Horsham 2-1 Ashford United - The Play-Off Final was a big achievement, unfortunately we couldn't take it an extra step, says proud Ashford United boss Tommy Warrilow

Friday 03rd May 2019
Horsham 2 – 1 Ashford United
Location Culver Road, Lancing, West Sussex BN15 9AX
Kickoff 03/05/2019 19:30

(after extra time)
Bostik South East Division Play-Off Final
Friday 3 May 2019
Stephen McCartney reports from Culver Road

ASHFORD UNITED manager Tommy Warrilow says reaching the Bostik South East Division Play-Off Final was a big achievement for his side.

However, league runners-up Horsham will join champions Cray Wanderers in the Bostik Premier Division next season after Dominic Di Paola’s side sealed a 2-1 extra-time win at Culver Road.

Cray Wanderers sealed the title, having collected 82 points from 36 games, while Horsham finished runners-up on 74 points.  Hastings United finished third on 70 points, Ashford United were fourth on 68 and Haywards Heath Town finished on 63 points.

Horsham beat Haywards Heath Town 3-0 in the Play-Off Semi-Finals, while Ashford United twice came from behind to win 3-2 at Hastings United after extra time on Monday night, to set up this Friday night winner-takes-all showdown in Lancing.

Horsham took the lead, courtesy of a sublime top-corner volley from central midfielder George Hayward.

But Ashford United equalised on the stroke of half-time through Sam Corne’s penalty, which saw the talented central midfielder bag his 21st goal of the season.

Ashford United goalkeeper Sam Mott saved Rob O’Toole’s penalty in the 73rd minute and Horsham celebrated their promotion when centre-half Dylan Merchant waited until his 32nd game of the season to score his only goal of the season, powering home a header from a set-piece with 12 minutes of extra-time remaining.

“I’m gutted but at the same time proud to have got this far with them,” said Warrilow, who would have had to wait until all of the play-offs at this level were complete on Monday to see if his club were to be promoted through the farcical points-per-game situation surrounding all play-off winners.

“When we came here the ambition was always to make the play-offs but we made the play-off final but to lose it is not a nice feeling.

“Do you know what? I wasn’t sure if we were going up so if we won I don’t think we’d be celebrating because it was in Horsham’s hands whereas we had to wait until Monday, so it was a weird feeling.

“Listen, I’m proud of all the players. The fans’ have been fantastic and overall I’d like to think since we’ve come in, it’s been the most successful time and hopefully we can build on that.”

Horsham started the game on the front foot and created an opening in the 10th minute.

Mott launched a big kick forward, which was met by a powerful headed clearance from striker O’Toole, which released Chris Smith down the right channel and his shot was charged down and the Ashford keeper comfortably gathered.

Horsham centre-half Joe Shelley hit a long ball upfield from the halfway line and the ball was flicked on in the middle by Smith and fell at O’Toole on the left-hand side of the penalty area and his fierce drive from 12-yards took a deflection before sailing around the top far corner.

Horsham’s wide man Lee Harding took all 14 of their corners during the game and his third corner came out to Hayward, who controlled the ball with his hand before hitting a right-footed volley straight down Mott’s throat from 20-yards.

Horsham were to be denied a deserved lead in the 27th minute.

Horsham left-back Harvey Sparks slipped the ball through to Harding, whose fine pass put striker Smith through on goal with a through ball that cut open Jerald Aboagye and Afolabi (John) Coker, but Mott rushed off his line and made a vital block with his legs.

“Motty has been brilliant for us, one-on-ones, you always fancy him,” added Warrilow.

Dominant Horsham took a deserved lead with 38 minutes and 12 seconds on the clock

Bode Anigugbe was penalised for a foul and Harding swung in a right-footed free-kick some 35-yards from goal down the left. The ball was cleared out of the Ashford box and Harding hit a sublime right-footed volley screaming into the top right-hand corner from just outside the D.

“First things first, I don’t think it was a free-kick but we’ve got to defend it better,” added Warrilow.

“The header out was poor, second balls, but it was a great strike but you’ve got to take your hat off to that!”

Ashford United showed enough character to storm back into the game.

Aboagye floated over a cross from the right and striker Danny Parish glanced his header across the keeper before the Hornets cleared their lines and Laurent Mendy came up from left-back to cut onto his right boot before curling his cross-shot around the far post.

Ashford United came agonisingly close to grabbing an equaliser with 43 minutes and 29 seconds on the clock.

Anidgube held the ball up with a defender on his back and his clever pass put Aboagye in behind Horsham left-back Sparks and he pulled the ball back from the by-line.  Parish’s flicked shot flashed across keeper Josh Pelling, who dived low to his right to parry and Jay May rifled his shot against the underside of the crossbar from inside the six-yard box.

“From my point of view, I’m disappointed with the amount of pressure we put on them during the game but we didn’t make it count,” added Warrilow.

Horsham’s holding midfielder Jack Brivio slid in to challenge Corne close to the half-way line and Horsham broke down the left through Harding but his shot from the by-line was spilt by Mott at his near post before he had time to gather at the second attempt.

But Ashford United grabbed an equaliser, five minutes and 49 seconds into time added on.

Toby Ajala whipped in a cross and Corne’s header appeared to have set up May inside the box but Horsham intercepted and seconds later Josh Wisson latched onto the loose ball just inside the box before he was tripped by Hayward.

Referee Joel Mannix pointed to the spot and Corne – who scored an 119th minute winner at The Pilot Field on Monday night – stepped up to take the penalty.

The 22-year-old placed his right-footed penalty towards the bottom left-hand corner – the same place as his winner at Hastings – but Pelling had done his homework and dived to his right and got a strong right hand to the penalty but the ball kissed the base of the left-hand post before nestling into the back of the net.

Warrilow said:  “He’s hit it with pace and power. We needed that because we were poor in the first half and we all admitted that at half-time!

“To come in at one-all, I just thought we we’re going to get stronger. We did in the second half, I thought we dominated the second half and we were the stronger team but we never really made the most of that I suppose.

“At half-time I said we can’t play any worse than we did in the first half. It wasn’t good enough! They all agreed so we went out in the second half and I thought we dominated it.”

A mix-up in the Ashford United defence between Coker and Mohammed Kamara allowed Hayward to put Smith in but Mott was alert and rushed off his line to smother the ball in the ninth minute.

Ashford United were the dominant force during the early stages of the second half and went close to scoring in the 18th minute.

Corne delivered a hanging corner in from the left and the ball landed for Coker to bend his shot on the turn just past the foot of the far post from 15-yards from a central position.

But Horsham weathered the storm and were to be denied by a fine penalty save from Mott in the 28th minute of the second half.

A flicked pass from substitute Kieran Lavery went to O’Toole and he was fouled by Coker inside the penalty area and referee Mannix pointed to the spot for a second time.

Mott stepped off his line before diving to his left to ensure O’Toole’s right-footed penalty flashed past the right-hand post and behind for a corner.

“He’s saved a lot of penalties since I’ve come in Motty to be fair. We were all quietly confident he would step up and he did,” added Warrilow.

A sliced clearance out of Horsham’s defence was controlled by Ajala in midfield and he released Mendy charging down the left and he cut onto his right-foot before curling his shot around the far post from 22-yards.

Horsham threw the kitchen sink at Ashford during the final 15 minutes and Harding’s sixth corner of the night sailed over towards the far post for centre-half Merchant to poke the ball into Mott’s hands from a tight angle.

Ashford United broke inside the final five minutes of normal time with Mendy – who was denied chances to venture forward by Horsham right-back Steve Metcalf – played the ball inside to Anidugbe, who took a touch and his shot from 25-yards bounced into the hands of Pelling for a comfortable save.

Horsham forced seven corners from the 85th minute to the end of the first half but Ashford’s well-organised defence held firm.

Warrilow’s men even had a chance on the break to snatch the victory when Ajala broke over the halfway line straight down the middle of the pitch and released Parish but the Ashford striker dragged his right-footed shot just past the left-hand post from 25-yards.

Horsham kept knocking on the door and Harding swung in his ninth corner of the game which was swept clear by Kamara but centre-half Shelley blasted his shot over the crossbar from 20-yards.

Neither side could find the winner, so the game went into extra-time.

Ashford United created the first chance after only 57 seconds when Ajala floated in a free-kick from the left and May glanced his header across keeper Pelling, who dived to his left to ensure he flicked the ball behind for a corner.

Horsham were to be denied by a double save from Mott in the final three minutes of the first period.

Shelley cut inside and along the penalty area before he was fouled by May and the referee awarded Horsham a free-kick 28-yards from goal.

Substitute Lavery whipped his free-kick over the four-man wall, forcing Mott to dive to his right and the keeper swiftly recovered to catch Merchant’s free-header from 10-yards from the rebound.

“Their set-pieces were causing us problems, so we’ve got to stop giving free-kicks away,” added Warrilow.

Anidugbe cut inside before laying the ball off to Ajala who took a touch before forcing Pelling to dive to his right to parry the shot.

Horsham created the final chance of the first period when Kamara slid in to end Tyrell Richardson-Brown’s game and Harding floated in the resulting free-kick just outside the box on the right-hand side.  Merchant controlled the ball with his chest before lashing his volley over the crossbar from 15-yards.

Warrilow made three substitutions at the interval, bringing on striker Trey Williams, Lee Prescott and Jake McIntyre, replacing May, Aboagye and Coker.

Warrilow said: “They’ve had a massive game on Monday night, which went to extra-time and you could see that Jerald was struggling again. He had cramp in his hamstring at Hastings and we’ve pulled him off so the last 15 minutes we just kept the shape and freshened it up.

“Danny (Parish) goes and twinges his hamstring with a run, which we’re really annoyed at, not with him obviously, but we took Jay off because Jay was blowing as well, so when you look at it like that, they can’t give anything else!”

Wisson slotted in at the heart of defence alongside Kamara and Prescott sat in front of the back four, while McIntyre slotted in at left-back.

Ashford United should have snatched the victory just 75 seconds into the second period on the counter-attack.

Anidugbe released Parish, whose pacey run took him towards the edge of the Horsham box. He played the ball inside to Williams, who put it on the plate for an unmarked McIntyre inside the box but he produced a left-backs finish by lashing his left-footed drive over the top of the near post.

It proved to be a costly miss for Ashford United.

Warrilow said:  “That’s the key. We had a breakaway just before their goal. We were three-on-two but Dan has got to lay Corney in. He’s run across players and the balls behind Jake really. He’s skied it. If we held it up and rolled Corney in, it’s a better option but our choice of pass wasn’t right.”

Horsham sealed promotion by scoring the winning goal, which was timed at two minutes and 41 seconds into the second period.

Joey Taylor, 21, a Montserrat International and the younger brother of Charlton Athletic striker Lyle, put it on a plate for Merchant to score his first goal of the season for Horsham.

O’Toole drew a free-kick out of Kamara some 30-yards from goal and Taylor whipped in a delicious free-kick with his left-foot and Merchant buried his header past Mott from a crowded penalty area from 10-yards.

Warrilow said:  “Gutted! Free header. Listen, I’m not going to slate the lads or anything. It’s one of those things.  They didn’t score from open play tonight. It was a second ball from a set-piece.”

With time ticking away, Corne had a couple of late chances for Ashford United after two Ajala set-pieces but a shot on the turn from 18-yards and a header were both off target.

Horsham celebrated promotion and can now look forward to hosting Bostik Premier Division back in the town following an 11-year absence.

Warrilow added: “Listen, the lads have been fantastic so I’m not going to be too down on them. They’re down on themselves. We’ve lost tonight and we have to take it on the chin,” said Warrilow, who was Horsham’s assistant manager before moving to Tonbridge Angels, where he spent seven years in charge.

“It’s something to build on. We’ve come in and we aimed to get to the play-offs. The play-off final was a big achievement.  Unfortunately we couldn’t take it an extra step but it’s just a great foundation to build on, on and off the pitch because the crowds have been going up and hopefully it creates a little bit of interest for next year when we’ll be looking to get out of this league.”

Horsham: Josh Pelling, Steve Metcalf, Harvey Sparks, Jack Brivio, Joe Shelley, Dylan Merchant, Tyrell Richardson-Brown (Joey Taylor 106), George Hayward, Rob O’Toole, Chris Smith (Kieran Lavery 70), Lee Harding (Dean Lovegrove 117).
Subs: Lewis Hyde, Joe Mant

Goals: George Hayward 39, Dylan Merchant 108

Booked: Lee Harding 56, George Hayward 75, Harvey Sparks 120

Ashford United: Sam Mott, Jerald Aboagye (Jake McIntyre 106), Laurent Mendy, Josh Wisson, Afolabi (John) Coker (Lee Prescott 106), Mohammed Kamara, Bode Anidugbe, Sam Corne, Danny Parish, Jay May (Trey Williams 106), Toby Ajala.
Subs: Lee Hook, Kundai Munyama

Goal: Sam Corne 45 (penalty)

Booked: Sam Corne 45, Josh Wisson 98, Mohammed Kamara 105, Lee Prescott 115

Attendance: 880
Referee: Mr Joel Mannix (Watford, Hertfordshire)
Assistants: Mr Andrew Batten (Uxbridge, Middlesex) & Christopher Potter (Uxbridge)
Fourth Official: Mr Jack Bloxham (St Albans, Hertfordshire)