Horsham are top of the Isthmian Premier League.
Four years on from our first season in county football in over fifty years, the Hornets moved to the summit of the Isthmian Premier Division for the first time in 13 years.
After a brief spell at the top in 2006, our debut season at this level, we can once again now say with confidence that this is the highest we’ve ever been.
It’s a remarkable story. Steered by Dom Di Paola and his impressive coaching team, Horsham have defied expectations once again to stake an early claim of first place.
Given last season’s promotion, we’d be forgiven for expecting a tough run and battle to stave of relegation for much of the campaign. And, though survival is still very much the aim, the luxurious position of being 15 points clear from the relegation zone is one which can rightly fill us with unbridled joy.
The match was set to be our toughest test. The visitors, Hornchurch, arrived at The Camping World Community Stadium in high spirits having recorded seven victories already this season. Their free scoring had seen one of the title favourites move up to the top of the tree in double quick time.
The division’s top scorers (24 goals) were setting up against the league’s best defence. Our back line had only conceded six league goals so far, a statistic worthy of the league’s ‘Defence of the Month’ award in September for the second-placed Hornets.
And, as this top-of-the-table clash got underway, it wouldn’t take long before the league’s best defence were thrown their first conundrum.
Captain Will Miles going down injured in the ninth minute forced the hosts into an early change with Dylan Merchant coming on to replace him. Yet Merchant’s arrival was as seamless as ever, as he slotted in alongside Joe Shelley, who’s approaching his 150th appearance in yellow and green.
The home side settled quickly, however, with Charlie Harris firing wide before Chris Smith spurned a glorious opportunity. Capitalising on a Ricky Hayles error, the forward raced towards goal, but his tame effort was an easy pick-up for Joe Wright.
Hornchurch looked to make us pay and were left rueing a chance of their own midway through the first half.
A misplaced pass from Shelley found George Saunders who showed a quick turn of pace to beat Harvey Sparks but the winger’s delivery bounced wide.
Harry Mills had a long-range effort caught comfortably by Wright before the Urchins were in again.
A mix-up from a Hornets throw saw a rare error from ‘keeper George Bentley fall to Chris Dickson moments before half-time. However, the striker’s goal bound effort was cleared acrobatically off the line.
After the break, Kieron Pamment curled narrowly wide after skilfully wrong-footing Remi Sutton before Jack Brivio struck the crossbar with a piledriver.
The Urchins spurned their best chance of the match just before the hour, when a pass found Ronnie Winn in space, but the striker slid his effort wide.
Bentley was called into action in the 63rd minute, tipping over Daniel Uchechi’s powerful attempt before the hosts came close themselves when Pamment flashed a cross into Zack Newton sliding in but the substitute couldn’t make contact.
A Sparks cross hit the post before a powerful Hornchurch header flew narrowly over the bar.
Heading into the final ten minutes, a game full of nerves and tension finally found its opener.
Pouncing on a loose ball, Harris unleashed a dipping effort which crashed off the crossbar. Newton collected the rebound, calmly laying off to Harris, who slotted into the corner.
To say it woke up a typically raucous home crowd was an understatement. Roars echoed from the Octotech, bottled up relief reverberated around the main stand, even those in the Lines & James Family Stand were on their feet.
And, for the first time in the game, the loud and proud visiting spectators were silenced as Horsham took the lead.
From there on, it only looked like there would be one winner. Buoyed by a now electric atmosphere, the team who don’t know the meaning of the verb ‘to quit’, as evidenced by Tuesday night’s late drama at Corinthian-Casuals, were now in the ascendency.
Seeing the game out for the final minutes, the Hornets, who would simply dismiss being called ‘plucky’, had finally done it.
Carving their own history, the final whistle signalled something no Horsham side has achieved in over ten years: the top of a step three league table.
It’s easy to get carried away, just as it is to accept this incredible run as the norm, neither of which we should do.
‘A marathon not a sprint’ are those immortal words designed to keep your feet on the ground. And, though it couldn’t be truer in this case, I’m sure, after far too many years of mediocrity and disappointment, Horsham fans can be afforded just a moment to allow this achievement to sink in.
Whether we sustain our current status is not the point, these moments are what every non-league football fan dreams of, and by heck are we going to enjoy it whilst we can.
Report by Matt Jones
Match Sponsor: Horsham and Crawley Counselling Group