It may have been dubbed the ‘friendly derby’ but there was little place for sentiment as Horsham booked their place in the quarter-finals of the Velocity Trophy, and a home tie with Margate, with their biggest win over their West Sussex neighbours since 1974.
Jack Brivio, Rob O’Toole and Chris Smith each netted against their former club, who included ex-Hornets Scott Kirkwood, Pat Harding and Max Miller in their squad, and there was a rare goal for ‘birthday boy’ Dylan Merchant as the home team cruised to a comfortable victory on a cold and wet night at the Camping World Community Stadium.
Showing just two changes to the eleven that began Saturday’s win over Haringey Borough, Steve Metcalf coming back in for the injured Harry Mills and Joe Shelley replacing another former Hillian Will Miles in the heart of the defence, the home team pressed from the start and should have gone ahead after just three minutes. Greg Cundle was sent clear down the left, just about onside, and intelligently squared the ball into the middle where Lee Harding was racing through virtually unopposed. But, with just Fynn Talley to beat, Harding took a touch to steady himself allowing Tululope Jonah to get in a challenge that took the sting off the shot and made for a comfortable save for the young ‘keeper.
Two minutes later, the Hillians struggled to clear a corner and Merchant put a first-time effort wide from the edge of the box. But the pressure soon told when, on six minutes, Alex Kelly’s deep corner was nodded back across goal by Shelley and Brivio headed it firmly into the net from close range to put Horsham in front. It would surely have been 2-0 in Horsham’s next attack, had Smith made any meaningful contact to Harding’s near post cross following good work by Merchant and Metcalf. Instead the ball rolled agonisingly across the face of goal and out for a goal kick.
Both sets of supporters were cranking up the volume by this stage but it was the home fans who had more to cheer when, on 18 minutes, they doubled their lead from another set-piece. This time Kelly’s corner was partially cleared and, when Harding played it back out to the midfielder, his deep-flighted cross was headed in by an unmarked Merchant at the far post. Yet the visitors might have got themselves back in the contest just four minutes later when Jordi Ndozid caught Kelly in possession and burst into the penalty area where it took a timely challenge by Merchant to prevent the midfielder from getting a shot in.
Horsham thought they had a third goal on 23 minutes when Cundle and Harvey Sparks combined down the left but when the latter’s low cross into the middle was turned into the net, the linesman’s flag immediately went up to indicate Smith was in an offside position. What the officials had failed to see was that the ball went in off Jonah, something that the home players failed in vain to convince referee Adrian Harris of as the Hillians restarted the game with a free-kick.
But the let-off failed to give the visitors the morale-boost they clearly needed and, after Martyn Box had done well to deny Brivio a shooting chance, a mistake by Talley gifted Horsham a spectacular third. A miscued clearance by the goalkeeper went straight to Smith, some forty yards or more from goal, and he needed no second invitation to let fly, lashing the ball just inside the far post with the embarrassed goalkeeper scrambling frantically across his goal in a fruitless attempt to keep it out.
It was all pretty much one-way stuff now but, after Merchant had seen a header deflected behind, a quick counter-attack should have resulted in a Burgess Hill goal when, with three team-mates in attendance, Mason Doughty burst into the box only to fire the ball wide of the post. It wasn’t long before the action returned to the visitors’ end of the pitch, with Brivio first fizzing a cross-shot invitingly across goal and then scoring his second of the night with a piledriver from the edge of the penalty area from a Sparks ‘assist’.
Rain was beginning to fall heavily and there was just enough time for Jonah to put a header over the crossbar from Ndozid’s cross before the half-time whistle blew to enable the players to retreat to the relative warmth of the dressing rooms.
H/T Horsham 4 Burgess Hill Town 0
Both sides made changes at the start of the second half, with the Hillians sending on Miller for Andrew Briggs and O’Toole and Charlie Harris replacing Brivio and Lea Dawson respectively. And Harris wasted little time in getting into the action, putting a fiercely-struck free-kick just over Talley’s crossbar inside three minutes as the first half onslaught continued in the second. Some lovely football by the hosts saw Kelly and Sparks combine to put Cundle clear but his unselfish pass to Harding was thrashed over the clubhouse roof by the player who began his career in the Hillians’ youth ranks prior to joining Horsham.
The freezing rain intensified but the Hillians were made to feel even more uncomfortable on 52 minutes when O’Toole made it 5-0, Harding collecting his own half-cleared cross and playing the ball low into the box where Cundle’s strike was parried by the goalkeeper and O’Toole followed up to convert the rebound. There was another anxious moment for Talley on the hour when he could only push O’Toole’s free-kick back into the mix where he was bailed out by Tom Cadman, with Smith waiting to snap up the loose ball.
The ‘keeper fared rather better, just minutes later, when typical trickery from substitute Taurean Roberts created an opening for him to play the ball into the area where Smith’s first-time effort was well kept out by Talley. In such soggy conditions it was, perhaps, inevitable that there would be mistakes and when Merchant and Kelly appeared to get in each other’s way, with neither coming away with the ball, Doughty was left totally in the clear. However, electing to shoot first time, despite being given the freedom of the penalty area, he dragged his shot wide of Bentley’s right-hand post.
Another slip, this time from Metcalf, resulted in Miller’s snapshot being well fielded by Bentley who was equally well-placed to claim a low shot from Doughty who showed some clever footwork to turn inside Shelley to force an opening. A double substitution by the visitors saw Josh Short and Reggie Ward replace Harding and Jonah, and it was Short who had the Hillians’ next chance when he burst through a challenge by Kelly only to see his shot blocked by Shelley at the expense of a corner.
Burgess Hill were enjoying their best spell of the game and, when Merchant was tackled on the edge of the visitors’ ‘D’, a speedy counter-attack took the ball all the way up the other end with Doughty setting up Short for a thumping drive that came back off the crossbar and Miller dragged the loose ball wide. With six minutes remaining, the visitors completed their full quota of five substitutes by sending on Kevin Moreno-Gomez and Will Robinson for Ndozid and Aaron Smith-Joseph but it was the hosts who almost scored again when a wonderful diagonal, crossfield pass from Shelley was taken in his stride by Roberts who, although perhaps slightly fortunate to get through two covering defenders, hit his rising drive narrowly over the top.
A goal then would have been the cherry on the cake for a terrific Horsham performance but would have been rather harsh on Burgess Hill’s wonderful travelling support that never stopped singing throughout the contest.