Lea Dawson’s 35th minute opener was cancelled out by a Jay Leader header as the Hornets hung on to second in the Isthmian Premier with a draw at home to Cray Wanderers.
After a subdued opening 20 minutes, a flurry of robust challenges and dubious refereeing decisions helped kick the game into life in a high-tempered, fractious encounter at The Camping World Community Stadium.
Though a valuable point in the race for safety, still the main priority for Horsham boss Dom Di Paola, it sees us lose ground to league leaders Folkestone Invicta who moved four points clear after a comfortable 4-1 thrashing of East Thurrock United.
For the Wands, their unbeaten away record remains intact with the South London side firmly in the play-off hunt after moving up to seventh with the point.
Chances were few and far between for most of the first half with the away side holding the lion’s share of possession in the opening exchanges.
However, Horsham worked the game’s first true chance as Zack Newton struck inside the area only to see his effort blocked.
If the first 25 minutes were the most tiresome of the season, then the remaining 15 were anything but.
The referee’s whistle-happy mood had already caused some underlying irritation in the stands but that feeling began to feed down to the players as the game got a much-needed energy boost.
Alex Kelly’s crunching challenge on Charlie Allen set things off. The midfielder’s tackle left the visiting side incensed and, as both Kelly and Tom Murphy were booked, the latter for dissent, the mood very quickly changed.
Appeals for fouls, handballs, advantages were heard left, right and centre, as the referee slowly began to lose control.
With tempers beginning to fray, as the temperature began to drop, there was some brief respite before those in yellow and green were making noise once more.
Awarded a free kick out on the far side, the Hornets were able to regroup with the chance to take the lead. And that they did.
Charlie Harris floated a lovely cross towards the back post where Dawson, having peeled away from his marker, Tom Phipp, prodded a firm header past the static Lewis Carey.
But that lead would last all of two minutes before the game was level again.
Murphy sent a deep corner into the box which skipper Mitchell Nelson managed to knock back across the six-yard area into Leader who powered in a header of his own to get Wanderers back on terms.
Yet, the goals only escalated the fractious atmosphere heading into half-time.
Dawson’s high boot saw him brandished with a yellow before Allen and Rob O’Toole were handed the same punishment after colliding with each other on the far side.
Horsham began the second half much stronger with Newton driving forward before switching play out wide to Harris whose dangerous cross evaded everyone.
Newton was then in action once again as he made another trademark run before curling an effort just inches wide of the post.
The Hornets were through for a third time in quick succession as Harris found space outside of the box but, just as he was about to pull the trigger, the referee decided, inexplicably, to pull the play back for an earlier foul in the build-up.
The culprit, Nelson, was awarded a yellow, as was Harris, due to his protests over the interruption.
And Harris appeared to use some of that new-found anger in the resulting free kick when, despite being over 35 yards out, he unleashed a swerving rocket which Carey had to parry away.
Horsham continued to have the rub of the green with another pacey Newton cross sailing past everyone in yellow while Bradley Pritchard added his name to the growing list of yellow card recipients when he recklessly scythed down Kelly.
But that spurred the away side into life as Joe Taylor wasted a glorious chance to get his side in front. A forward ball fell to Taylor, who had beaten the offside trap to face George Bentley one-on-one, but the striker’s effort dropped fractionally wide.
The away side continued to press for the winner against a tiring Horsham side and they so nearly found one when Jerome Frederico sent a cross into Pritchard, but his inventive flick trickled wide.
With five minutes to go, the Hornets launched a quick move forward with Harvey Sparks at the centre.
The left back’s driving run led him to sending a cross into Newton, but the winger turned his effort wide of the post, signalling the end of a highly competitive game between last season’s promoted Isthmian South East sides.
Horsham are next in action this Saturday where we get our FA Trophy campaign underway with a trip to Haringey Borough.
The club are running a coach to the CVS Van Hire Stadium, departing from Hop Oast Park & Ride at 11am.
Costing just £13, you can book your return travel in person, at any time between 10am and 5pm at the club office. Alternatively, you can email firstname.lastname@example.org or call 01403 458854. Advance payment is not necessary.
Match photos below by John Lines