Horsham manager Dominic Di Paola gave an honest assessment that Hastings United fully deserved their 2-0 victory on Tuesday night and that his side were ‘off the pace.’
A goal in each half from Sam Adams and Daniel Ajakaiye saw the Hornets suffer a Sussex derby defeat at the Pilot Field.
The Arrows, a side that Di Paola had tipped as one of the Bostik League South East Division title favourites, made it 15 points from a possible 18 in the league to consolidate second place.
It left the Hornets 14th in the standings with two wins from six games and Di Paola ruled: “I do not think we deserved anything out of it.
“They were at their best, they were really good and we were a little bit off the pace, it was a combination of that.
“We never really troubled them and it was the first time this season I have felt that we have been off it.
“In a lot of games we have had a lot of the ball and possession, but for whatever reason, we did not really click Against a team like that, you have to be at your best as they will be in the top two this year.
“There were some mitigating circumstances - Jack Brivio has not played in six weeks - although was our best player first half. Harvey Sparks made his first start since August and Charlie Harris had an allergic reaction. But there are no excuses, whatever had happened or turned up, we would have been beaten as we were not at the race.
“The lads have been good so far, but it’s a bit of a wake-up call that we can’t turn up half at it on Tuesday nights.”
The Hornets made three changes to the side that recorded that thrilling come-from-behind FA Cup win against Heybridge Swifts at the weekend with Sparks making his first competitive start in place of Lee Harding, Brivio coming in for Daryl Coleman, and Steve Metcalf rested to the bench in favour of James McElligott.
In front of an excellent midweek crowd of 479, the home side enjoyed a lot of possession during the first half and led in the 17th minute.
Ajakaiye skipped past two Horsham defenders, before striking the base of the far post with his shot, but Adams gratefully tapped in the rebound.
After that, Sam Beale’s shot was blocked behind for a corner and Antonio Walker’s goalbound effort was got away by a covering defender after Josh Pelling came sliding out at the feet of Ajakaiye.
Ajakaiye had a great chance to make it 2-0 shortly before the break, but was denied by a good save from Pelling.
Horsham’s best effort during the opening 45 minutes was a free kick from Charlie Harris which was safely gathered by home stopper Charlie Horlock.
Hastings gave themselves the comfort of a two-goal cushion in the 56th minute. An attempted Horsham clearance was blocked and the ball broke to Ajakaiye, who fired a first-time shot high into the net for his 16th goal already this season.
Horsham were by now pressing higher up the pitch and Chris Smith came close to pulling one back with a left-footed shot which went just wide of the far post amidst a few other half chances.
A number of decent Hastings opportunities were then spurned, before at the other end, Horlock made a smart save low to his right in the 90th minute from Tyrell Richardson-Brown’s turn and shot inside the area.
Horsham: Pelling, McElligott, Shelley, Hyde, Taylor, Brivio, Harris (Hayward 67) Hoare (Richardson-Brown 46), Sparks (Metcalf), O’Toole, Smith. Unused: Merchant-Simmonds, Lovegrove.