Haywards Heath 2, Horsham 0: Off-colour ten-man Hornets beat as hard-working Heath make it a double in top-of-the-table clash
Haywards Heath grabbed the festive derby honours and completed a Bostik League South East Division double over Horsham at Hanbury Park this afternoon.
A disjointed Hornets display and goals from Karly Akehurst and Callum Saunders resulted in the three points being secured by the hosts in what was a play-off place meeting at the top end of the table.
The visitors' chances were not helped by a second half red card for Joe Shelley. The central defender received a second booking early in the second-half, moments after a cracking flowing move saw Akehurst head Heath into the lead.
Saunders made it 2-0 with just over 20 minutes to play from the penalty spot after Horsham goalkeeper Josh Pelling was somewhat harshly penalised for diving at the feet of Kieran Rowe and catching the ball and man.
However, in truth Horsham failed to really test home stopper Josh Heyburn thanks to an organised defensive shift from the back four which was rewarded with a well-deserved victory.
The hosts went into the clash with just one loss in their past 12 games in all competitions which had seen them climb to fifth in the league standings - exceeding all expectations having been promoted last season.
The Hornets started the day third in the table with an equally good run of form; a derby defeat to Three Bridges the only blotch on the recent copy book, although an impressive scalp over previously unbeaten leaders Cray Wanderers saw an excellent response.
Heath almost got off to the perfect start inside 30 seconds as straight from kick-off, a ball over the top put Alex Laing away on the left and he drilled a low ball into Akehurst, but his half volley from 14 yards flew narrowly over.
Saunders had a shot blocked away with Harvey Sparks recovering well on the right of the area and at the other end, a half chance from Chris Smith was easily dealt with.
It was the home side that continued to have the better of the chances as again Saunders got free and onto a nice ball out from central midfield - a ball in behind seemingly a tactic to unsettled the Horsham defence. He picked out Laing in the middle, but his shot was comfortably held by Pelling.
The first real Horsham chance came on 14 minutes as Tyrell Richardson-Brown broke down the left and shifted the ball into Rob O'Toole, but he volleyed over from close range.
Immediately back up the other end, Heath were gifted the ball in the Horsham penalty area after a scuffed clearance from Dylan Merchant, but Saunders failed to connect sweetly and it rolled wide of the far post.
Rob O'Toole had the next effort of note, quick feet towards the left of the box saw him beat the returning Joel Daly at full-back, but he fired high and wide from an acute angle when a cut-back would have been the better option.
Shelley was then booked for a high foot in an attempted clearance which caught Laing in the face and saw the winger require treatment. After a shirt change due to blood from the cut, he skewed the resulting 25-yard free kick harmlessly into the car park.
The best chance of the half came five minutes before at half-time as it looked to everyone in the ground as if Sparks had rolled the ball across goal and home after a neat flick from O'Toole, but somehow it bobbled just wide of the far post.
The game sparked into life in the second half and Heath led after just two minutes. A lovely flowing move saw the ball moved forwards and wide from Laing to Akehurst and out to Saunders. His perfectly-weighted cross then picked out Akehurst, who had continued his run, and he headed past Pelling.
Moments later, Laing got goal side of Shelley to the right of the area and a clipping of heels saw the Heath man go sprawling with referee John Pike quick to show Shelley a second yellow and subsequent red.
O'Toole was sacrificed in a reshuffle as Dean Lovegrove came into the back four and Smith was soon replaced by Joey Taylor, who was given a rare outing in the middle of the park.
But that was in vein as Heath doubled their lead on 68 minutes. A neat one-two put full-back Kieran Rowe away and Pelling came racing out to dive at the defender's feet. Despite looking like he won the ball, he did send Rowe sprawling and Pike pointed straight to the spot. Saunders stepped up to send Pelling the wrong way and find the bottom left corner.
It could have been worse for Horsham with ten minutes to play as Laing fired a ball in from wide left and Akehurst met the ball, but somehow turned onto inside of the post from close range and back to a grateful Pelling.
The closest Horsham came was in stoppage time when Kieran Lavery - in his last lone game - had a effort off the line and from the resulting corner another header was hooked away at the last moment.
Haywards Heath Town: Heyburn, Daly, Cooper, Spinks, Rowe, Saunders (Miller 73), Napper, Akehurst, Louis, Laing, Simpson (Finney 90). Unused subs: Robinson, Roddy, Foella.
Horsham: Pelling, Metcalf, Shelley, Merchant, Sparks, Brivio (Harding 71), Hayward, Richardson-Brown, Lavery, Smith (Taylor 60), O'Toole (Lovegrove 51). Unused subs: Hoare, Harris.Attendance: 223.
Referee: John Pike.