Horsham YMCA slipped to fifth spot in the Premier Division standings on Saturday, after they were beaten 3-0 away at in-form Chichester City.
Blustery winds and a heavy surface made life tough for both sides, but it was the more clinical hosts who secured the points thanks to a first-half brace from Jimmy Wild and a controversial Dan Hegarty strike early in the second half.
A 2-1 win over YM in the third round of the Sussex RUR Cup at the end of October kick-started an excellent spell for new Chichester manager Miles Rutherford’s side, who won November’s team of the month award and climbed into the top half of the table.
The Lillywhites’ fine run of form continued on Saturday, although it could have been a very different story had the visitors made the most of their early opportunities.
YM manager Peter Buckland said: “It was what I expected, a really tough game on a meadow. I don’t know whether these clubs haven’t got people to cut their grass, or roll it, or prepare their pitches, or whether they do it on purpose to stop us playing.
“They know it has to make us change our game and go a bit long, which doesn’t suit us. But we could easily have been 3-0 up in the first quarter of an hour and at that point I thought, ‘here we go’.”
Dave Brown fired an early effort wide, before returning front man Nick Sullivan slipped in strike partner Sam Schaaf, who shot straight at home goalkeeper Dave Hook.
During a lively start, City defender Hegarty flicked wide of the near post, while Schaaf watched a 25-yard strike expertly tipped round the post by Hook moments later.
Wild broke the deadlock when he latched onto a threaded George Way through ball and coolly finished past YM ‘keeper Mark Fox.
The home side then dealt a devastating blow before the break, a single Kieron Hartley pass released Wild and the front man again made no mistake in sliding the ball home.
The only real moment of note in the second period came as the hosts extended their lead three minutes after the restart.
A deep Josh Clack cross was headed back across goal by Jamie Horncastle and Hegarty volleyed in unopposed from close range, much to the frustration of a remonstrative YM defence who were adamant the goalscorer should have been flagged offside.
The visitors did improve during the final quarter of the game, but neither goalkeeper was truly tested as the creation of any clear cut chances was at a premium.
An off-balance Schaaf shot wide and Brown and substitute Luke Gedling both saw free-kicks held by Hook.
YM boss Buckland concluded: “The third goal was a mile offside and I don’t know what the linesman was thinking of.
“But it would be cheap to blame the officials. They are a good, hard-working, organised side and they deprived us of the ball with their pure work rate.
“But I’ve said all season that we can afford to lose six games and probably draw something like four. That’s four defeats now, but we’re still in contention and we’ve got to dust ourselves down.
“I’m not down. The attitude was great and even at 3-0 we kept going and never threw the towel in. Again, it’s about how we react now.”
Horsham YMCA: Fox, D.Sullivan, Crane, Gathern, Evans, Wright (Gedling 46), Dugdale, Hibbert, Brown, N.Sullivan, Schaaf (Gannon 81). Unused subs: Carden, Donaldson.