Horsham FC v Barnsley FC in the FA Cup: Tykes replay probably the ‘highest point’ of Hornets boss Dominic Di Paola’s managerial career
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Goals from Shamir Fenelon, James Hammond and Tom Richards stunned the promotion-chasing League One club in a roller coaster 3-3 draw at Oakwell, and earned the Hornets a replay.
Now a sellout Camping World Community Stadium crowd will look to roar Horsham to victory - and a second round meeting with League Two outfit Sutton United - in front of the ITV cameras.
Di Paola has truly written himself into Horsham folklore during his nine seasons in charge: he oversaw Horsham’s first league title for 20 years as they won the SCFL Premier Division in 2016; guided the Hornets back to the Isthmian Premier after a seven year absence in 2019; won Horsham’s first-ever Isthmian League Cup title in 2022; and became the first manager in the club’s history to take the Hornets to the first round proper twice following last month’s fourth qualifying round win over Dorking Wanderers.
But Di Paola admitted taking on the Tykes at home in front of a national audience was his crowning achievement.
He said: “We’ve had loads of good moments. We’re really lucky to have achieved what we’ve achieved since we’ve been here, but this is high up there.
“The TV element is something we’ve never had before, so it’s going to be something different. There’s a chance for family and friends to watch us on TV, which is mad when you think about it.
“This will probably be the highest point [of my career].”
This evening’s replay will be broadcast live on ITV4 and ITVX, marking the first time the Hornets have ever been shown live on terrestrial TV.
Horsham will also receive a live broadcast fee of £25,000.
Di Paola said television coverage was a just reward for Horsham’s players and supporters after the ‘logistical nightmare’ of travelling up to Barnsley on a Friday evening.
He added: “I’m really pleased for the boys. There were so many of them who couldn’t bring their families up on that Friday, and you get so few chances in your football life to have those nights.
“Alongside that, we all felt a bit of justice was done with the fact that supporters couldn’t travel up there.
“There’s going to be loads of our support here. I know people very close to the club [including] part of the committee that couldn’t travel up. The fact that those people now have their FA Cup moment is the best bit about it.”
The Hornets’ Cup clash at Oakwell was played on a Friday evening, having been switched from Saturday following talks with local emergency services.
The decision to move the fixture was widely criticised by both Horsham and Barnsley supporters, Hornets committee vice-chairman Mark Barrett, and Di Paola himself.
But the Horsham boss admitted preparations for the replay had been anything but serene, describing the last ten days as ‘frantic’.
Di Paola continued: “It’s been a bit frantic. We had a game Tuesday night [at Chichester City in the Sussex Senior Cup] and we had a game on Saturday [at home to Hashtag United in the league], so it’s only really now we can focus on this one. We’re in a position now where we can really focus on it.
“I think it’s been just as much of a logistical nightmare this time, just due to all the prepping we’ve had to do as a club over the last ten days.”
Di Paola also extolled the merits of FA Cup replays for non-league clubs like the Hornets.
English football calendar’s reforms are expected to see replays in the third and fourth rounds axed, according to reports.
Next season will see European continental competitions expand following a change to the group stage format. The 2024-25 edition of the UEFA Champions League will see 36 teams compete instead of 32, with the new ‘league phase’ lasting 10 weeks instead of six.
The BBC has reported the solution to accommodating the new European format will be to sacrifice third and fourth round replays - as well as two-legged League Cup semi-finals - and move the FA Cup fifth round to the weekend.
Di Paola said: “It’s what every football club wants isn’t it? We’ve managed to achieve something great up there, and now we’ve got the opportunity to do it in front of our home support.
“If it had been a draw on the night and we went out on penalties it wouldn’t have felt quite the same.
“If you lose it, you lose it. But to have that opportunity to hang in there like we did, it felt like a great victory.
“I’m very much for replays. There’s no downside to it. It’s a good one money-wise and it’s also an opportunity for clubs to have a great experience like we’re going to have.”
Barnsley go into tonight’s replay off the back of a 3-0 loss at Derby County on Saturday. The defeat saw the Tykes slip to sixth in League One, and extended their winless run to three games.
International call-ups have denied the Yorkshire outfit the services of Fabio Jalo, Callum Styles, Devante Cole and Jon Russell for the game at the Camping World Community Stadium.
As a result, Saturday’s League One game between Carlisle United - who Horsham met in the FA Cup first round in 2021 - and Barnsley has been postponed.
And Di Paola acknowledged the move to call off this weekend’s match at Brunton Park could force Tykes head coach Neill Collins to play a full-strength side against the Hornets.
He said: “Their game has been called off this Saturday as they’ve got boys going away on international duty, so there’s no real reason for them to rest players.
“I thought they were a really good side and got some undue stick in terms of their performance. But there was some inspired stuff from us, especially Lew Carey in goal. Some of our defending was exceptional.
“I didn’t think they did too much wrong that night. They’re going to be just as good, if not better. They played a lot of their first choice side that day and fully expect them to play a few more.
“I still think we’ve got a very small chance, and I expect them to prepare in the right way as you’d expect any team to do.
“They’ll know more about us now. They’ll have had a good look at how we play and our strengths. Like any good side, they’ll look to cancel out what we bring to the table.
“But hopefully we can work on a few bits that will allow us to be better in certain areas on that Friday night, and we’ll see where that takes us.”
Horsham, meanwhile, were beaten 2-0 by Hashtag United in front of a bumper Camping World Community Stadium crowd in the Isthmian Premier on Saturday.
Goals in each half from Tom Anderson and Percy Kiangebeni consigned the Hornets to their first home defeat since the opening day of the 2023-24 campaign.
Di Paola felt his players’ minds were elsewhere on Saturday, but conceded it would have been ‘impossible’ for his squad to remain fully focussed with the thought of the Barnsley replay looming large.
He continued: “It was a great opportunity for Hashtag and they took it. They were just a bit sharper and we just didn’t seem to have that extra gear at any stage.
“It was a pretty horrible game, to be honest. It wasn’t the best one to watch from either team.
“We didn’t do too much wrong to lose the game, but we didn’t do enough to win it. They capitalised on a mistake from a dead ball and then we were chasing it.
“We huffed and puffed but had very little end product. We just made a couple of errors and the fatigue kicked in.
“I’m always on them [the players], but it’s difficult. If you put yourself in their shoes, they’re just normal lads with a chance of a lifetime three days later. In the back of your mind, it’s impossible to not have that going on.
“It’s easy for me. I can stand on the sidelines, it doesn’t make a great deal of difference what game it is - it’s the same.
“I thought there were two or three trying too hard Saturday perhaps to stake a claim [in the squad for Barnsley] but there were also one or two who were a little bit off.
“Hashtag were probably rubbing their hands together when they saw the fixtures because it played into their hands on Saturday.”
Di Paola also issued an injury update ahead of the clash with the Tykes. The boss revealed the Hornets have a ‘few concerns’ but stressed he would be able to field a ‘pretty strong line-up’.
Di Paola said: “Shamir Fenelon has not played since the Barnsley game. He’s got a bit of a problem with his Achilles.
“We had to take Lee Harding out on Saturday because he was struggling a little bit.
“Sami El-Abd is still a doubt, Jack Mazzone is on his way back, so we’ve got a few concerns.
“With non-league it’s always the same. You’re always counting up the bodies after games so we’ll see where we are.
“But we’ll be pretty strong. We’ll be there or thereabouts I think.”