Horsham remain in fourth place in London 2 South East after winning 39-24 away at Heathfield & Waldron in a scrappy, error-strewn game.
Hove’s defeat at Dartfordians sees the leaders maintain their apparent inexorable march to the title but with only one point separating the next three sides the battle for the runners-up spot is on.
With six changes to last week’s match day squad, the game started with a moment of individual brilliance from Joe Wilde. With only two minutes on the clock, Dave Barber kicked long and Wilde fielded to glided past several defenders to score a solo try from 40 yards which he converted.
Mistakes were being made by both teams, but when Heathfield & Waldron put together some phases of possession they secured a penalty in front of the posts which was slotted by Sean Crozier.
When Horsham were awarded with a penalty, Mike Watts’ quick tap led to Jordan Bell chipping ahead and when the ball went loose Rob Grant was the first to pounce and score for a 12-3 lead.
Jordan Bell then kicked a penalty into touch ten yards from the try line and after a catch and drive off a line-out, captain Nick Bell passed to Kyle Fairs running a great line to crash through to score.
The close driving play of the home side saw them gain ground with some attritional play and when they were awarded a penalty, a quick tap from Harry Vidler saw him saw and with Crozier’s conversion the deficit was narrowed to 19-10.
A Jordan Bell chip over the top caused confusion in the Heathfield & Waldron defence and with the ball again bouncing loose, Andy Carvell put Jonny Goward away for the bonus-point try.
An immediate reply saw Crozier chip over the defence and Henry Ross off-loaded to Crozier, with the suspicion of a forward pass, to score and convert his own try.
Soon after the restart Wilde was yellow-carded for a swinging arm but Heathfield & Waldron were unable to take advantage of the extra man and the score remained unchanged going in to the half-time break.
Soon after the start of the second half, Heathfield & Waldron’s Will Tyler was sin-binned for a high tackle, and when the decision was disputed, the home side were marched back 10 yards, and from the ensuing line-out, Jonny Whiting made a run to score for 31-17.
Heathfield & Waldron bounced back and again reduced the deficit to seven points when, Horsham were adjudged to have illegally stopped a drive by the hosts and conceded a penalty try.
Heathfield & Waldron looked to have the ascendancy so when Horsham won a penalty in front of the posts Wilde kicked the points on offer.
In the last quarter Horsham used their bench and Iain Fisher and Adam Clarkson made a real impact against a tiring home side.
Dan Cass was then yellow carded for a swinging arm which became a red for querying the decision with the referee and Horsham were obliged to play out the last ten minutes with 14 men.
Horsham were awarded a scrum in the final minute of the game, Jordan Bell spotted a misalignment in the defence and went on an arcing run to out-pace the cover and score a wonderful solo try in the corner.
Horsham head coach Nick Stocker said: “Given the changes with new combinations in the back three, back row and half backs, the team produced a solid performance which was pleasing.
“We gave up possession very cheaply as a result of some miscommunication because of the changes and were guilty of playing too much in our half which allowed a resilient team field position from which they scored two simple tries.
“Cut out our penalties, play field position and we start to look a good squad that is very young and developing rapidly. All in all it was a good return from a tough side to travel to.”
Horsham: Watts; Grant (Murphy), Carvell, Wilde, Barber; Bell J, Mills; Fairs, Lowe (Fisher), Bell N (capt); Goward, Maguire (Clarkson); Cass, Smith, Whiting.