Horsham’s run in the FA Cup came crashing to a halt in Dorset, as Poole Town came from behind to dump Dom Di Paola’s side from the world’s oldest footballing cup competition, and set up a Fourth Qualifying Round tie away at Haringey Borough next weekend.
It was a replay, and a game too far for The Hornets, who can be proud of their cup exploits this season and the money spinner it will have generated for the club, but while there will be disappointment that Horsham failed to reach the same stage they managed ten years ago, there can be no real complaints in terms of the effort given by the players, who gave it their all, but ultimately tired as the game progressed.
Di Paola made three changes to the starting line up who began the match on Saturday, with Harvey Sparks, Rob O’Toole and Charlie Harris replacing Dean Lovegrove and James McElligott who swapped to the bench, with George Hayward unavailable. Another noticeable absentee was striker Chris Smith with injury ruling him out.
With a sizable contingent of Horsham supporters on hand to generate the atmosphere and cheer on their side, the away fans were almost silenced seven minutes in when some lovely interplay between Poole Town talisman Richard Gillespie and Luke Roberts exchange passes, but with Roberts unable to get a shot away, he returned the ball back for Gillespie to fire well wide.
Hornets fans certainly had plenty to sing about though on thirteen minutes, when their side took the lead after some sloppy defending from the Southern Premier Division side let Horsham in at the back, as O’Toole collected, turned and instantly spotted Harvey Sparks unmarked on the edge of the area, and the former Bognor Regis Town midfielder took a touch to compose himself, before guiding the ball low into the bottom corner to give Horsham the lead.
Horsham had a fine chance to double their lead three minutes later when a wonderfully floated freekick was sent hurling into the box, but Sparks’ failed to jump high enough to get his head above the ball, instead sending his header well over the bar despite being afforded plenty of time and space by the Dolphins defence.
With Poole posing a threat going forward as they looked for a response, Horsham were made to work hard to keep the home side at bay, with a towering headed clearance by Joe Shelley and Josh Pelling beating away a fiercely driven shot, while Steve Metcalf’s superbly timed sliding challenge dispossessed the energetic Luke Roberts after the midfield dangerman threatened to bare down on goal.
Corby Moore’s rising effort then cannoned off the roof of the stand behind the goal as Town began to press, but Horsham arguably continued to enjoy the better chances with two glorious opportunities to extend their lead passing them by in as many minutes.
The first coming thanks to Tyrell Richardson-Brown’s pace seeing him emerge with the ball high up the pitch before squaring for O’Toole at the near post, but with the striker unable to finish, Poole scurried the ball away as Sparks failed to reach in time rushing in at the back post.
A minute later, a fantastic slotted through ball by Richardson-Brown put O’Toole through one-on-one with goalkeeper Luke Cairney, who did well to stand up to the Hornets striker and ensure his effort deflected upwards as it crashed back off the bar with Sparks unlucky to see the bounce of the ball rise up over his head as he attempted to force home.
The let off proved to be the wake up call the hosts needed, and agonisingly for Horsham, it signalled the beginning of the end of The Hornets FA Cup campaign as Di Paola’s side failed to make it to the interval with the lead intact as the gave away a cheap freekick. The resulting set-piece was floated in wonderfully for Dolphins captain Jamie Whisken to rise up and glance his header into the net with Pelling off his line.
H/T: Poole Town 1 Horsham 1
The hosts replaced Carl Pettefer during the interval for Steve Devlin after the defensive midfielder sustained a knock, but despite the enforced substitution, The Dolphins needed just five minutes of the second half to take the lead. Despite Horsham having suvivied an initial scare a minute before when Gillespie shot well wide following Jordan Alawode-Wiliams’ cross, Horsham failed to clear their lines with Poole’s next attack, and when the ball fell towards Corby Moore, he composed himself to fire towards goal, but despite the ball being fired at Pelling, the pace of the shot was too much for the Hornet’s shot-stopper to deal with as it richocheted backwards off his body and into the net.
Horsham attempted to muster up a response, with an ambitious attempt by Richardson-Brown who tried to curl in from distance, but the shot was comfortably claimed by Cairney as Horsham continued to enjoy a fair share of possession, but struggling to find a way back into the contest.
With Roberts having run himself into the ground for the hosts, Jack Dickson came on to take his place, and minutes after his introduction, Poole Town had a super chance to finish off the game when Gillespie managed to get clear and square for an unmarked Bedford who attempted to round Pelling, but the Horsham ‘keeper was having none of it, as he refused to allow himself to be embarrassed, and saved bravely at the Town midfielder’s boots.
With the game waring on, both teams began to visibly tire as the game entered it’s final moments, with chances becoming more limited, however Devlin’s blast over the bar was the closest the hosts went, while Horsham had a chance late on to take the game to extra time when they won a freekick from a dangerous position some twenty-five years out.
Having scored a wonderful freekick from a similar position against Carshalton Athletic to kick-start Horsham’s FA Cup run, up-stepped Charlie Harris looking to repeat his magic, and despite rifling a wonderfully taken effort around the wall and towards the back of the net, it was kept out by a remarkable save by Cairney, who did incredibly well to palm the ball away with an outstretched fingertip save.
Groans from the home supporters of an additional seven minutes of injury time gave Horsham supporters some cause for optimism but it ultimately proved job done for Poole as they safeguarded their narrow lead while The Hornets headed back home proud of their team’s exploits, but ultimately having to rue the cruelty of football.
Horsham now turn their attentions to a home game in the FA Trophy on Saturday against Ware Town.
Reporter: Matt Dale