Horsham officially marked the opening of their new Camping World Community Stadium with a superb 3-1 victory over League Two outfit and near-neighbours Crawley Town this (Saturday) afternoon.
In front of a bumper crowd of 1,080, the Hornets drew first blood on 32 minutes thanks to a deft finish from Chris Smith. But the Reds hit back immediately through Reece Grego-Cox's piledriver.
Crawley began to exert pressure in the second-half but Kieran Lavery's double ensured that Horsham sealed a famous win over their higher-level opponents.
The Hornets had the game’s first sight of goal on three minutes. Great hold up play down the right flank by Zack Newton saw him roll the ball to George Hayward on the edge of the box.
The midfielder teed up Harvey Sparks who let off a stinging 25-yard shot that had Reds keeper Michael Luyumbula at full flight to tip the attempt over the bar.
A great diagonal cross-field ball from Charlie Harris found Newton on 15 minutes. The twinkle-toed winger proceeded to beat the Crawley Town defender with fleet footwork before firing off a shot that was well blocked by a Reds trialist.
On 25 minutes, Tarryn Allarakhia did well to beat his man out wide to find Filipe Morais. The veteran set himself and let fly with a vicious drive that went just over the crossbar.
The pair linked up again three minutes later as Morais had a golden opportunity to put the visitors in front. A cracking ball from the left from Allarakhia found Morais in the middle of the box but the Portuguese midfielder volleyed his chance over the bar.
Less than a minute later and Morais had yet another chance, forcing Horsham’s trialist keeper into a fine close-range save with his feet to keep the scores level.
Despite this period of sustained Crawley pressure, the Hornets opened the scoring on 32 minutes. A lovely lofted through ball from Harry Mills found Smith one-one-one with Luyumbula. The Horsham striker produced a delightfully delicate chip to lift the ball over the keeper to give the Hornets the lead.
But Crawley hit back less than a minute later. Reds winger Grego-Cox unleashed an unstoppable rocket that whizzed past Horsham’s trialist keeper to restore parity.
The scores were level at the break but the Hornets had more than matched their Football League opponents, going toe-toe with Crawley in an entertaining first 45 minutes.
It took just a minute after the restart for the Reds to get a chance away. Substitute Brian Galach and Grego-Cox combined down the right and fired a ball into Morais but his drilled shot was well saved by substitute goalkeeper Josh James.
Five minutes later and James was called into action again. Ollie Palmer, on the left, found Morais in the box and the midfielder let off a stinging attempt which as saved low-down by the Hornets' stopper.
On 57 minutes Horsham took the lead once more. Great work from live-wire Newton saw him glide past a Crawley trialist but the winger saw himself hauled down in the area. Lavery stepped up and, cool as you like, slotted the ball past Luyumbula to make it 2-1.
Crawley almost repeated the trick by levelling soon after, but Reds’ forward Palmer well and truly fluffed his lines. Brilliant skill down the right from a Reds trialist saw him play a ball into the burly striker but Palmer slipped and shanked his shot well wide of the target.
A marvellous piece of last-ditch defending kept the Hornets ahead on 63 minutes. A firm strike from Palmer saw James save but the ball ricocheted underneath the keeper. It was left to Harris to produce a superb sliding tackle to scoop the ball off the line and preserve Horsham’s lead.
The Hornets then extended their advantage thanks to a lovely goal from Lavery. Superb skill from Malachi Hudson saw the substitute glide past Crawley defender Jordan Tunnicliffe before laying the ball off to Lavery.
The Horsham forward then opened his body up and produced a glorious curled shot that flew past Luyumbula to make it 3-1 and have the Hornets’ faithful in dreamland.
The Reds began to control possession for the next 15 minutes but failed to produce anything in the final third as Horsham hassled and harried their higher-level opponents.
Four minutes from time, Horsham won a free-kick from 30-yards out and Dean Lovegrove let off a howitzer of a shot that flew just past the post.
The full-time whistle went signalling the end of a highly watchable pre-season friendly. Horsham manager Dominic Di Paola would have been absolutely delighted with the performance of his charges but Crawley head coach Gabriele Cioffi wouldn't have been inspired by the display of his fringe players.
The Hornets travel to Eastbourne Town on Tuesday (7.45pm) while Crawley Town welcome Portsmouth to The People's Pension Stadium next Saturday (3pm).
Horsham: Trialist (James 46), Mills, Sparks (Trialist 77), Harris (Brivio 68), Shelley, Merchant (Lovegrove 61), Kelly, Hayward, Lavery, Smith (Hudson 46), Newton. Unused: Trialist, O’Toole.
Crawley Town: Luyambula, Trialist, Trialist, Tunnicliffe, Doherty, Morais (Powell 68), Francomb, Allarakhia (Galach 46), Payne (Smith 81), Grego-Cox, Palmer (Trialist 65). Unused: Powell.
Referee: Tim Robinson