Horsham improved their standing and their goal difference with this commanding 6-1 success at Sittingbourne. Tormentor-in-chief was striker Chris Smith who scored a hat-trick, won a penalty, provided the ‘assist’ for Horsham’s fourth goal and struck the crossbar as the Hornets recorded their biggest away win in the Isthmian League for thirteen years.
There was a new face for the travelling faithful to get used to in goal as Joe Mant came in for his debut in place of Josh Pelling. Mant, who joined the Hornets at the end of February from VCD Athletic as cover for the former Brighton shot-stopper, couldn’t have been handed a more comfortable first start as Sittingbourne rarely troubled the twenty-four year old until an unfortunate stoppage time fumble gifted the home side their consolation goal. The only other change to the side that beat Sevenoaks last time out was the return to the starting line-up of Will Miles in place of Joe Shelley for his first start since suffering an injury against Three Bridges seven weeks ago. By contrast, Sittingbourne manager Chris Lynch rung the changes after seeing his side go down 2-1 at struggling Greenwich Borough last Saturday with Rob Lofting, Harry Barkaway, Kane Phillip, Chris Barnard and Timileyn Toluwanile losing their places in favour of Kwasi Amoah, Izzy Adebayo, Jack Morrell, Tom Lawrence, Timmie Babbington and the fit again Tommie Fagg, who replaced the injured Lewis Chambers at the heart of the defence.
In contrast to the warming April sunshine they’d left behind, the Horsham supporters were greeted with grey skies, dropping temperatures and the threat of rain when they arrived at Woodstock Park and, for the first half an hour or so, there was little in the way of exciting football to lift their mood. Rob O’Toole had an early shot blocked by Fagg at the expense of a corner but was then caught on the shin by the studs of Amoah that brought the game’s first caution. From the free-kick, George Hayward challenged for the ball with Lex Allan and, as it dropped loose, Dylan Merchant could only volley into the side-netting. It was twenty minutes before the Brickies’ first meaningful sortie into the Horsham third of the pitch, from which they won a corner that came to nothing, before the action quickly returned to the opposite end of the ground when Lee Harding slipped the ball through for Smith whose powerful rising shot was well tipped over by Patrick Lee.
The home side, who still required three points to guarantee their Isthmian League status at the start of play, went close to opening the scoring on twenty-five minutes when a Horsham attack was cleared upfield to Henry Woods, who cleverly flicked the ball beyond Miles and chased it down, holding it up well until Lawrence arrived in support but the midfielder’s left-foot shot went just beyond the far post. It was close for the Brickies but, as so often happens to struggling teams, a failure to profit in front of goal was quickly punished as Horsham went in front from their next attack. A free-kick on the halfway line was pumped into the box by Miles, Merchant got his head to the ball and Harvey Sparks volleyed it back across the face of goal where Smith applied the close range finish. Five minutes from the break another Miles delivery was this time headed too close to Lee by O’Toole, who beat his marker in the air, but another set-piece would secure the visitors the cushion of a two goal lead just before the half-time whistle. This time it was Harding who clipped the free-kick invitingly into the area where Jack Brivio stood unchallenged to nod the ball into the bottom corner, via the gloves of Lee.
H/T Sittingbourne 0 Horsham 2
The second half was just nine minutes old when the lead was extended further still, this time Smith taking advantage of a lucky bounce to turn sharply away from two defenders on the edge of the box and beat Lee with a powerful angled drive into the roof of the net. The striker went close to claiming his hat-trick, two minutes later, when O’Toole and George Hayward recycled a Miles free-kick for Smith to hook a volley just wide of the left hand post. The Hornets now had the bit between their teeth and Tyrell Richardson-Brown had a chance when he got in between Fagg and Jack Morrell to meet Smith’s low near post cross but his effort clipped the heels of Morrell and rebounded to safety.
Lewis Hyde replaced Miles with twenty-five minutes to go, the former Burgess Hill man having impressed on his return to action, and within two minutes Horsham threatened to add to their score when O’Toole chased a lobbed pass into the box and got the better of Lee only for Fagg to hack the ball clear from the striker’s cross back into the middle. That was O’Toole’s final contribution to the afternoon as he made way for Kieran Lavery but it was the substitute’s former South Park strike partner who had the next sight of goal, coming agonisingly short of making contact with Harding’s low cross. Sparks was narrowly off target after coming on to a lay-off by Lavery, slamming the ball into the advertising hoardings at the side of the goal with his less-favoured right foot, before Joey Taylor replaced Harding as Horsham’s final substitution just in time for a final ten minute purple patch from the visitors.
It was 4-0 on eighty-one minutes when Lavery put Smith away inside the area and, when he skipped past Lee and put the ball back across the face of goal, Allan could only push the ball across the line and into his own net. Then, three minutes later, Fagg’s back header dropped short of Lee and Smith was in like a flash only to be pulled back by the ‘keeper as he attempted to go round him. Referee Craig Pullen waved the yellow card in Lee’s direction and Smith, who missed from the spot last week, emphatically found the net this time to take his season’s goal tally to twenty. Lee redeemed himself of sorts when he got a strong arm to Richardson-Brown’s driven low cross, with Smith denied what would have been a simple tap-in, but a needless foul on Hayward by substitute Phillip from the loose ball gave Taylor the opportunity to pick out Brivio from the free-kick to head in his second of the afternoon.
The match was deep into added time when Sittingbourne won themselves a corner that was fumbled by Mant at his near post and prodded over the line by sub Billy Lewins from almost on the line, despite the ‘keeper’s frantic efforts to recover his error, but the six goal margin was almost immediately restored when Smith smashed a volley against the crossbar with only Lee to beat.
The victory takes Dom Di Paola’s side above Hastings United into second place with a three point, and one goal, advantage over the Pilot Field club who have a game in hand. The only negative on another supremely satisfying afternoon in Kent was the two late goals scored by VCD at Ramsgate that leaves the Hornets requiring one more point to be mathematically certain of finishing in the top five although it would take an astonishing set of results if VCD are to overturn a difference of twenty-four goals in the four matches that remain.
Match report by Mark Wells
Match photos can be viewed here, courtesy of John Lines