Horsham YMCA’s hopes of securing a top four Premier Division finish were boosted on Saturday, as they moved four points clear of fifth-placed Lancing with a battling 2-1 win at Culver Road.
All of the game’s goals came during a lively first 45 minutes, with YM front men Sam Schaaf and Phil Johnson netting either side of a 25-yard wonder strike from Lancers’ captain Naim Rouane.
Manager Peter Buckland commented: “It was a really gutsy performance and it’s a shame it is five games from the end of the season that we chose to do it.
“Everything was forced upon us again today. We lost Matt Crane at 11.50am this morning due to a security alert at work, and then we lost Dean Carden after half an hour, with Gedders (Luke Gedling) also still struggling.
“We were really down to the bare bones and yet we adapted well. When we lost Dean at the back, we went 3-5-2 and it worked well. They got no joy down the flanks because we cut it out and then we had three as an umbrella in the middle.
“We pushed Kev (Budge) up, who hasn’t played a lot of football, and asked him just to be the last man, be a nuisance, win the headers and shut them down. Tactically it worked well.
“I think the result was about right. I wouldn’t say that we were fortunate at all. In fact Schaafy (Sam Schaaf) missed from six yards in the second half and that could have made it 3-1 and an even more convincing score line.”
“Their goal was just a worldy. I won’t use the word fluke because obviously the guy looked up and he hit it well. You can’t even fault the goalie really.”
YM opened the scoring after just four minutes when a Luke Donaldson corner was cleared only as far as Dean Wright, and his deft dink back into the box was carefully controlled and then dispatched into the roof of the net from six yards by Schaaf.
Impressive visitors’ wide man Donaldson skipped past two defenders and saw his shot blocked, before Johnson picked up the rebound on the left, but his effort was comfortably held by Lancing goalkeeper Callum Fidler.
A young home side kept the ball well and a consistent spell of pressure followed. Lewis Finney sliced a wayward strike wide of the upright; forward Alex Fair almost capitalised on a short Alex Gathern back pass but was thwarted by Fox, before a dangerous Max Howell cross was knocked to safety at the far post.
There was little in the way of creativity in the build up to the Lancers’ equaliser however, as after YM defender Dean Carden lost out to Fair thirty yards from his own goal, the hosts’ front man teed up skipper Rouane, who steadied himself before unleashing a left-footed thunderbolt which flew into the roof of the net.
YM responded well, Dean Wright dispossessing David O’Callaghan in midfield before spreading the ball wide to Schaaf, who dug out a cross for Johnson to head straight at Fidler at the far post.
The visitors then lost Carden to injury just after the half hour mark, after which they restored their lead against the run of play seven minutes before the break.
Another marauding Donaldson run saw the winger cut in from the left and fire low at Fidler, who could only parry the shot and then punch the loose ball off of the goal line onto an onrushing Johnson and into the net.
The second period was a far less sparkling affair, but Lancing will still be disappointed not to have profited from at least one of the chances they created.
Fair hit a rising shot well over the crossbar just 36 seconds after the restart, before three minutes later Finney was upended following a fine run and the ball fell kindly for striker Fair again, who this time hesitated before firing over the frame of the goal.
A Howell shot flashed just past the far post shortly after, before the lightening wide man was again freed down the right and his clipped cross almost lobbed YM ‘keeper Fox at the far post.
The visitors were dangerous on the break and they should have opened up a two goal cushion midway through the half when man of the match Anthony Hibbert spread the ball wide to Donaldson, who beat his man and squared for Schaaf to inexplicably scuff wide from close range.
Hibbert drove wide of the far post from twenty-five yards, before YM saw out a late flurry of Lancing pressure as Finney curled a free kick over from the edge of the area, Fair shot just wide of the near post following a patient build up and a last ditch Gathern tackle denied substitute Mike Williamson in added time.
YM boss Buckland concluded: “I’m delighted. Hibbs (Anthony Hibbert) and Wrighty (Dean Wright) did fantastically in the middle today. Dean I’ve got to give a special mention to because he is an out and out striker who we have brought a little bit deeper and played in the hole and now he’s playing in centre midfield.
“We’ve also now got Luke Donaldson coming of age. I’ve been telling him to forget the step overs and the fancy footwork, which is for under-16’s football. When you’re out here playing against men, you put the ball past them and chase it and you’ll destroy them and he did that. He caused them all sorts of problems and every time he was on the ball they were doubling up on him.
“The surface was fine. I’ve heard a lot of good things and I’ve heard a lot of bad things, but I think it is the way forward for football. Probably even during my lifetime from Step 5 upwards, this is all they’ll be playing on, so they’ve got to get used to it.
“I think the ball runs true. Maybe sometimes it’s a little bit unpredictable on the bounce, but that’s about it. There were a lot of knee injuries. Some of the players’ knees in there are cut to shreds, so I don’t know what the answer to that is. Maybe some sort of knee protection going forwards.
“We’ve got Ash (Dugdale) back now for Monday (against Horsham), as well as Craney (Matt Crane) and Nick Sullivan, so where we’ve lost Dean, we’ll have some players back.
“I’m looking forward to Monday. Regardless of everything, including personnel, if we can play with as much vigour and determination as we did today, then we’ll make a game of it. Whatever the outcome, I’ll be happy if we put that type of shift in.”
Horsham YMCA: Fox, D.Sullivan, Carden (Budge 32), Gathern, Evans, Smith, Wright, Hibbert, Donaldson, Johnson, Schaaf. Unused subs: Gedling.