Horsham 1 Leatherhead 1: Hornets pick up point on Premier Division return

Horsham's Rob O'Toole. Picture by John Lines
Horsham's Rob O'Toole. Picture by John Lines

Horsham marked their return to the BetVictor Premier Division after a seven-year absence, in their first competitive game at The Camping World Community Stadium, with a battling 1-1 draw with Leatherhead.

The Tanners took the lead through a controversial Eddie Dsane penalty before Rob O'Toole wrote his name in Hornets folklore with an equaliser on 38 minutes.

The second half saw both sides have plenty of chances to win the game but the scores remained level at the full-time whistle.

Horsham manager Dominic Di Paola handed league debuts to new boys George Bentley, Jerry O'Sullivan, Alex Kelly and Zack Newton, while fellow summer signings Lea Dawson and Jared Rance had to settle for places on the bench. New goalkeeper Josh James was absent from the first eleven due to personal reasons.

The opening minutes of the games were a nervy affair as both teams seemed content to launch long balls up-field to their respective centre forwards. But the game sprung into life on eight minutes amid controversy.

A threaded through ball from the Tanners' Daniel Gallagher found forward Dsane in the box. The Hornets' Joe Shelley seemingly produced an inch perfect tackle to take the ball away from Dsane but the referee had other ideas.

The Leatherhead man went to ground and the ref pointed to the penalty spot. The felled Dsane dusted himself down, placed the ball on the spot and expertly sent Bentley the wrong to give the visitors the lead.

Despite undeservedly going behind Horsham almost bagged an equaliser five minutes later. Chris Smith did well to turn in the box before firing off a shot that went just over the bar.

On 18 minutes John Ufuah was fouled on the edge of the area by O'Sullivan, and the right-back was shown a yellow. Calvin Ekpiteta stepped up but thundered his set-piece high, wide and not at all handsome.

As the first half neared the half way mark Leatherhead were posing more of an attacking threat as they dominated possession, but neither side could produce gilt-edged chances. The early pattern of hitting long balls towards the forwards persisted even though both teams were experiencing little success.

The moment the Hornets did start playing their usual slick passing game they managed to carve out a chance. Tidy interplay between Smith and Steve Metcalf on 32 minutes saw the left-back open his body up to shoot but his attempt was well charged down by a Tanners defender.

Horsham began growing into the game and on 38 minutes history was made as the Hornets netted their first competitive goal at The Camping World Community Stadium.

A cross from the right from Smith towards the near post saw O'Toole use all his predatory striking instincts to poke the ball past Leatherhead keeper Zaki Oualah and send the Hornets faithful into raptures.

But a minute before the break the Tanners could, and should, have gone ahead. A goalmouth scramble in the Horsham penalty area saw goalscorer Dsane pick the ball up from ten yards out. The Leatherhead striker looked certain to score but Hornets stopper Bentley produced a spectacular save with his foot to divert the attempt out for a corner and keep the scores level at half-time.

The opening of the second half saw chances at a premium as both sides probed without truly threatening. Supporters had to wait until 57 minutes before the first sight of goal, and that chance fell to the Hornets. A corner from Kelly found Shelley but his powerful goalbound header, that looked destined to hit the back of the net, was superbly cleared off the line by a visiting defender.

This then preceded a spell of attacking dominance from the hosts as they went on the hunt for the go ahead goal. A powerful run from Shelley from midfield on 59 minutes saw him lay the ball off to Lavery but the striker lost balance and sent his shot wide.

Newton was then booked for simulation on 62 minutes, which drew the ire of the crowd, before Smith smashed his curled chance over the bar from substitute Charlie Harris' knock down four minutes later.

Leatherhead had a golden opportunity of their own to take lead on 74 minutes. A ball across the area found Jerry Nnamani unmarked but the midfielder slipped and sent his shot wide.

The ball was instantly cleared downfield by Bentley to Smith. The Hornets' number ten looked to be fouled in the box but the referee remained unmoved and once again drew the anger of the home support.

Nnamani then had his second chance in as many minutes but the Leatherhead man sent his free header from a free-kick wide of Bentley's goal as the Tanners began to assert control.

Bentley was forced into a top-draw fingertips save three minutes from time. The Hornets keeper superbly tipped the ball to keep out Gallagher's curling effort from the edge of the area. Moments later and a whipped cross from the left found the Tanners' Will Seager but his glanced header went inches past the post.

But in the fifth minute of second half stoppage Horsham should have had their fairytale ending. A great cross from O'Sullivan found goalscorer O'Toole and his bullet header beat Oualah but rattled the crossbar. With the bar still shaking, the ball fell to substitute Jack Brivio but he thumped his shot well over the bar.

Horsham: Bentley, O'Sullivan, Metcalf, Kelly, Shelley, Merchant, Lavery, Hayward (Harris 64), O'Toole, Smith (Brivio 85), Newton (Rance 90). Unused: Miles, Dawson.

Attendance: 711