Wednesday May 8 2024

Horsham 3 - Hastings Utd 0

Horsham
Meekums 6' Fenelon 33' Ajakaiye 68'
3
Hastings Utd
0

Sussex Senior Cup Final
American Express Stadium, Falmer
Wednesday May 8 2024
Attendance: 4869

Horsham are champions of Sussex for the eighth time. Let me repeat, just so it sinks in, Horsham are champions of Sussex again.

Ending a long 48-year wait, the Hornets lifted the Sussex Transport Senior Cup trophy in front of 4,869 fans – the highest-attended final since the Amex Stadium’s inauguration in 2011 – after comfortably overcoming Hastings United for the third time this season.

Reece Meekums took just seven minutes to write his name into Horsham folklore, curling in the opener, before Shamir Fenelon nodded the Hornets even further in front just after the half-hour mark.

Elation then turned into pandemonium in the 67th minute as Daniel Ajakaiye haunted his former club to wrap up an evening which will undoubtedly live long in the memory.

An occasion such as this is difficult to summarise accurately, for it’s tough to replicate the spine-tingling, hair-raising, quite honestly surreal atmosphere which provided the backing track for what was, by all accounts, a totally dominant performance. But you best believe I’ll try.

Horsham manager Dom Di Paola has made no secret that lifting the Sussex Senior Cup has long been one of his personal career ambitions, matching the club’s aspirations too as the 2024 showpiece marked the first time in 18 years that Horsham had even reached the final.

And the first indication of how determined he was to break his duck, was in the team sheet.

Trusting all but two of the same starting XI from last week’s agonising play-off semi final defeat, Di Paola put his faith in Lee Harding, returning from suspension, in place of Isaac Philpot who dropped to the bench. While he also opted for Fenelon over Jack Mazzone, as the former Irish under-21 international returned to the club where his football career began.

As for Hastings, boss Chris Agutter hoped to avenge his side’s previous two defeats to their opponents this season, making six changes from their goalless draw at Canvey Island in their final league game.

Jamal Lubanga, Sam Adams, Sam Gale, skipper Adam Lovatt and top scorer Davide Rodari, with 34 goals in all competitions to his name, all returned to the starting line-up.

The music was blaring, the sun was shining, the seagulls – appropriately – were soaring around a resplendent Amex Stadium, and a cacophony of noise greeted both sets of teams as proceedings got underway.

And, as seen in their previous two encounters, Horsham’s high press was as obvious as it was immediate in the opening five minutes. And they would soon reap their rewards.

An incisive passing move involving James Hammond, Lucas Rodrigues and Meekums saw the latter poke through to Rodrigues who returned the favour, threading the ball quickly through for Meekums to curl round Charlie Grainger and silence the U’s fans who, mere moments before, had been loudly expressing their views on the Hornets’ apparently underwhelming support.

It was a delicious irony not lost on Meekums whose cupped-ear knee-slide in front of the Hastings faithful did little to improve relations.

John Ufuah, by far United’s brightest spark throughout the evening, looked to nullify the arrears as he picked up Danny Barker’s loose pass and outmuscled Ajakaiye before knocking it through to Jordy Mongoy who forced a corner, after Harding’s block.

However, the resulting set-piece ended up in the south stand following Lovatt’s wild attempt.

But Horsham quickly asserted their dominance, gliding through the Hastings midfield on numerous occasions. Hammond, metronomic in the centre, capitalised on a loose touch before sliding it to Fenelon whose cross just escaped Ajakaiye.

Another cut-back soon after, this time from Meekums, also evaded the Hornets’ top scorer but it was clear the space Horsham were creating out wide was proving a serious problem for their East Sussex counterparts.

A communication mishap saw Hammond and Meekums collide when reaching for the same ball, after Rodrigues worked hard to reclaim possession and Fenelon did even better to keep the attack alive.

But, after a brief interlude in which Harvey Sparks hobbled off with a pulled quad to be replaced by Philpot, Horsham soon notched their second.

A sumptuous back-post delivery from Harding found a leaping Rodrigues who nodded back across goal for Fenelon to glance in from close-range.

The comfort of a two-goal cushion signalled a few sighs of relief but there were a few hearts in mouths when Jack Brivio’s misplaced header fell to Rodari who strode forward but was taken out by the Horsham midfielder on the edge of the box, earning Brivio the game’s first booking.

Hastings fans rose to their feet as Rodari stepped up, but he could only curl the set-piece over, to their noticeable frustration.

Di Paola’s side looked to make it a convincing first-half scoreline when Fenelon was slipped through by Harding, only to arrow his strike straight at Grainger, but they would have to wait until the second period to make the result a certainty.

Half Time: Hastings United 0 Horsham 2

Horsham’s control in the first half appeared the key difference. Their composure at the back unanswered, their intensity going forward unmatched. And, now just 45 minutes away from ending that 48-year drought, they knew if they could replicate that again, the trophy would be theirs.

On the evidence of the first five minutes after the restart, that replication almost came to fruition. A whipped effort from Meekums crashed off the post, followed by Ajakaiye rolling an attempt wide after being played through one-on-one, and the same man then saw a long-range effort blocked.

But Hastings were soon ramping up their own pressure as Ufuah’s dinked cross forced a backpedalling Lewis Carey to scoop away. Ufuah then showed a burst of pace to shift past Rodrigues but Jack Strange failed to break a sweat in halting the danger.

The match was almost wrapped up on 56 minutes after Meekums latched on to Ajakaiye’s cute pass, but the wide-man’s stumble after rounding Grainger just prolonged the wait for an inevitable third.

A lofted free kick from Strange was brought down impeccably by Fenelon who turned Walker, fed through Ajakaiye, and the former Hastings man slotted in.

Cue Lardy bedlam.

The packed section of Horsham fans rose to their feet in admiration. Few travellers would have expected it to be quite so one-sided but they were being treated to an unbelievable performance and they responded with equally unbelievable support.

If ever you wondered just how much this competition means to these fans, all you had to do was listen. And with each pinpoint Horsham pass, the volume only ever grew louder.

The olé threshold was broken as the Hornets concocted a 14-pass move to set up Ajakaiye who bent an effort wide from an offside position.

Hastings were tiring fast, and Horsham could smell blood. Despite this, the U’s still carved out their best chance in the 74th minute when Ufuah’s deep cross met Tommy Fagg, but his unmarked header rose over the bar.

More half-chances fell the Hornets’ way, but really, this game was done and dusted, and Horsham fans could really begin to enjoy themselves.

For Hastings, the full-time whistle was a mercy; their torment was over. For Horsham, it was ecstasy.

They had done it. This incredible group of players had done it. Dom Di Paola had done it. This ridiculous, bonkers, historic, 62-game season had culminated to the pinnacle finish it deserved.

Brivio, who just seven days earlier was disconsolate having missed a decisive penalty in the Isthmian play-off semi against Chatham, could now lead the celebrations as he hoisted the trophy aloft.

For this was the final confirmation of Di Paola’s crowning glory and Horsham retaking their title as the pride of Sussex.

Match report by Matt Jones

Match photos from John Lines and Natalie Mayhew, view each photo gallery below:

Match Action 1

Match Action 2

Fan photos

Bonus Celebrations

Re-live every glorious moment, courtesy of Sussex County FA/Your Instant Replay

Horsham

  • 1Lewis Carey
  • 2Lee Harding
  • 3Harvey Sparks
  • 4Danny Barker
  • 5Jack Strange
  • 6Jack Brivio
  • 7James Hammond
  • 8Lucas Rodrigues
  • 9Shamir Fenelon
  • 10Daniel Ajakaiye
  • 11Reece Meekums
Substitutes
  • 12Isaac Philpot
  • 14Bobby Price
  • 15Doug Tuck
  • 16Charlie Hester-Cook
  • 17Jack Mazzone

Hastings Utd

  • 1Charlie Grainger
  • 4Jamal Lubanga
  • 7Davide Rodari
  • 8Sam Adams
  • 10John Ufuah
  • 11Tommie Fagg
  • 12JJ Walker
  • 16Adam Lovatt
  • 17Freddie Legg
  • 18Jordy Mongoy
  • 19Sam Gale
Substitutes
  • 2Nikolai Krokhin
  • 9Ansu Janneh
  • 14Will Harley
  • 15Joe Clifford
  • 20Elliot Jenks

5 thoughts on “Hastings United (N) – SSCF

  1. Clive williams says:

    Fabulous night. Fabulous result. Well done everybody from manager, coaches, squad, a first class effort all season. Not forgetting the Fabulous fans who were just brilliant.
    Its been a long time but well worth the wait. Roll on next season.
    WE KNOW WHAT WE ARE.

  2. G dog says:

    Victory for the West over the East. The setting Sun county proved to strong for the Rising Sun county.

  3. Simon Clark says:

    Brilliant. Well done Horsham. Sounded like a very dominant display by a team who saved their best till last. Wish I could have been there. Well done again.

  4. Alan Newman says:

    Meekums to curl round Charlie Grainger and silence the U’s fans who, mere moments before, had been loudly expressing their views on the Hornets’ apparently underwhelming support. ” At least we stayed until the end…..well done to all at the club!!

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