Horsham 1-2 Sittingbourne
Horsham 1-2 Sittingbourne

What a great start to the season for Sittingbourne, an excellent all-round performance giving them all three points to kick off with.

They finished last season with a 2-1 win in Sussex – at Hastings – and they repeated the feat on opening day on the artificial pitch at Lancing, stunning a Horsham side hoping to go a long way this season.

To win it, they needed to have tactics, energy and commitment spot on, and that’s what have become hallmarks of Aslan Odev sides in the short but successful time he’s been in charge of Sittingbourne.

He’s very much gone for youth – Tom Loynes at 25 was the oldest player in the squad – and it was their all-round ability to run themselves into the ground that won this match as much as anything.

Sittingbourne gave debuts to four newcomers, goalkeeper Patrick Lee, right-back Rob Lofting, midfielder Tom Fagg and winger Ira Jackson, while Bola Dawodu returned to the club and went straight in as a replacement for Kane Rowland in his preferred centre-forward role.

Right from the start, the Brickies players made their intentions clear – and showed that the management had done their homework – by pressing Horsham high up the field as they tried to play out from the back.

The home side were rattled out of their stride and after Dawodu had gone close with a header from a massive Lewis Chambers throw-in, Sittingbourne took an eighth minute lead.

Again it came from Chambers, and incidentally it’s no co-incidence that Sittingbourne’s excellent 10-game run to finish last season began when he arrived. He’s not just a long thrower, as he works and tackles ferociously all over the pitch, but it was his throw to the near post that set it up. Fagg’s well-timed header was turned onto the bar by the Horsham keeper and Loynes was in the right place to thrust forward and turn the loose ball in at the far post.

And the high pressing paid off again soon after when Dawodu forced a mistake from a defender trying to play out from the back, and intercepted his attempted clearance. He cleverly sent a neat through ball for the speedy Jackson to shoot low and left-footed past the advancing keeper.

For the first 30 minutes Sittingbourne swarmed all over Horsham to win back possession and thwart their game, as well as playing some good football of their own.

But it’s impossible to keep up that game the whole time, and Horsham gradually worked their way back into it, pulling a goal back on 35 minutes when a lucky bounce gave them possession on the halfway line and Smith raced forward to score. He seemed to have about a 10-yard head start on the defenders, so looked offside even though he presumably can’t have been.

A 2-1 lead takes a bit of holding onto with up to an hour left to play, but Sittingbourne managed it well and despite the odd Horsham corner, the home side never mounted any sustained pressure.

Lee in goal commanded his area well and made a couple of important saves while in front of him all the back four were excellent, with Lofting impressive and Lex Allan in the sort of commanding form that attracted so many scouts to watch him last season.

In fact it was a real team effort with every player working their socks off to stop Horsham having decent possession, a really excellent Sittingbourne performance.

They had a couple of glimpses of goal themselves in the second half but from the closest, a Dan Parkinson header, the keeper made a good save.

So Sittingbourne held out well to secure the win and reward the noisy fans who had made the trip down to Sussex with an afternoon to remember.

One swallow doesn’t make a summer but Sittingbourne have laid down a marker with this well-disciplined and energetic display.

Horsham: Josh Pelling, Steve Metcalf (George Landais, 83 min), Joey Taylor, Charlie Harris, Joe Shelley (Yellow card), Daryl Coleman (Yellow card), Will Hoare (Tyrell Richardson-Brown, 83 min), George Hayward (Darren Boswell, 59 min), Rob O’Toole, Chris Smith, Lee Harding.

Subs not used: Charlie Farmer, James McElligott.

Sittingbourne: Patrick Lee, Rob Lofting, Josh Dorling, Dan Parkinson, Lex Allan, Chris Webber, Ira Jackson, Lewis Chambers, Bola Dawodu (Johan Caney-Bryan, 76 min), Tom Fagg (Khalil McFarlane, 83 min), Tom Loynes (Yellow card) (Izzy Adebayo, 88 min).

Subs not used: Harrison Hatfull, Harry Brooks.

Referee: Jamie Wells. Assistants: Will Briers, Rachel Marlow

Attendance 191