‘Magnificent’ Rob O’Toole may have stole the show with a hat-trick, but it was altogether a show-stopping performance from Horsham as they halted a previously unstoppable league leaders Cray Wanderers.
The Wands’ magical run was ended at Culver Road on Saturday as the Hornets inflicted their visitors with a first defeat of the season in the Bostik League South East Division.
O’Toole’s treble and Charlie Harris wonder strike helped bolster Horsham’s play-off credentials and get them back to winning ways after their own superb run had been derailed by Three Bridges last midweek.
In torrid conditions of driving rain and freezing temperatures, it was a largely dominant display from the Hornets who maintain third place in the table - their highest league position in 12 years.
O’Toole tapped home the opener after 19 minutes, before Cray’s Ben Mundele went through and scored from a one-on-one chance five minutes later.
Horsham’s big front man restored the home side’s lead on the half-hour mark, but Archie Johnson levelled once more, eight minutes into the second half.
With conditions worsening, O’Toole was on hand again with a near-post header on the hour mark as he completed his treble, before Harris added another stunning goal to his collection with eight minutes left to play.
Horsham manager Dominic Di Paola said: “It was a good win and on the day the conditions were really tough, so the boys battled through and battled through.
“You can see why they (Cray) will win the league, they have so much quality and if you switch off for a second you are in trouble.
“I think we caught them on a bad day as I heard a lot coming from their bench as they were not happy with how they played.
“Fair play to our boys though as they capitalised. We were solid and hardworking and kept plugging away.
“In terms of results, it’s a good win in the sense that Cray are a great side, but I do think we have played better in games this year.
“It was good that we had a reaction from Tuesday night (loss at Three Bridges). I did say to the boys after that that it was conceivable that we could lose again Saturday. We will be playing better teams some weeks and will lose, so we had to accept that.
“Some of the boys were more disappointed with me after the Three Bridges loss, I have been used to inconsistent performances for a few years so knew it would happen.
“A few of the boys maybe thought they were unbeatable and that is great, that is what you want, but we got done by a smash and grab job - which we have done to teams this season - and you have to accept that.”
O’Toole’s treble took him to 12 goals for the season and Di Paola was keen to praise his ‘magnificent’ contributions.
He said: “He is averaging just under a goal every other game and add to that 11 assists.
“He has contributed to 23 goals in 27 starts which is phenomenal. Strikers do have a weird mind set though, I was always in defensively or midfield and more of a team player, but they live and die by their goals.
“Rob was magnificent Saturday but he is always is magnificent. He never really lets us down.”
Horsham: Pelling, Metcalf, Shelley, Merchant, Sparks, Haywards, Harris, Brivio, Richardson-Brown (Harding 84), Lavery (Lovegrove 90), O’Toole (Smith 78). Unused subs: Hyde, Taylor.