Dom Di Paola cut a frustrated figure as the fans trickled out of Culver Road at the end of an evenly-fought cup tie in which the Hornets once more came up agonisingly short of higher-ranked opponents. For ninety-two minutes Horsham matched their Vanarama National League South visitors, the last twenty-five of which a man light following the dismissal of Kieran Lavery, only for Borough substitute Lloyd Dawes to strike a heartbreaking late blow to send Jamie Howell’s side through to the last eight of the Parafix Sussex Senior Cup.
With the match entering the third minute of stoppage time, a long ball in to the edge of the Horsham box saw Dawes nip in ahead of Dylan Merchant, advance into the area, and clip the ball past the helpless Josh Pelling to finally break the deadlock after both sides had earlier spurned decent opportunities to score. It was harsh on the Hornets, whose night had begun in chaos with five players, as well as two from Eastbourne, caught up in traffic en route to the ground, leading to the kick-off being delayed by fifteen minutes. As a result, Will Hoare had to content himself with a place among the substitutes with Lewis Hyde handed a first start since the win at Storrington in the previous round.
Having lost by the odd goal to Poole Town and Bath City in the FA Cup and Trophy respectively, Horsham felt they had little to fear from an Eastbourne side some thirty-seven places above them in the football pyramid but they nearly went behind after just five minutes when Tobi Adebayo-Rowling popped up unmarked at the far corner of the box and took a touch before hitting the ball left-footed beyond the far post. But the Hornets quickly responded with a threat of their own when a great ball down the right by Charlie Harris, playing against his former side for the first time since his summer move to Horsham, sent Steve Metcalf scampering away before drilling a low ball across that face of goal that Harvey Sparks could only hammer against a covering defender. Charlie Walker then headed an Adebayo-Rowling cross straight at Pelling before the hosts fashioned three very presentable chances in the space of two minutes.
Lavery displayed superb footwork in the centre circle to enable Harris to put a perfectly-weighted ball for Lee Harding to race on and play it in for Lavery, whose run had taken him to the edge of the six yard box, but the Dorking Wanderers loanee appeared to hesitate and his shot was frantically blocked by Sergio Torres before being cleared. Then George Hayward and Harris combined with some neat passing, with the former feeding the overlapping Harvey Sparks who, on the stretch, could only push an underhit effort into the legs of Borough goalkeeper Mark Smith, but perhaps the clearest chance fell to Harding who, put clear by Lavery’s flick, blazed wildly over the crossbar.
As the rain began to fall, this end-to-end open tie saw Joel Rollinson put in an inviting ball across the face of Pelling’s goal that had the ‘keeper scrambling nervously across his line before breathing a sigh of relief as it went harmlessly beyond the far post without a blue-shirted player able to get a touch. The soggy conditions invited the occasional pot shot and Andrew Briggs duly obliged, firing one in from twenty-five yards that Pelling did well to keep out before diving on the loose ball, and Hayward tried the same at the other end when Lavery, seeing his path to goal blocked by two defenders, laid the ball back for his team-mate to smack one towards goal where it was deflected behind. From the corner, Merchant helped the ball on but it hit Joe Shelley on the shins and rebounded harmlessly to Smith.
On the half hour mark a nice measured attack, with Sparks and Shelley at its heart, created a shooting opportunity for Harris, whose long range strike was only parried by Smith who was grateful that no Horsham player was following up. Still the shots rained in and Pelling had to get his body behind a firm strike by Briggs from outside the area but it was from far closer range that Eastbourne should have gone ahead. Just four minutes of the half remained when Harry Ransom got on the end of David Martin’s devilish free-kick but the centre-half somehow contrived to head the ball over the crossbar from no more than a couple of yards out. Then, in stoppage time, Horsham thought they would make the breakthrough when a super turn and pass by Lavery found Hayward in space. He touched the ball beyond the Borough back line where O’Toole was racing clear but, with only the ‘keeper to beat, a heavy first touch made the angle difficult and Smith was able to make the save to leave a very entertaining half goalless.
H/T Horsham 0 Eastbourne Borough 0
Eastbourne sent on Kristian Campbell for Martin at the start of the second half and the substitute was immediately in the action, at both ends of the pitch. First, he did supremely well to control a long punt forward by Smith and cross the ball onto the head of Liddle, whose glancing header was saved by the diving Pelling, and then Campbell’s terrific last-ditch challenge prevented Harding from advancing threateningly into the visitors’ penalty area. Horsham continued to take the match to their opponents and when a delightful toe-ended flick from Shelley found O’Toole on the edge of the box, the striker opted to take the shot early, sending a crisp half-volley past Smith’s right-hand upright. Almost immediately, though, a lapse of concentration at the back let in Liddle who should have done better than to lob the ball tamely into Pelling’s hands. Next to try his luck for Horsham was Harris, who drilled the ball wide after Shelley had picked Torres’ pocket in the middle of the Eastbourne half, before Harding made way for Tyrell Richardson-Brown. But, whatever boost Di Paola hoped the substitute’s arrival might have on Horsham’s attacking threat quickly dissipated when Lavery was shown a red card for a shin high tackle on Torres. Having overrun the ball, the striker’s attempt to regain possession left Torres in a heap and led to a heated exchange in the stands over the perceived intent of the challenge.
His hand forced, Di Paola promptly withdrew the luckless Hayward and sent on Hoare with the tie suddenly threatening to turn sour when Merchant was cautioned for a trip on Walker, from whose free-kick Tom Gardiner headed over the top when he ought to have at least forced a save out of Pelling. Hoare went for the spectacular, two minutes later, when, having spotted Smith off his line, he hit a thirty yard volley that bounced just over the crossbar with the ‘keeper having managed to get back to cover his goal. Chances were literally coming every couple of minutes and next it was Rollinson who was sent away by Torres’ pass but, having beaten Merchant with a quick pair of feet, his chip beat not only Pelling but the top of the goal.
When O’Toole made way for Joey Taylor with sixteen minutes left to play, it left Richardson-Brown as the sole outlet up front for a Horsham side whose numerical imbalance was slowly beginning to show. It took a tremendous cover tackle by Merchant to stop Liddle from pulling the trigger and then, soon after, Pelling’s goal received a big let-off when Liddle headed a corner against the frame of the goal and Campbell’s follow-up effort was blocked by a sea of bodies inside the penalty box. Torres then missed his kick, after being set up by a team-mate’s clever flick, but it was Horsham who had the ball in the net when, with just a minute left, Richardson-Brown’s pass was swept low into the box by Hoare where it was slammed into the roof of the net by Sparks, only to discover that Hoare had been flagged for offside.
That would seemed to have been that but, with both sets of supporters contemplating the prospect of an extra half hour’s play – and Horsham officials sweating over the possibility of overrunning their permitted floodlight usage after the delayed kick-off – Borough struck. Torres had just headed a good chance wide from another decent Campbell cross when Dawes nipped in to apply the cruel finish and end Horsham’s final chance of cup glory this season.