Horsham YMCA moved joint top of the Premier Division on Tuesday night, after a Dan Sullivan hat-trick helped secure a thrilling victory at Gorings Mead.
Visitors’ front man Alfie Gritt, who also netted a treble for his side on the night, broke the deadlock against the run of play after just seven minutes.
YM responded immediately with two goals in quick succession from Liam Hunter and Sullivan, before Ryan Hallett’s swerving 25-yard strike restored parity to make it 2-2 at the break.
The home side flew out of the blocks after the restart as Sullivan restored YM’s lead after just 40 seconds and Matt Crane then made it 4-2 with only 11 second half minutes played.
Sullivan completed his hat-trick shortly after and the home side looked in command, but a resilient EP mounted a compelling comeback and two goals from Gritt, the first from the penalty spot, ensured a nervous final 20 minutes for the hosts.
YM manager Peter Buckland commented: “That was hard work. I was really impressed with East Preston.
“I know they’ve played four games for no points, but they keep losing by the odd goal like they did tonight. I said to the guys that they would be a decent set up.
“And they never laid down. At 5-2, yes the mistake by Foxy (Mark Fox) lets them in and gives them a lift and if that hadn’t happened I think we would have gone into cruise control and seen the game out, but fair play to them.
“It goes 5-3, 5-4 and then you’ve got a nail biting last ten minutes.
“I imagine for the neutral that it was a cracking game to watch, but it’s not the sort of game as a manager that you can say that you enjoyed.
“Dan has got a hat-trick tonight and I just feel that he is in one of the best veins of form since I’ve had him as a player.”
Imposing Gritt spearheaded a new look visitors outfit, and it wasn’t long before his pace and power was testing the YM defence. Zachary Harris’ low cross into the box fell for Gritt, whose deflected shot looped over Mark Fox
At the other end, Hunter’s 25-yard free-kick took a wicked deflection off the EP wall, wrong footing keeper Darren Ford and looping into the net, before some tenacious Ashley Dugdale work won back possession in the opposition half and he then freed Dave Brown, whose inch-perfect cross was headed home by Sullivan at the far post.
A visitors’ breakaway led to the scores being levelled midway through the first 45, and although there was the question of a foul on Dean Carden in the build up, there could be no questions asked about Hallett’s finish, as the midfielder drilled home a swerving strike from range.
Sullivan took just 40 seconds after the restart to leapfrog his sibling striker in this season’s standings, as a low Hunter corner fell kindly for him in the six-yard box and he lashed the ball into the roof of the net.
Crane doubled YM’s advantage from an in-swinging Dave Brown corner with a bullet header, before Sullivan completed his hat-trick tapping home from close range.
East Preston were handed a lifeline when onrushing Fox needlessly brought down Gritt in the box and the striker coolly convert the resulting spot kick, before they provided the hosts with a nervous last quarter of the game when the youngster completed his hat-trick.
Buckland added: “It is three points at the end of the day and the good start rolls on. It was nailbiting at the end, there’s no two ways about it. They didn’t surprise me really as a team. I more or less knew what to expect. They’re a good, hard working side and young as well.
“It still reads that we’ve played four league games, won three and drawn one, so we’re unbeaten and of course we’ve got the FA Cup to come.
“We can go into Sunday now a bit more relaxed.”
Horsham YMCA: Lockwood, Carden (Doherty 78), Gathern, Crane, Evans, Hunter (Wright 57), Dugdale, (Gedling 63), D.Sullivan, Hibbert, D.Brown, Schaaf. Unused subs: J.Brown, H.Horner