Horsham returned empty-handed from a long midweek journey to Essex after falling to a frustrating defeat to East Thurrock United on Tuesday night.
Luke Illsley headed the home side in front after 12 minutes but the Hornets were back on level terms thanks to a blistering strike from Charlie Harris on the half-hour mark.
Horsham dominated the remainder of the half but went into half-time behind when Zenon Stylianides fired a strike in off the post to put the Rocks in front against the run of play.
Stylianides grabbed his second on 52 minutes to give the hosts a two-goal cushion, but Harris reduced the deficit once again with a stunning long-distance free-kick.
However, the visitors were unable to find an equaliser before the full-time whistle, ensuring their opponents picked up their first competitive win since January.
Horsham headed to Rookery Hill in high spirits following their 4-0 demolition of Brightlingsea Regent on Saturday, and would have hoped to build a consistent run of form.
And facing a side who were on the receiving end of a 4-0 defeat to another Sussex side, Bognor Regis Town, at the weekend, would have given a lot of comfort and optimism to the dozens of Horsham fans who made the 120-mile round trip.
There was only one change from the weekend with Lee Harding making his return to the starting line-up, following a short-term injury, to replace Harvey Sparks who was left out through illness.
The Hornets started well with Jack Brivio looping a header over before Reece Hall fizzed an effort inches wide of the post after eight minutes.
East Thurrock struck the woodwork when Ezekiel Bademosi sent a header crashing off the bar, beating Brad House to a cross, and he came close once again, twisting and turning before a strike was deflected wide.
But the home side edged themselves in front from the resulting set piece when Illsley rose highest, planting a firm header past House, who was unconvincing in his claim.
Rocks keeper Arthur Janata prevented Rob O’Toole from finding an instant response, making a terrific diving save after Harris whipped a cracking delivery onto the edge of the area with O’Toole powering a header goalwards.
Horsham continued to pepper the goal with Chris Smith and Lee Harding both having numerous chances to get a shot away, and despite East Thurrock failing to effectively clear their lines, they were able to get crucial blocks in to deny the equaliser.
O’Toole went down in the area, cueing loud penalty appeals from the visiting supporters but the claims were swiftly waved away by the referee.
The Hornets drew level in the 29th minute when Brivio switched a great reverse pass to the feet of Harris who drove a low shot like an arrow into the bottom corner from 25 yards.
But the equaliser didn’t come without consequence with Brivio pulling up with a hamstring injury, just as he had ten minutes earlier, forcing an early change with Kieran Monlouis his replacement.
Continuing to press forward, Horsham itched to take the lead, and came close when a fantastic cross from Tom Day was punched clear by Janata, just as O’Toole was surging into the area.
Horsham came close again when a low-angled strike from O’Toole took a slight deflection causing the ball to roll out for a corner, which came to nothing.
Dead-ball specialist Harris almost added another to his collection, striking the bar with a 30-yard free-kick which hung in the air for an eternity before dropping down, still in play, in front of O’Toole, before eventually bouncing over.
With half-time approaching, and the visitors clearly on top, Horsham were dealt a harsh body blow three minutes before the break.
Stylianides raced clear down the right flank, beating the offside flag, before firing a sweet strike off the post and into the back of the net.
HT: East Thurrock 2-1 Horsham
Undeservedly behind at the restart, Dom Di Paola’s side would have hoped to level things up as soon as possible but they could not settle in the opening exchanges of the second period.
Bademosi outmuscled Harding, firing low and straight at House, before East Thurrock grabbed their third in the 52nd minute.
Once again, Bademosi was proving the danger man as he sent a fine cross into the mixer, which was turned in by Stylianides for his brace.
Facing a mountain to climb, Di Paola looked to switch things up, replacing Hall for Lewis Taylor.
Sandwiched in between bookings for Jordan Peart and Michael Agboola, Harris had another free kick palmed away by Janata, but it wasn’t long before Harris’ efforts for a second were rewarded.
A foul 30-yards out saw Harris step up to take. Although it looked too far even for him, Harris could not have hit his effort any cleaner, firing through the wall and beyond Janata’s outstretched fingertips, to notch his sixth goal of the season – the most of anyone in the Isthmian Premier Division so far.
That was the catalyst Horsham needed, sparking a resurgence for an equaliser which, with just under half-an-hour to go, looked more likely.
A deep goal kick from House caused trouble for Janata who dropped it with O’Toole challenging, but he recovered well, saving Monlouis’s stinging follow up.
The Rocks’ Jonathan Nzengo got the better of Harding, before crossing into Nebay Haile who flicked it up but found his shot blocked by Dylan Merchant.
A Horsham attack looked promising as Harding skipped past two East Thurrock men before sending a cross into the area, which cannoned off the defender after almost reaching O’Toole.
The Hornets were awarded another free-kick, although this time out wide. Swung-in by Harris, the ball fell to Merchant who couldn’t wrap his foot round it
Into the closing stages, both Smith and Monlouis tried their luck from distance, but both efforts were blocked. Monlouis then had a chance to net a last-minute equaliser but his near-post header was batted down by Janata.
But it all proved too little too late as, much like the loss to Carshalton Athletic eight days earlier, the Hornets could not force the ball over the line, just when they needed to most.
Earning their first three points of the season, the Rocks lifted themselves off the bottom of the table with the win, while Horsham dropped two places to 12th after Hornchurch beat high-flying Cheshunt 3-0.
And it’s Hornchurch who are our next opponents with the Hornets returning to Essex this Saturday.
Advance tickets are now on sale for this game. Tickets will also be available to purchase at the gate, but supporters are encouraged to buy them online to avoid any disappointment.
Tickets cost £12 (adults), £7 (concessions) and £3 (U16s). Tickets are free for U12s.
Buy yours HERE.