Tony Nwachukwu’s injury time winner secured maximum points for the first time this season as Horsham came from a goal down to topple fancied Merstham.
In a hugely entertaining affair, Horsham earned their rewards with a dogged and energetic display typified by the performance of Jamie Ampleford, who scored his debut goal for the club with a first half volley that cancelled out Fabio Saraiva’s penalty.
The 19-year-old striker, who was suffering with tonsillitis just a week earlier, produced a man of the match display and showed encouraging signs of forging a partnership with Jamie Cade.
Ampleford was one of three teenagers in the starting line-up, alongside Harry Smith and Tom Frankland.
The visitors started brightly, Aaron Rhule racing on and hitting a fine low shot that goalkeeper Gareth Williams had to turn away at the foot of his near post.
The contest was an entertaining, open affair with play then switching to the other end where Nwachukwu delayed his pass to perfection before slipping the ball in behind the full back, but Ampleford’s shot couldn’t beat the outstretched right boot of Merstham goalkeeper Brannon Daly.
Tutu Henriques was in the right place to clear off the goal-line, after Ampleford’s inswinging corner looked to have eluded everyone on its way into the net.
But after 37 minutes, Rhule got in behind Frankland and was brought down by Williams for a Merstham penalty.
Saraiva, whose spot kick had earned the points in last season’s corresponding fixture, again came up trumps by thumping the ball down the middle as Williams dived left and the visitors had the lead.
Horsham restarted the match a man short after Nwachukwu sought treatment for an injury, bizarrely caused by a collision with chief executive and cameraman John Lines.
The player returned to the pitch shortly after, wearing the ‘blood shirt’ and was soon involved in the celebrations as Ampleford struck the equalising goal.
Smith began the move, cutting in from the left before finding Cade, and a quick exchange between the two front men saw Ampleford race on to Cade’s return pass before crashing the ball into the bottom corner of the net.
It was a superbly worked goal and one that clearly delighted the Horsham players as Ampleford was immediately engulfed by a pile of yellow-shirted bodies.
In the second half Tom Gilbert was forced out of the action after receiving a knock to the ankle, paving the way for Gary Charman’s belated - yet still premature given his own injury problems - first appearance of the season.
With the match about to enter stoppage time, Nwachukwu’s angled run was picked out by Cade’s chipped pass and the winger nipped in to nudge the ball past the advancing Daly before putting the ball into the net with his left foot.
Pandemonium followed as the home fans prepared to celebrate a rare three points and the scoreline might have been more emphatic as Merstham survived a strong penalty shout when Smith’s shot appeared to strike Kalvin Morath-Gibbs on the hand.
In the fifth minute of stoppage time, Merstham launched one final attack and Omar Folkes’ pass to Tommy Hutchings saw Williams pull off another crucial save.
Horsham: Williams, Frankland, King, Kaffo, Gilbert (Charman 70), Tarbie (Gibson 75), Morley, Nwachukwu, Ampleford (Bingham 86), Cade, Smith.