An eight-match unbeaten run in all competitions, and a thrilling ride in the FA Trophy came to an end for Horsham as National League South side Bath City proved too much for Dom Di Paola’s plucky side.
The Somerset side had never played Horsham before and thus the occasion meant for a bumper crowd at Culver Road, with the visitors bringing good numbers down for the 240 round mile trip, while Horsham’s own support was given a welcome boost as fans ventured down to Lancing to cheer on The Hornets as underdogs.
With this in mind, manager Di Paola had urged his squad to go out and enjoy themselves before the game, accepting that his side had nothing to lose against The Romans, who entered the game with aspirations to gain promotion to the National League currently occupying a play-off position in their league.
Despite defeat however, he and the Horsham supporters who remained to applaud the team off at the full time whistle will have been satisfied with how they battled and ensured they were not outplayed by their more illustrious opponents, as they made Bath work hard for the win, with the visitors indebted to a piece of individual brilliance by Sean Rigg, whose superb curling effort midway through the second half proved decisive enough to end Horsham’s participation as the quality of the visitors ultimately shone through.
With the visitors forced into a change before the game and having to name sixteen year old goalkeeper Harvey Wiles-Richards in the starting eleven, the message before the game to the Hornets must have surely been to test the visiting shot-stopper early on and, in just the second minute, Jack Brivio’s pass across the edge of the area fell nicely to Will Hoare who had plenty of space to line up a shot, but the midfielder’s strike was not the cleanest and gave the teenager the chance to warm his gloves up early on as he made a comfortable stop with the youngster perhaps fearing a baptism of fire
Horsham followed up their bright start moments later when Joe Shelley couldn’t get on the end of a dangerous free-kick pumped long by Charlie Harris as the ball teased in front of the face of goal but, despite their early promise, Horsham fell behind in the tenth minute with Bath’s first shot on target as the hosts’ concentration level dropped after conceded a corner. With the set piece taken short, Adam Mann’s precise cross was flicked in off the head by Jack Batten who netted in off the post.
With an early lead, Bath set about asserting their authority on the game and snuffing out Horsham’s attack as they controlled midfield, yet Horsham fashioned a super chance to draw level fourteen minutes after the goal when Tyrell Richardson-Brown broke through one on one against Wiles-Richards, but his drilled low shot was well stopped by the visiting goalkeeper who got down on the ground impressively to parry as his team-mates quickly cleared the danger.
With Horsham building up a steady head of steam, Shelley’s header wide of goal was pulled back as referee Sunny Gill agreed that Bath had gained an unfair advantage during the build-up, and awarded Horsham a freekick on the edge of the box. Despite Horsham’s players appealing to the referee that it should have been a penalty, free-kick specialist Harris rose to the occasion and bent his effort around the wall and into the top left corner.
The Romans should have gone in at the interval in front though when, eight minutes before the break, Rigg’s excellent cross was delivered into the six-yard box for an unmarked Ryan Brunt, yet the striker let Horsham off the hook as he somehow headed wide.
H/T: Horsham 1 Bath City 1
A case of who would blink next, City send on Tom Smith for Frankie Artus as they made a like-for-like swap in midfield, and the Cheltenham loanee was invited to shoot early on when he raced forward into Horsham’s half and struck a fierce drive that was well held by Josh Pelling.
Horsham did have the ball in the net shortly afterwards, only for it to be immediately chalked off as Rob O’Toole was ruled to have been offside after he bundled in, but it was to be one of the few chances Horsham would enjoy as the half continued, as Bath continued to enjoy greater possession, despite not actually threatening Pelling’s goal.
Harris rifled a shot narrowly wide as he latched onto Hoare’s tee up from twenty five yards, while at the other end, Rigg tried his luck as he drove forward and forced a catch by Pelling, but Rigg was to eventually settle the contest on sixty-seven minutes.The midfielder showed clever footwork and skill to dribble into the penalty area having cut in from the left hand side, and his superb finish was curled around Pelling and into the net to put The Romans back in front.
The National League South side looked content to manage the remainder of the game with more patient possession and disciplined organisation, as they refused to allow The Hornets time on the ball, but with the clock entering the final ten minutes, a spirited Horsham side looked to find another late goal that has saved them on plenty of occasions so far this season.
But with Bath defending well and frustrating their hosts, they had a fine chance in injury time to seal the win when Smith lined up a shot after being allowed time and space, yet Pelling produced a fine stop to deny him.
There was still time for some late controversy in the final minute of injury time though, as Horsham were rightly aggrieved by poor refereeing. With Richardson-Brown escaping the attentions of Anthony Straker to surge into the box at the byline, the full-back’s handball outside the box was initially allowed to be ignored as the Hornets forward had advantage, yet Mr. Gill then changed his mind and blew for a free-kick as Horsham were left furious that he had failed to allow play to continue. The last kick of the game, the resulting free-kick promptly cleared and left Horsham supporters behind the goal to wonder if they would have been able to earn a replay on Wednesday evening, yet despite what might have been, Horsham supporters were left proud as our impressive Trophy run came to its conclusion.