this seventeenth Bostik South East victory of the season was achieved but a combination of wasteful finishing, and some fine goalkeeping by Tony Coxall, meant for a nervy last twenty minutes after Sid Sollis pulled one back for the visitors. A late save by Josh Pelling preserved the hosts’ lead as they consolidated their second place standing ahead of next weekend’s mouthwatering trip to runaway leaders Cray Wanderers.
The Hornets made three changes to the side that was held to a goalless draw at East Court on Tuesday night with recent signing Dan Pearse replacing Kieran Lavery, Lee Harding coming in for Tyrell Richardson-Brown, and Lewis Hyde making just his third start of 2019 in place of Dean Lovegrove. The visitors fielded their new strikeforce of one-time Horsham target Tom Carlton and Margate loanee Sid Sollis, alongside twenty-eight goal Zak Ansah, but there was no place for former Hornet Joey Taylor, who would spend a frustrating first return to Lancing on the bench.
Having scored after just fifteen seconds of last week’s victory at Whitstable, Dom Di Paola’s side made another fast start to this contest, forcing a corner after nineteen that was unconvincingly palmed away by Coxall, making his second successive appearance in place of the unavailable George Kamurasi. A strong run by Jack Brivio took him to the edge of the Hythe penalty box where he was denied by a last-ditch tackle by Mitchell Dickenson, with the game’s first effort on goal coming on eleven minutes when Harding collected a terrific pass from Hyde and swerved past a defender before clipping a right-foot shot wide of Coxall’s left-hand upright. Chris Smith then passed up an opportunity to shoot by electing to try and clip the ball over the top for Harding or striker partner Rob O’Toole but the danger was easily cleared as the threat to the visitors’ goal continued.
Yet it was Hythe who so very nearly took the lead, four minutes later, in rather fortuitous circumstances when Ryan Palmer’s cross took a heavy deflection off Harvey Sparks that sent it looping towards the far corner of the net until Pelling managed to turn it away at full stretch. As the action returned to the other end of the pitch, Coxall beat Smith in a foot race to reach a through ball, getting there just ahead of the Horsham man to toe-end the ball away to safety, and just moments later Joe Shelley flashed a close range header over the crossbar from Harding’s pinpoint corner. Just a minute on and the Hornets came even closer to breaking the deadlock. Some patient build-up in the midfield saw the ball played out wide to Hayward who delivered an inviting cross that Smith, at full stretch, was unable to head on target. Just when it seemed like it was going to be another of those days in front of goal, Horsham made the breakthrough. Once again it was the Hyde/Harding combination that provided it when the defender sent his team-mate away with a sumptuous pass and the former Burgess Hill man twisted and turned his marker before drilling the ball across goal and low into the far corner of the net.
Continuing to apply the pressure, a dangerous low cross by O’Toole was pushed away from danger by Coxall, just beyond the lurking Hayward. Hythe were creating very little in the way of presentable goalscoring chances at this stage but they almost found themselves level when Palmer’s free-kick caught Dylan Merchant flat-footed as he thumped the ball straight at his own goal where Pelling produced an instinctive reaction save to spare his team-mate’s blushes. There was a brief lull in the action around the half hour mark before the game sparked back into life again on thirty-four minutes when the Hornets doubled their lead with a lovely team goal. Smith chipped the ball into O’Toole, on the edge of the area, he nodded it down and Hayward, running in, showed great technique to hit a waist high half-volley into the net for only his second goal of the season. It was a popular goal and fine reward for an all-action start to the game by the former Haywards Heath midfielder.
Hythe skipper Chris Kinnear made a decent attempt at reducing the deficit with a first time strike from Charlie Webster’s low cross that cleared the crossbar by a matter of inches, while a bit of ‘showboating’ by O’Toole suggested the confidence had returned to the side when his fancy flick almost put Harding clear inside the box, instead the ball ricocheted into the air where it was gleefully fielded by Coxall. Smith might have made it 3-0, four minutes from the break, when Merchant bent a fine pass down the line for O’Toole who crossed low into the middle only for Smith to completely miss his kick in front of goal. And then a lovely, sweeping pass by Brivio was taken down superbly by Harding on the far touchline before delivering a wonderful ball in for O’Toole who had the ball pinched off his toes in the nick of time by Hythe’s Ollie Rowe. It was a high intensity finish to the half by the home side and more good combination between O’Toole and Harding threatened to unlock the Hythe defence once more only for Harding’s pull back to fail to find anyone in an amber shirt. The chances continued to present themselves to the hosts, even in first half stoppage time, first through an audacious attempt by O’Toole to beat Coxall from fully forty yards after being slipped through by Smith, and then a mazy, jinking run by Harding that took him past three players only to mar the move by blazing high over the crossbar.
H/T Horsham 2 Hythe Town 0
With no changes at half-time, other than a fresh shirt for the bloodied Merchant who appeared to have taken a blow to the face towards the end of the first half, Hythe got proceedings back underway and a terrific run by Sollis took him past three missed challenges before letting himself down with the final pass that went straight to Hayward, who cleared. The Hornets ought to have extended their lead on fifty-seven minutes when a free-kick by Harding, on the byline, was flicked on by O’Toole but Shelley, standing virtually on the far post, was taken by surprise and could only push the ball past the upright. A low shot by Pearse was deflected behind for a corner and, moments later, there were strong shouts for a penalty when Smith appeared to be shoved to the ground when looking to convert Brivio’s delightful backheel into the dangerzone.
The pattern of the first half was quickly resuming in the second as O’Toole first sent a low shot straight at Coxall and then turned another underhit volley into the young ‘keeper’s arms from Smith’s cross, with another effort from Hayward deflecting off the centre-half and looping comfortably back to the Hythe custodian. Horsham’s first change followed, two minutes later, when the hard-working Smith made way for Kieran Lavery, but within a minute Hythe were to halve the deficit when Sollis rose highest to glance a far post cross just inside Pelling’s right-hand post, to the obvious annoyance of the Horsham ‘keeper. Unbowed, the home side put together a lovely move that involved Pearse, Sparks and O’Toole, whose lay-off was perfectly timed for Brivio to make one of his trademark runs into the box where he was denied a goal by Coxall’s strong right hand. Coxall earned his corn again, shortly afterwards, when another surging run and pass by Brivio to O’Toole resulted in a chance for Hayward but he, too, was thwarted this time by the legs of the Hythe goalkeeper.
Frustration among the home supporters continued to mount as yet more Horsham chances went begging. Lavery did well to win the ball out on the left and play the ball in towards the near post where it was pushed away by Coxall and recycled by O’Toole for Harding to shoot wide of the opposite post, and a little later O’Toole chased a seemingly lost cause and held the ball up well before picking out Harding but his ball back to Pearse was blasted over the top by the Dorking loanee. It was as if the Hornets fans were preparing themselves for the heartache of a late Hythe leveller and they would have right, had Pelling not produced a miraculous save. Just two minutes of the ninety remained when a foul on Carlton enabled sub Jack Sammoutis to clip the ball into the box where it was nodded down for Rowe to make a strong connection, but straight at Pelling who spread himself well to repel the effort. Hornets’ substitute Richardson-Brown might have made things safe in time added on when he chased Lavery’s ball over the top and, finding himself without support, was forced to go it alone and saw Coxall beat away his near post shot.