The Hornets continued their assault on the Bostik South East play-offs as they secured a routine victory against local rivals Three Bridges at Culver Road.
Kieran Lavery’s eighteenth minute goal put Horsham on course when he struck low down midway through the first half, but it appeared the hosts would fail to kill off the guests as they spurned a glut of glaring misses thereafter, however persistence paid off when with eleven minutes of normal time remaining, Jack Brivio slotted in to give Horsham all three points and tighten their grip on a play-off position, while Three Bridges continue to look for a first win of 2019.
The victory now means Horsham open up a seven-point gap on sixth placed Whyteleafe, who fell to a 1-4 loss at home to VCD Athletic, but while there still some way to go yet until the end of the season, manager Dom Di Paola must be feeling optimistic about his side’s chances of promotion, as Horsham fans continue to dream of running out at our new ground in the Bostik Premier League.
Fresh from their 1-3 success last weekend at VCD Athletic, Di Paola made just one change to the starting line-up, with Dean Lovegrove coming in for the unavailable George Hayward, while new signing Dan Hogan occupied a place on the bench.
The local proximity of the visitors usually sees the inclusion of several former Hornets lining up against Horsham, and this match was no different, with former goalkeeper James Shaw in between the sticks for Bridges, while striker George Gaskin – who famously scored two hat-tricks in the same day for parent club Littlehampton, then for ourselves against Godalming on Boxing Day 2016 – lined up against his former club.
Horsham began the game on the ascendency, when with ten minutes on the clock, an excellent ball from Steve Metcalf down the flank split open Bridges’ defence as Chris Smith latched on, and as he sprinted clear he looked to apply the finish low down, only for Shaw to get something on the shot, while his defence mopped up the loose ball on the goal line.
Horsham soon had a half-hearted penalty appeal turned down moments later when Rob O’Toole appeared to be bundled over inside the box under pressure as he went in for a header with Antone Douglas, however Mike Desborough waved away the appeals.
Lee Harding’s cross into the box was met with a flicked header backwards by Kieran Lavery who went wide, but the opening goal came on eighteen minutes as Lavery took his second chance. Man of the Match Sparks did well to keep Josh Pelling’s kick out in play as he headed into the path of Harding, and the midfielder took advantage of Three Bridges’ players appeals for a throw in to dart down the length of the visitors own halve, where he passed to Lavery, who took a touch and swept in low at the far post.
Horsham were dealt something of a setback on twenty-five minutes when Will Miles pulled up clutching his hamstring as he made way for Dylan Merchant and the change appeared to spark Bridges into life when Connor French headed a dangerous cross wide, while a minute later a counter attack from the guests resulted in Merchant and Joe Shelley struggling to cope with Reece Hallard, who spotted Pelling off his line and attempted an audacious chip as he put it wide.
Horsham continued to pose the greater threat though, and on the half hour mark, Lovegrove tested the reflexes of Shaw with a laced shot from thirty yards out that he did well to keep on target, but ultimately produced a routine catch in the centre of the goal.
The home side should have doubled their lead moments later, when another good ball from Sparks unlocked the Bridges’ defence and fed Chris Smith who latched on near the by-line, yet his low centre ball across the face of goal somehow eluded Harding who failed to convert.
With Bridges’ defender Liam Collins being ran ragged down the flank, another ball exposed him for pace once more as this time Harding skipped past him to get into a dangerous position, but his cross was overhit and went out for a goal kick as Horsham fans pondered how they hadn’t increased their lead.
Bridges were not without their own attempts on goal however, with Gaskin forcing a save from Pelling when he hit a volley from the edge of the box, while the Horsham shot-stopper was drawn into another relatively easy save to smother a low drilled effort from French from outside the box.
O’Toole would then round off the half when he saw space open up in front of him and clipped a dipping effort narrowly over.
H/T: Horsham 1 Three Bridges 0
Eager to build on their slender lead, Horsham continued where they left off as the second half got underway, and on fifty-three minutes, Smith found himself guilty of one of the misses of the season. Once again, Bridges struggled to deal with the powerful runs of Harding who drove forward and passed across the face of goal towards the former South Park hitman, yet with an open goal at his mercy the unmarked striker inexplicably stepped over the ball from six yards out.
Bridges introduced fresh legs in the form of Ibby Akanbi who replaced John Ufuah and the substitute set about to make an immediate impact when he proved a handful to Joe Shelley who fouled him right on the edge of the box to win a free kick in a dangerous position, but as he stepped up to take the resulting set-piece, his atrocious attempt was sent well wide.
Not that Horsham’s finishing was much better, as once more they missed another excellent chance to put the tie beyond Bridges. As Bridges defenders left it to each other to deal with a long ball over the top, Smith nipped in and teed up Lavery in a central position near the penalty spot, this time though the on-loan Dorking Wanderers man fluffed his lines blasting embarrassingly over.
Horsham continued to keep Bridges under pressure, as Brivio lashed a shot narrowly wide following a run at goal.
Gaskin nearly made his former side pay for their failure to take their chances when he raced in at the back post to connect with a superb cross towards him, but he could only hook wide on the stretch.
Horsham’s efforts off target statistic continued to mount up with Tyrell Richardson-Brown smashing well wide, but he would prove to be pivotal in his role as Horsham finally killed off the game in the seventy-ninth minute. His take down to control Sparks’ ball out from defence allowed him room and time to run into Bridges’ own halve as Horsham countered as a Three Bridges attack broke down, and he unselfishly rolled across to the supporting Brivio who picked his spot past Shaw with a tidy finish to wrap up the points and end any nervousness the home fans had.
The Hornets are next in action on Saturday when we visit Whitstable Town.