Upon arriving in Lancing High Street it seemed that most of the residents had heeded the advice of the local radio weather forecaster this morning, remaining indoors with “the heating turned on, a cup of tea and a digestive biscuit.” It was something of a shame. Cup fever may have arrived in the town, but if it had it was well hidden- although it might perhaps emerge into the gloom the following day, when their own club take on former Bostik favourites Hendon in a replay, after being returned to the competition following the extremely unfortunate removal of our very own Phoenix Sports.
Today’s cup excitement was courtesy of Horsham, and whilst it would be unfair to say that Lancing was ambivalent to the Hornets cup exploits- it’s the kind of place that would shrug and look the other way if a naked man was running down the road throwing fifty pound notes (I know, I tried it)- it certainly was doing its best to hide any animation it may be feeling. At half past one the only excitement was being provided by a pair of Staffordshire Bull Terriers barking at a squirrel, whilst two smokers- who the Royal British Legion Club seemed to have put inside their own cage- looked on.
The big news in Lancing this week sadly wasn’t Horsham’s FA Cup exploits (nor even those of its own side), but the fact that the town was to be the location of the very first Ikea in Sussex. The A27 drew to a standstill in celebration. It’ll be doing that far more often after the world’s biggest meatball outlet comes to town. And to ensure it’ll fit in with the local community, the Swedish giants are expected to make their store yellow and blue, in honour of the other club to play at Culver Road.
Queuing in the rain
Horsham supporters aren’t fans of the A27 (their feelings on Ikea went unremarked), and, of course, weren’t surprised that their cup exploits weren't being shouted from the rooftops around Culver Road. They wouldn’t expect to be big news in Lancing. It isn’t their real home, after all- their new stadium is well underway just off the A24, and will be finished soon so long as they didn’t buy it flatpacked and then find the Allen key missing. But inside the ground there was a feeling of positivity that hadn’t always been present amongst the Lardy Army in recent years. A feeling that, just perhaps, good things now came wrapped in yellow and green packaging.
You’ll recognise a Horsham fan these days by their lack of fingernails. Their side have recently become the Bostik League Comeback Kings. During the last fortnight they’ve come from two goals down to win on two occasions, against Heybridge Swifts in the last round of this competition- from two goals down inside fourteen minutes to 4-3 victors- and against Phoenix Sports in midweek, a match where they took slightly longer to concede twice, eighteen minutes, before defeating their high-flying opponents 3-2. The last victory was their eighth in all competitions so far this season, and they’ve lost only one of their last seven- to Hastings United, who seem to be beating almost everyone at the moment.
Manager Dom Di Paula, three and a half years into his reign at the Hornets, seems to finally have the settled side he’s been craving for that entire period. At this point last season- a year tomorrow his side were losing 8-0 to Cray Wanderers in the FA Trophy- his squad was missing thirteen players due to injury and suspension. Prior to a narrow home defeat two days later against Carshalton Athletic he stood by the perimeter and recounted the names of those unavailable with the demeanour of a man about to be taken out to the firing squad. It was good to see him far more cheerful before today’s match, and he had good reason to be. Despite talking about his side in the role of underdogs to the local press- and given that opponents Poole Town are a league above the Hornets and were only narrowly relegated from National League South last season, with good reason- Horsham were in good form and would have been confident of providing an upset.
The Dolphins, however, had good reason to believe themselves strong enough to see off any challenge that Horsham could pose. Six-nil winners over Farnborough last weekend, including a hat trick from Korrey Henry, a striker on loan from Yeovil Town, they had defeated Cinderford Town in the last round of this competition the previous Saturday and seemed to have bounced back from a tricky first half of September, a period which saw them hit hard by injuries and lose to our former favourites Staines Town and Hendon. Many of those out had now returned, although they did lose defender Will Spetch with a knee injury on Saturday- and Henry couldn’t play either, as the Glovers might need him in the cup themselves. Long serving manager Tom Killick, speaking to the Bournemouth Echo about this match, said:
Up for the (tin foil) cup!
“It could have been a better draw but it could have been a lot worse. We are drawn against a side who are lower down the pyramid, albeit only one league.
We feel it gives us a fighting chance and we have to take it. It’s all very well thinking it’s a good opportunity for us but it only becomes that if we perform properly.
“Our away form is very good so we are not too concerned about being away from home.”
The away fans sheltering in the bar before the match were in god spirits, murdering Hey Jude with lyrics that McCartney never imagined in his wildest dreams. Outside, however, another away fan, Steve, was enjoying a burger and not quite so full of positivity- nor beer.
“Hopefully Poole will win, but it’s the cup- and as we all know, anything can happen.” Asked about the massacre of Farnborough, he expressed his surprise with the outcome. “We played well, but they weren’t anywhere near as bad as the scoreline would suggest. Everything we hit seemed to go in. But it’s a big confidence booster.“
Hornets fan Derek was also a realist. Asked about their prospects for success over the campaign, he explained that he’d be “happy with the top ten, and perhaps we might just be good enough for a play-off challenge,” but was far more focused on the difference that having a new ground for next season would make. Focusing on the game we were about to watch, he suggested that Horsham “could sneak it,” but was quite clear that they weren’t favourites. But he had a lot to be happy about. “We had a slow start with a bit of bad luck- and we won’t talk about the Haywards Heath match- but we’ve been very good recently.”
As we approached kick off the rain, which had been falling persistently for quite a while, intensified. The stand at Culver Road is very shallow, and the wind, blowing from the direction of the South Downs, was ensuring that the downpour reached every single seat. But at least those using the stand got a little shelter. The Poole Town fans- holding aloft two tin foil FA Cups- behind the left hand goal were getting drenched, as were their Horsham counterparts (minus faux silverware) at the other end. The pitch at the HQ of the Sussex County FA is 3G, but there was little doubt that the amount of water falling onto it was going to hamper the game somewhat.
Steve the Dolphin
It did. For the entire 90 minutes.
Horsham got the game underway, and were behind within two minutes, striker Richard Gillespie shaking off his marker and getting his head to a near post cross, glancing home.
The home side didn’t even blink, their supporters giving little more than a shrug of the shoulders. They’re used to conceding early goals in these parts.
The Hornets responded quickly. Tyrell Richardson-Brown set up James McElligott, who fired early, but high. A minute later and skipper Will Hoare made himself space at the right of the Poole box, but his cross was so overhit that his teammates would have needed to be nine feet tall to have any chance of getting on the end of it. But still, it was a start.
It was a start that was almost ended shortly afterwards. Luke Roberts fired wide for Poole after some lackadaisical defending, and then Gillespie got free at the edge of the box, Hornets keeper Josh Pelling out of position, and moved the ball along the edge of the area before slipping and falling flat on his face. He should- perhaps would, if not for the water on the surface- have done better. When Marvin Brooks header was cleared off the line by Steve Metcalf on 14 minutes the home side couldn’t really have complained had they been two, or even three, behind.
Derek the Hornet
The Dolphins were quicker to every ball at this point. Applying pressure every time they lost possession, driving forward quickly when they had it, they gave Horsham little chance to find any fluidity and but for some steadfast defending would surely have scored again. But they didn’t, and Horsham slowly found their feet.
As we approached the final five minutes of the half, the home side finally applied some sustained pressure. Hoare and Richardson-Brown were industrious without finding an opening, and then an overlapping run from Joey Taylor led to their first shot on target, and it was a good one, forcing Luke Cairney to save with his feet and earning a corner. That corner was lofted to the back post, clearing everyone in the box, and Joe Shelley rose, sending a looping header back across the area. The defence looked up, as it drifted over their heads before dropping into the far corner of the net. 1-1, on the stroke of half time. The whistle blew, and 22 players scurried off at top speed in an attempt to temporarily escape from the elements.
Half time did nothing for the pace of the game. It was fifteen minutes before the first chance of note in the second period, Jordan Alawode-Williams miscuing a shot comically wide, and after that the Hornets had the best of the game. Richardson-Brown forced a save with a curling shot, which skidded across the wet surface, and Hoare went on a dangerous run before firing just wide of the far post. Horsham were now playing the way that Poole had in the first half, closing down and pressing whilst the Dolphins struggled to find time on the ball. Rob O’Toole, on as a substitute, was putting himself about and unsettling the away back line, and his colleagues were looking to profit from this, but without quite making an effort count.
With four minutes to go another substitute, Harvey Sparks, burst through and shot just wide of the far post. Sparks had the final chance of the game, too, just before the end of the five minutes of added time, firing over from the edge of the box. But the second half ended without any further addition to the scoreline, and it’s off to the Dorset coast on Tuesday night to do it all again.
The teams emerge into the murk
“A bit murky with occasional brightness.”That was how the radio forecaster had earlier described the weather, but she could have also have been describing the game that followed. The moments of brightness were worth waiting for, but to some extent they were few and far between. But Horsham are not down, they are not out, and they should head to Dorset with confidence. They proved that if they went toe to toe with their higher placed opponents they could match them- and perhaps, given their recent form in front of goal, they might yet have enough to win.
They might want to start playing before the clock ticks around to twenty, mind you.