Horsham hit Loxwood for six to continue their excellent pre-season form in blustery conditions last night.
A brace from Kieran Lavery, fine individual efforts from Charlie Harris, Alex Clark, Chris Smith, and a superb free kick from a trialist capped off a near-perfect result which saw George Bentley record another clean sheet in the Horsham net.
Perhaps the only dampener was Lewis Taylor’s miss from the penalty spot in the first half, continuing our wretched spot-kick record.
But there was still plenty to be encouraged about for the 20-odd Hornets fans in attendance, many of whom were watching their first game since March, with the new live football experience still taking some getting used to.
Despite an expected 7.30pm kick-off, floodlight failure down one side of the ground meant an earlier start than planned, but that had no effect on the visitors who almost made the breakthrough inside the first minute.
Harvey Sparks’ cross into the area found Lee Harding but the winger blazed wide.
Harding came close 20 minutes later when he turned his marker on the edge of the box before unleashing a rasping shot, but the Magpies ‘keeper dealt with it admirably.
Next it was Sparks’ turn to have a go himself, but his strike caught the wind as it spiralled out of play.
Jack Brivio then forced a super save from the ‘keeper and it was from the resulting corner in which the game found its opening goal.
An excellent delivery from Doug Tuck found Lavery who chested down in the box before firing a half-volley beyond the Loxwood shotstopper’s reach.
Horsham continued to knock at the door of their Southern Combination Premier opponents with a quick break as the ball was knocked wide to Harding who then rolled into Lavery but his strike straight at the ‘keeper denied him a quickfire double.
The away side then had an even better chance to double their lead after Lavery was struck by a high boot in the box, leaving the referee no choice but to award a penalty.
However, as is becoming an all too frequent occurrence, Taylor stepped up and smacked his effort off-target to continue our dismal record from the spot.
HT: Loxwood 0-1 Horsham
With the diminishing light becoming a worrying factor, there was an almost immediate turnaround with little to no half-time break.
But that did not rattle the Hornets, who picked up from where they left off moving forward with attack after attack, in the second period.
A foul on a Horsham trialist in the 53rd minute saw Horsham awarded a free kick from 30 yards out.
Dusting himself off, the trialist picked up the ball and went for goal himself, bending a super strike around the wall and into the back of the net to finally give us a two-goal cushion.
Di Paola made four changes before the restart with JJ O’Sullivan, Dylan Merchant, Harding and the goalscoring trialist replaced by Steve Metcalf, Will Miles, Clark and Smith.
Chances were few and far between for the home side but arguably their best came on the hour-mark.
A forward breached the Horsham back line and found himself one-on-one with Bentley, but the young Hornets ‘keeper closed him down and saved well.
Loxwood would have been rueing that missed chance as, just a minute later, the Hornets extended their lead.
A lovely pass from Metcalf found Harris who smashed a strike past the keeper at his near post.
Horsham made it four when Clark powered in on goal before squeezing in his effort on the keeper’s right-hand side, but the visitors added another less than a minute later.
A mistake from a defender allowed Smith time to assess his options, and, seeing the keeper off his line, Smith chose to chip him effortlessly from outside the area to make it five.
By now, the floodgates had opened, and Smith had a chance to grab his second. Spotting the keeper off his line once again, Sparks cheekily tried to replicate Smith’s earlier attempt with an audacious chip from the left wing.
Although cut out by a defender, a miscued header came down for Smith but his delayed effort was cleared off the line.
Lavery then missed a free header at the near post, from Metcalf’s cross, but it wouldn’t be long before he claimed his second, and Horsham’s sixth.
Clark’s cross to the back post found Lavery before the marksman turned on a dime and fired in first time for a delightful finish, clinching his brace.
As both sides played out the final few minutes in the driving rain, the referee eventually called time on another pleasing result for Di Paola’s side.
Another win, and another clean sheet, with plenty of eye-catching performances, attentions now turn to our first ever trip to Hartley Wintney on Saturday.
Supporters will be allowed to attend, with admission set at £5. For track and trace purposes, we ask all those attending to download the evePASS app on your smartphones to speed up the check-in process upon arrival.
If you do not have the app downloaded on your phone in advance, you will be required to fill in the track and trace form on paper.
Report by Matt Jones