Following Tuesday night’s Sussex Senior Cup victory at Bognor, it was all change again as the Reds welcomed in-form Hornchurch to The Crucial Environmental Stadium.
Luca Cocoracchio, Pat Webber, Dean Cox, Marvin Armstrong and Dajon Golding were all back on the bench, leading to recalls for Cam Tutt, Danny Barker, Ollie Pearce, Callum Kealy and Joel Colbran. The previously cup-tied James Bersford was also welcomed back into the fold along with Jesse Starkey.
This clash between two promotion hopefuls took a while to warm up; twenty-four minutes ticking by before either goal was seriously threatened, when a spell of keep-ball came to an abrupt conclusion as Jasper Pattenden’s pass back to Aarran Racine saw the Skipper immediately put under pressure and robbed of possession by Tobi Joseph. He quickly played inside to Liam Nash who, in turn, found centre-half Wraight free on the left-hand side of the penalty area. His shot deflected back out to Captain Lewwis Spence but he could only lash wide of the target, just outside the ‘d’.
Wraight had another chance shortly afterwards, though his low effort from around twenty yards was comfortably dealt with by goalkeeper Harrison Male.
Reece Myles-Meekums then had the hosts opening opportunity, after some neat approach play between Starkey and Pattenden led to the former sending over a cross that Meeky headed onto the crossbar, as the Purps’ rearguard momentarily switched off.
The dome of Pearce met with a similar outcome, less than ten minutes before the break, following Beresford picking out the league’s leading scorer via a right wing delivery and Ollie nodding narrowly the wrong side of the far post.
Up to this point, neither netminder had been truly tested, until Starkey drew a top-draw save out of a flying Joe Wright, once Pearce had turned provider by pulling the ball back from the byline to tee-up his teammate twenty-two yards out.
Early into the second period it was the Essex-based guests who were fastest out of the blocks.
A quick break resulting in Joseph getting the better of half-time substitute Armstrong and racing clear, finally firing at Male who was able to gather safely at the base of his near upright.
Home fans didn’t have to wait much longer for the deadlock to be broken, with Worthing working the ball nicely from right to left, culminating in Pattenden taking on Kealy’s short-range pass. JP then teasing and tormenting Mickey Parcell before curling a beauty out of the reach of Wright and into the far top corner.
Just past the hour, it might have been two. A foul by Nathan Bertram-Cooper saw the home team awarded a free-kick, not far from the corner flag on the right, that Starkey picked out Racine towards the back stick with. Only for the dominant defender to see his headed attempt take a nick off opposite number Bertram-Cooper and calmly collected by Wright.
The same pairing came together again a further ten into the contest but NB-C couldn’t quite keep his header down.
Golding, on for Kealy with twenty still to go, may have put the seal on three more precious points as the game reached it’s latter stages.
Unfortunately however, an untimely slip in the eighteen yard box meant that Dajon’s strong run into the danger zone, on the end of a Racine through ball, would end in a close-range stop by Wright and proceedings remaining on a knife-edge.
Time appeared to have virtually run out for the high-flying visitors, who came into this fixture on the back of an eight-game winning run in the league.
That all changed during three minutes of an indicated minimum of four to be added on.
Man between the sticks Wright pumped a dead-ball delivery from inside his own half towards the hosts goal, where Armstrong’s misdirected back header, on the eighteen yard line, was equally inadvertently nodded down by Colbran; falling perfectly for a grateful Wraight, level with the penalty spot, to calmly side-foot home and send the travelling hordes into a frenzy.
Despite suffering such a devastatingly late blow, Colbran almost made amends for a rare error.
Webber, off the bench in place of goalscorer Pattenden for less than sixty seconds, saw his low left flank delivery loop up into the cold night air off Ollie Muldoon and return to sender. Pat then patiently passed across to an expectant Colbran, only for Jordan Clark to steal the ball off his toes as he shaped to shoot and the rebound to fall to the tall left-back once more, following Tutt beating another late replacement in the form of Ellis Brown, to a high half-clearance but, alas, that would prove to be that. A short, sharp shrill of the referee’s whistle bringing the late drama and match to a gut-wrenching cessation.