With games coming thick and fast as we enter a busy January, Manager Adam Hinshelwood shook things up for the visit of our near neighbours.
Joel Cobran and Cam Tutt had a watching brief in the main stand, while Danny Barker, James Beresford, Callum Kealy and Jasper Pattenden all started on the bench. Meaning recalls for Luca Cocoracchio, Pat Webber, Will Seager, Dean Cox and Ollie Starkey, as Luke Robinson was handed his full debut.
Both teams were evenly matched to begin with, although the opening salvo saw a lovely piece of skill by Shamir Fenelon, on the byline, flicking the ball back for Doug Tuck to fire over inside the area for the visitors.
The Premier Division’s top scorer, Pearce then had his first sniff of goal when he pounced on a slip by Captain Jack (Brivio), burst into the box, held off the close attentions of Danny Dudley but couldn’t muster sufficient power in a shot that failed to trouble ‘keeper Sam Howes.
Hornets hit back thanks to Tuck teeing up Eddie Dsane, who created room for an effort that was comfortably dealt with by our own number one Harrison Male.
Shortly after reaching the midway point of the half, the former Woodside tenants went in front.
Lucas Rodrigues played a delightful pass to release Dsane, who promptly surged clear through the inside-left channel, from one end of the pitch to the other, before reaching the eighteen yard box. Whereupon he cut inside Cocoracchio to curl a beauty into the far top corner, as Male got a hand to the ball but not quite enough to keep it out.
Two minutes later, the Lincoln Green and Ambers looked to assert their authority on proceedings following Dsane’s robbing of Aarran Racine, only for the pacey frontman to be denied by the rapid reactions of Male, who was equally alert to recover and throw himself on top of the ball to prevent livewire Rodrigues getting a second bite at the cherry.
Reds were very much under the cosh and the half-time whistle would prove to be a blessed relief, though not until a final opportunity of the opening period had been crafted by an impressive visiting outfit.
Breaking up a home attack, the ball was eventually worked to Charlie Harris, who stung the palms of Male, twenty yards out without truly testing the man in blue.
A calamitous beginning to the second forty-five almost led to a second Horsham strike.
Marvin Armstong failed to deal with a high bouncer (the ball not a drugged up labrador from Aussie soap Neighbours) that forced Male to go all Hans Segers (pre-Mk Dons netminder) and head out of his penalty area. Unfortunately, his headed clearance only went as far as Tuck, forty yards away but, undeterred by the huge distance, the diminutive midfielder instantly returned it in the direction to whence it had come but, ultimately, wide of the target.
Thankfully, normal service soon resumed as good approach play by Marv resulted in him supplying Cox for a cross that Pearce nodded onto the roof of the net.
Worthing grew into the game after the break and Pearce wasn’t to be kept quiet for much longer; winning a soft-looking penalty when Rodrigues and Cox, at best, collided after the winger latched onto the result of some nifty footwork coupled with an incisive pass, all via Reece Myles-Meekums. Ollie doing his duty as usual by sending Howes the wrong way from twelve yards.
Soon afterwards, substitute Barker lost possession to Charlie Hester-Cook who broke into the box but his final effort presented Male with no more than a routine stop.
The match then took a dramatic turn following Racine’s long pass out to Pattenden on the right, as the first-half sub tricked his way past ex-Rebel Harvey Sparks; seeing Brivio thrust out a hand to hold-up his driven delivery. Despite Howes pulling off an outstanding point-blank parry from Pearce’s overhead kick, the referee had spotted the infringement and duly pointed to the spot, showing the red card initially to a mystified Dudley before consulting his assistant and reversing his original decision. Brivio made the lonely walk back to the dressing rooms, handing the armband over to the recently-introduced Tom Richards, with Pearce bagging his second penalty of the afternoon by tempting Howes to go the other way this time but the outcome remained the same.
Further drama sealed victory for the high-flying hosts thanks to a measured through ball by Myles-Meekums, in front of the away dugout, allowing replacement Dajon Golding to beat the offside trap and enjoy the freedom of The Crucial Environmental Stadium. His run ended by Howes who brought him down as he went round the grounded goalkeeper.
Just like teammate Rodrigues for the first spot-kick, Howes was cautioned for his indiscretion and proved powerless to prevent Pearce claiming the match ball. Although Stu Evans endured a nervous view from the bench as Ollie booted the ball high into the night sky in celebration.
Even a late chance for Dsane failed to dampen spirits, after he’d demonstrated admirable strength in shrugging off Racine, only to drag his attempt the wrong side of the far post.