Hornchurch show Horsham why they're many people's Isthmian title favourites

Horsham’s long wait for an opening day victory continues after a first half double by Liam Nash sent the pre-season title favourites back to Essex with all three points, writes Mark Wells.
Jack Brivio / Picture: Steve RobardsJack Brivio / Picture: Steve Robards
Jack Brivio / Picture: Steve Robards

Not since 2013 have the Hornets kicked off a campaign with a win and the writing was on the wall from the moment the former Gillingham striker put the Urchins in front after fifteen minutes of a first half they largely dominated.

A disallowed goal and a second for Nash, after half an hour, suggested Dom Di Paola’s side might be in for a heavy defeat. But their patched-up side, that was without Harvey Sparks, Will Miles, Danny Dudley, Doug Tuck, Alex Laing and Shamir Fenelon, battled back well in the second half and, but for a linesman’s flag, might have produced an unlikely comeback.

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This was always going to be a tough fixture with which to open the new Pitching-In Isthmian League programme, with the visitors still buoyant from their magnificent FA Trophy success back in May, and the Urchins’ confidence was obvious from the outset. In just the fourth minute, a quick exchange between Nash and Chris Dickson saw Nash’s goalbound effort deflected behind. Just a minute later, Nash went closer still still when he got behind the home defence and took the ball round Sam Howes only to put his shot against the outside of the post.

But the Hornets weren’t without their own threat and there was cause for concern in the Hornchurch box when Jack Brivio’s sliderule pass gave Lee Harding the space to drill an inviting ball across the face of goal with no-one able to apply a telling touch. Rob O’Toole ought to have done better when, having done well to lay the ball out wide to Charlie Harris, he failed to wrap his foot around the return pass where a decent contact would surely have resulted in the game’s opening goal.

Dickson thought that honour had gone his way on thirteen minutes when he converted skipper Lewwis Spence’s clipped pass, but the highly-rated forward had strayed beyond his marker and was flagged offside. However, the Trophy holders had just two minutes to wait before making the breakthrough and it was a moment to forget for debutant Howes, whose poor clearance went straight to Dickson and his off-load to the overlapping Joe Christou presented an unmarked Nash with a simple tap-in.

The former England Youth goalkeeper had little time to dwell on his mistake as, moments later, Dickson was somehow afforded the time to crash a shot at goal where Howes stood firm to deny the striker a third goal in as many games against the Hornets. Lucas Rodrigues had the home crowd on their feet when he thumped home the rebound after visiting stopper Noah Phillips could only push out a well-struck effort from Tom Richards but, like Dickson before him, his celebrations were cut short by a clear offside call.

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The Brazilian’s frustrations would be compounded inside five minutes when Nash, who scored seven goals during that epic FA Trophy run, doubled his side’s lead. He had just been denied a certain goal by a last-ditch challenge from Alex Malins but remained alert from the resulting corner, swooping to head in from a couple of yards out after Howes’ close range reaction save had denied Dickson at the near post.

Horsham did their best to hit back, with Brivio central to their best efforts. The captain’s rising long range effort failed to test Phillips but the ‘keeper would have been relieved to see his powerful header clear the crossbar from a Harris corner, as did a more difficult chance provided from Harding’s centre.

But the half belonged to Hornchurch, and to Nash who twice went close to completing his hat-trick before the break; the first from a twenty yard free-kick that Howes touched over the bar and then, in stoppage time, an acrobatic overhead kick from Spence’s cross which went inches beyond the far post.

H/T Horsham 0 Hornchurch 2

The Urchins began the second half in the ascendancy, with Gary Charman forcing Dickson to smash an angled drive over the top, before the hosts began to take control. Charman will feel he ought to have done better when he got on the end of a Harris free-kick only to uncharacteristically head the ball over the crossbar and then a good move down the Horsham right saw Harding’s low cross cut out by Phillips with substitute Luke Robinson, on for Rodrigues, waiting to pounce.

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Harding was proving a willing outlet for the Hornets’ attacks and, after Richards and Brivio had combined to send him racing away once more, another inviting cross went begging as it fizzed across the front of goal. Perhaps content to defend their two-goal cushion, Hornchurch offered very little in attack in the second half although Nash might have increased their advantage when he found himself alone inside the Horsham penalty area, only to run the ball out of play having been forced wide by Howes.

A chance for Robinson at the other end saw his right-foot shot deflected behind for a corner that was headed over by Brivio, before a halt in play enabled both sides to take a drinks break on what was a hot and tiring afternoon. With a quarter of an hour left to play, an opportunistic long range effort by Dickson looked to be dipping beneath the crossbar before Howes stuck out a hand to palm the ball behind for a corner.

But the hosts continued to take the game to their opponents and thought they had given themselves a lifeline on eighty minutes when Charman got on the end of a Harding corner, his header going into the net off a defender. But as Charman wheeled away in celebration, his delight was soon extinguished by the linesman who ruled that Chris Smith had been stood fractionally behind the defender on the goal-line and the goal was chalked off.

Horsham’s luck continued to desert them when, in the closing stages, a low strike by Brivio was turned on to the post by Phillips to ensure the visitors got their campaign up and running with a clean sheet and three points on the road.

Match sponsor: Mark Butler

Match report: Mark Wells

Match highlights available at HornetsTV

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