There were, almost inevitably, a multitude of changes to the side that edged past Cray in the Velocity Trophy. Colbran, Starkey, Young, Myles-Meekums, Aguiar and Kealy all returned to the starting eleven, while Jelley, Budd, Pearce and Stevens made up the sub’s bench alongside newly-signed Colchester loanee, Marley Marshall-Miranda.
Nerves appeared to get the better of both sides in the first half, as yellow cards outweighed goalscoring opportunities.
Alex Parsons held off Harvey Sparks on the right-hand touchline and knocked the ball inside to the onrushing Joel Colbran; although his low centre was gathered at the near post by goalkeeper, George Bentley.
The first real go at goal came from the visitors, when former Reds’ full-back, Sparks dispossessed Colbran, deep inside his own half and took off down the left wing, His pass to the overlapping, Chris Smith was played into the danger zone, coming back to Sparks off Aarran Racine but, he could only pull his effort wide of the far upright.
We’d gone past halfway in the opening period when the hosts finally got in on the ‘action’, with Parsons robbing a hesitant Ben Dyett, allowing Reece Myles-Meekums to burst clear, into the box, where his low, drilled attempt sailed inches past the back stick and out for a goal-kick.
The only other – yet main – talking point came when Jasper Pattenden drifted into the middle off the left flank and sent Captain, Parsons racing away, only for him to be pulled back by the already-booked, Sparks. Despite his protestations, the home-grown left-back eventually made the walk back to the dressing rooms.
It came as somewhat of a surprise that, just four minutes into the second-half, the game had it’s opening goal.
Pattenden cut in off the left and played a delightful reverse pass to Parsons, on the edge of the area; whereupon the Skipper made room for a shot that looked like it deceived Bentley as the ‘keeper slipped and the ball squirmed underneath him.
The effects of the previous day’s indulgences had suddenly worn off and shortly afterwards, Meekums and Parsons combined well on the right, with Meeky coming inside to find Callum Kealy, only for him to turn and see his effort blocked by Will Miles.
Horsham hit back when a misdirected header by Racine fell kindly for Jack Brivio to half-volley towards the target but, ultimately, not threaten it.
Bentley then showed his true colours by diving athletically to his right to turn away a Jesse Starkey free-kick that had been curled around the defensive wall.
Carl Rushworth eventually got his hands dirty by holding a tame Harry Mills attempt, after the number eleven had moved into a more central position off the left-hand side.
Both teams made changes either side of the hour mark and it was one of them, Ollie Pearce, who did well to hold the ball up before sending Colbran scampering away down the right but, unfortunately, there was nobody waiting to take advantage of a good, low cross.
Another replacement, Fin Stevens hadn’t been on the pitch for more than a few minutes when he linked-up impressively with Ricky Aguiar; taking an inch-perfect reverse ball in his stride and spraying it out to Pattenden, who came inside but could only find the hands of former Reds’ loanee, Bentley by the base of his near post.
An Alex Kelly present gave Meekums the opportunity to work space for a shot, though, sadly, not on target before the Aguiar-Stevens partnership nearly bore fruit once more and Meekums saw his danger zone delivery cleared.
The final ten minutes or so swayed the match completely in the host’s favour when, firstly, Dyett was adjudged to be the last man when he, harshly, was deemed to have brought down Pearce just outside the box in the inside-right channel and received a straight red for his troubles. Replays indicate he may well have got to the ball slightly ahead of the striker.
Two more nails were then hammered into the Hornet’s coffin by Joe Shelley – ironically on as a sub in the aftermath of their earlier dismissal – with a subsequent match-clinching second goal gifted to an ever-grateful Pearce, followed by a stoppage-time third for good measure.
Ollie dispossessed a dithering Shelley twenty yards out and dinked the ball over the outcoming, Bentley from the eighteen yard line, while Darren Budd’s raking pass down the right to Meeky led to a cheeky backheel by Aguiar dissecting Lea Dawson and Mills, presenting Reece with a simple pass into the six yard box that a predatory Pearce wasn’t about to pass up.