Play-offs: Premier Division return dream is step closer as Horsham book final place with victory over Haywards Heath

Tyrell Richardson-Brown netted Horsham's third goal. Picture by John Lines
Tyrell Richardson-Brown netted Horsham's third goal. Picture by John Lines

Horsham moved a step closer to a Bostik League Premier Division return as they overcame local rivals Haywards Heath in their South East Division semi-final at Culver Road tonight.

Goals from Lee Harding, Rob O'Toole and Tyrell Richardson-Brown completed what in truth was a fairly routine 3-0 win for the Hornets as their quest for promotion moved closer and set up a play-off final clash with either Hastings United or Ashford on Friday night.

It has been a somewhat surprise rise for the Hornets - a second-placed league finish was never in anyone's thoughts this season. The same can be said for Heath climbing to a remarkable fifth having been promoted last season.

They had also completed the league double over Dominic Di Paola's side this season so a bumper crowd packed in at Lancing expected another well-contested game.

It was the Hornets that were the hungrier though, Heath possibly deterred by the fact they already knew if they had gone on to win the play-offs, they couldn't be promoted due to their below average points to game ratio.

For Horsham, however, a club that remember were themselves in the County League in 2015 a return to a level they haven't played at since 2012, is just one more win away.

Horsham made three changes from the team that beat Guernsey in their final league game a week ago on Saturday. Joe Shelley returned from injury to replace Dylan Merchant who was himself struggling with injury.

Tyrell Richardson-Brown also came back into the side at the expense of Kieran Lavery, while returning goalkeeper Josh Pelling was back in the sticks with Joe Mant on the bench.

It was wholesale changes for Heath, who rested a large number of their squad in their final-day 5-0 defeat to Ashford which confined them to fifth place. They even played Trevor McCreadie in goal on Saturday with Anthony Ender playing for division-below Chichester.

It was, however, a far more familiar Heath side at Culver Road with just Tom Graves and Alex Laing keeping their places as they made nine changes.

The first chance came after just five minutes when a neat lofted ball from Richardson-Brown played in Lee Harding and he cut in and attempedt to find the far corner with a curling effort which whistles narrowly wide.

In truth it was Horsham asking all the questions in the opening 15 minutes and from a wide free kick that was hammered in by Harding the ball ricocheted off Chirs Smith and rolled just wide.

Another set-piece from Harding was then put over the bar by a stretching O'Toole and the same two combined soon after when Harding crossed, but O'Toole's shot took a deflection and bounced just wide.

The Hornets had the lead they had been threatening on 22 minutes. Captain Jack Brivio won the ball on the halfway line and put Richardson-Brown away. His dangerous cross -when it looked as though he had overrun the ball - saw O'Toole put goalkeeper Anthony Ender under pressure and the ball fell to Harding, who smashed home.

The visitors were then forced into a substitute and reshuffle when Kieran Rowe went down injured. Jamie Weston switched to left-back and Heath brought on Vincent Follea.

On the stroke of half-time, Ender's fingertips prevented Chris Smith making it 2-0 as the striker brought under control a lofted ball and tried to chip the 'keeper from close range, but he just managed to get his hand on the ball. Moments later, Tom Graves hooked another chance off the line.

Heath had a lot more urgency about them at the start of the second half and soon created their first real chance of the match. Good work by Alex Laing out wide saw him cross for Kenny Pogue and the big striker's glancing header had Pelling scrambling across his goal, before it dropped just wide.

At the other end a slip by Follea allowed O'Toole the ball on the edge of the box, but having skipped across the box to make himself space, he fired horribly high and wide.

On 56 minutes, Horsham came so close to a second as Richard-Brown raced away on the right, but his cross-shot across goal was inches wide and just too far from Smith to provide the final touch.

A timely Shelley cross in his own area then cleared a dangerous cross before Heath had a series of corners that were repelled.

Just past the hour mark, Horsham managed to calm some nerves with a timely second goal. It wasn't the prettiest, but not one Horsham supporter of player cared. A Harvey Sparks ball driven from the left was touched in by Richardson-Brown deep in the box and O'Toole ran onto it and drove the ball home.

Further chances followed as Brivio headed over and substitute Kieran Lavery then forced a fine diving save from Ender from an angled effort.

In the closing moments, Brvio had a point-blank header saved and Harding found the side netting from the follow-up. But there was to be an icing on the cake for man-of-the-match Richardson Brown. A nice through ball from George Hayward saw Lavery race forward on the left and his cross picked out the winger at the far post and he volleyed home superbly.

Horsham: Pelling, Metcalf, Shelley, Miles (Hyde 90), Sparks, Richardson-Brown, Hayward, Brivio, Harding, O'Toole (Lovegrove 90), Smith (Lavery 71). Unused subs: Taylor, Mant.

Haywards Heath: Ender, Roddy, Cooper, Graves, Rowe (Follea 28, Landais 56), Saunders, Napper, Weston (Folkes 81), Laing, Pogue, Akehurst. Unused subs: Dalhouse, Bangura.

Referee: Simon Finnigan.

Attendance: 547.