Dominic Di Paola admitted that ‘it wasn’t an easy night’ for Horsham as they secured passage to the quarter-finals of the Sussex Senior Cup after a penalty shootout win at Littlehampton Town on Tuesday night.
The Hornets were below-par in the first half and fell behind to the Division 1 leaders five minutes before the break.
Horsham rallied in the second half but had to wait until the 88th minute to level.
Alex Kelly bagged his first goal for the club to send the game into extra-time.
After a goalless half-hour, George Bentley was the Hornets’ spot kick saviour.
He saved two penalties to help Horsham win the shootout 4-2 and advance to the final eight for just the second time since 2012
Di Paola said: “Littlehampton are winners. They don’t lose many games and they were bang up for it.
“They put bodies in the way, they grafted and they closed down well. It wasn’t an easy night for us.
“Two boys took nearly four hours to get there. The four London boys took nearly three hours.
“There was a massive amount of rustiness in the group. The extra-time, at the time, was a pain but that’s put some extra minutes in the players’ legs.
“There were more positives than negatives. I don’t think we were as up to it as we needed to be, but from the second half onwards the boys can take credit for adjusting their mentality and taking the game to them.”
The Golds were the better side in the first half. Former Hornet George Gaskin capitalised on a mistake from Joe Shelley and was sent one-on-one with Bentley but his lob went wide.
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A header from a Mitch Hand free-kick was parried by Bentley and Dan Hegarty’s headed rebound was cut out.
The hosts had dominated and deservedly went ahead on 40 minutes. Poor marking from a corner saw Dan Swain smash home before half-time.
Di Paola restructured the Hornets at the break and they were much improved after the restart.
Kelly, Gary Charman, Shelley and Jack Brivio all had chances but they would have to wait for their equaliser.
With two minutes to go, Harry Mills played a perfectly weighted ball for Kelly to neatly slot home and send the game to extra-time.
Horsham bossed the extra half-hour, Mills hit both posts and Charman and Chris Smith both headed narrowly wide, but they couldn’t find the winner as penalties beckoned.
Both teams converted their first kicks but Bentley made a superb save down to his right to keep out James McKernan.
Smith put Horsham in front with a strike that crashed off the bar before Bentley excellently stopped Swain’s kick.
JJ O’Sullivan then made no mistake from the spot and Hand scored to keep the Golds in it.
But Lea Dawson’s converted penalty ensured the Hornets advanced to the quarters.
Horsham: Bentley, O’Sullivan, Sparks, Kelly, Shelley, Merchant, Pamment (Charman 46), Dawson, Smith, Harris (Mills 71), Roberts (Brivio 75). Unused: Metcalf, Goddard.