Horsham and Eastbourne Borough could not be separated after an FA Cup draw on Saturday, and the 2-2 draw gave both clubs a second chance in a replay on Tuesday.
But that wasn’t slapstick nonsense – and just a few spooky moments. Despite almost impossible weather conditions – relentless pouring rain and strong gales that would have kept a fleet of trawlers in the harbor – both sides performed with skill, endurance and creative intent.
The home side, deservedly doubled at halftime, had real hopes of a Cup overthrow, but Sports turned the tide in every way.
The splendid new Hospital Horsham stadium looked sleek and shiny – if not sparkling – as floodlights pierced through large patches of rain from the first whistle. No executive boxes, and in truth a lack of coverage for the crowd 619, since the land is still under construction.
For the nostalgic, Camping World Community Stadium does not have the old charm of the Queen Street grounds that Horsham left over ten years ago, but it is a beautiful facility and an honor for all officials and workers of the club.
The non-league weather is a great leveler and it has soaked absolutely everyone, players, officials, supporters, even journalists. Your Herald Journalist’s team sheet was washed out and unreadable at halftime …
Fortunately, football was far from washed out. With the wind raging at its back, the Hornets flew to Eastbourne from the start and were rewarded with a goal after just six minutes.
Eddie Dsane, an all-afternoon wizard on the left wing, chose the lock on the back door of the borough defense, and his low ball through the mouth of the goal allowed Lee Harding to finish easily 1-0.
Sports were stung in a quick response and nearly equalized in one minute: Charlie Walker starred in Greg Luer, whose low shot was saved by goaltender Sam Howes and repelled by Harding – the goalscorer turned goalscorer.
But Borough struggled with his passing game and Horsham was in charge. Charlie Harris did a cross shot just off the left post after a quick right wing break, then the former Sport – who played Lane under Jamie Howell – saw another useful effort saved.
In response, Eastbourne could only offer a 30-yard free kick from James Hammond, narrowly directed, and a curling shot from the quietly improving Charlie Towning, which was not curly enough. But in all fairness, against the wind these footballers were about as challenged as a local rambling club battling the Himalayan foothills.
Then the action returned to the wind, and at the half hour mark as Horsham pressed for the weather count, Doug Tuck’s mad shot was denied by a superb reaction stoppage from Lee Worgan.
With a change of sides, a one-goal deficit would have been manageable for Danny Bloor – who described his side as “absolutely appalling in the first half, back to much closer to our best in the second”.
But two minutes before the break, Dsane shot a rather inexpensive foul, a dead spot and about six steps outside the penalty area.
Harris hammered it, Worgan rushed desperately for his goal and the ball curled just beyond his gripping fingers into the net. And all of the ground – except for the borough’s canoe and the soggy group of supporters outside – rose about ten feet into the air.
Two zero therefore, and a scent of victory in the nostrils of this committed and dynamic Horsham team. But as the teams turned around for the second half, so did the flow of play and control. Home defense would need stamina, heroism and maybe good fortune.
Sports – like in previous recent games – had a bench full of forwards and a manager who wasn’t afraid to use them. Charley Kendall was presented with immediate impact, and just five minutes into the half-time, Walker cut the deficit in half, crushing a nice shot on the corner after Hammond loaded a clearance.
Forty long minutes, then, for the Hornets to hang on – although they almost restored the two-goal cushion when D’Sane slalomed from the left and threw his slant shot against a shaking crossbar. If this FA Cup draw had one turning point, it is this one.
The borough did not panic, but they regularly tightened the screw. Midway through halftime, the strike force was refreshed with Joel Rollinson and Josh Oyinsan – although that latest replacement came at a price, with Chris Whelpdale limping after a painful collision with Howes.
From a recycled corner, Mitch Dickenson’s header was saved straight to the line, but the equalizer was starting to seem inevitable, and it came 76 minutes from the penalty spot. Kendall was shot down as he jumped on Oyinsan’s cut, and Hammond adamantly converted the free kick.
Rollinson, on a lightning break, and Harding, with a gaping goal, had respective chances to get their teams through, and finally, a free kick from Hammond skidded just inches off Howes’ left post.
But, when the teams flew and thundered for the grueling final minutes, a draw was about okay, and the 600s came home soggy but richly entertained. And so, back to a Tuesday night date at the Lane.