Worthing FC

Saturday 12th January 2019, 1500 KO

Worthing FC vs Lewes FC

The Build Up

On Saturday morning I, along with numerous Brighton-bound Liverpool fans, boarded the train from Clapham Junction to Littlehampton and Eastbourne and made my way to the Sussex coast.  My destination wasn’t the Amex though, but a few miles west along the coast in Worthing, for the inter-Sussex derby between Worthing and Lewes.

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Founded in 1886, the Rebels of Worthing gained their nickname when they resigned from the West Sussex League in protest at a 1920 rule change.  99 years later, they find themselves playing at their joint highest level under manager Adam Hinshelwood, and as a club in a very positive place.  Worthing were playing at Step Four as recently as 2015/16 when they were promoted after beating Faversham Town 3-0 in the Play Offs, and now have a great chance to improve upon their record finish of 2nd in the Isthmian League Premier Division (Step Three).

Hinshelwood, who arrived in West Sussex in 2017 for his second spell as manager, has overseen a real change in fortunes and mentality at the club, who boast the highest average attendance (997) in the Bostik Prem, and indeed the third highest nationally at this tier of football.  A 65% increase in crowds from last season shows the direction of travel.  The league position also tells a story.  Having finished 16th last season, after a terrible start to the campaign, the Rebels were now 6th, but could go second by winning their games in hand.  A difficult run of four losses in five seems to have been overcome, with seven points taken from the last three matches.  Next up, making the 20 mile journey along the A27, were Lewes – one position ahead, joint on points, but having played two more fixtures.

Darren Freeman’s Rooks have experienced a comfortable return to the Bostik Prem thus far.  Finishing second behind Carshalton Athletic in the Bostik Isthmian League Division One South, Lewes gained automatic promotion, along with Carshalton (and Walton & Corinthian Casuals via the Play Offs due to the expanded Step Three leagues), and have adapted well.  A club who have risen as high as the Conference Premier (as was) since being founded at the Royal Oak pub back in 1885, last year’s promotion ended two years in the Step Four league.

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Famous for the atmosphere at their Dripping Pan stadium, but also for their Equality FC initiative, Lewes are a progressive club.  Lewes Women play in the second tier nationally, and the club are the highest ranked in the English system to pay both men and women equally.  An important match for both clubs, Lewes also needed to break their own iffy patch of form – they haven’t won in four, and will need to start picking up points to maintain their Play Off tilt.

The Ground

Once the train confusingly split at Haywards Heath (they announce where each end is going, but not which stations it will call at…) I sat and hoped that my Google Maps educated guess to stay on the Littlehampton line would pay off.  And it did, depositing me at Worthing and facing the short walk to Woodside Road – via a stop at the Grand Victorian pub to catch the first half of West Ham vs Arsenal at the Irons’ Taxpayer Handout Stadium (over a £2.99 pint – I love visiting places outside of London).

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There has been a sports ground at Woodside Road since 1892, but clearly they’ve done a fair bit of work over the years.  The stadium is crisp and clean, and the 2015-installed 3G pitch keeps it looking as modern as they come.  Like all stadiums, it looks all the more impressive with a lot of fans crammed in, and considering it’s a 4,000 capacity venue, it looked fit to burst with the 1,124 spectators who had paid the £10 ticket price for this match.

I settled myself down in the clubhouse, to watch another turgid 45 minutes of “The Best League In The World” before the real stuff started, whilst I enjoyed my chilli chips, hot dog and Diet Coke (£6.50) and perused the programme (£2).

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The Match

Worthing came flying out of the traps, and were very nearly ahead as early as the 3rd minute.  When former Selsey midfielder Joe Clarke stretched out one of his 8ft legs to intercept the ball, it wound up at the feet of Ollie Pearce in space.  He settled himself to shoot, and fired towards goal, but the all caught a deflection and zipped wide.  From the resulting corner the ball was rolled to Ricky Aguiar who shot over.

Worthing were so on top at this point they were making Tyson Fury vs Deontay Wilder look like an even contest, and it was only a matter of time before they scored.  They came close again when top scorer David Ajiboye beat Stacey Freeman for pace and crossed low from the byline.  Ollie Pearce was running onto it, but his shot was blocked by Lewes captain Frankie Chappell.

On ten minutes Lewes created their first chance, and it was a carbon copy, as a low right wing cross worked its way to Luke Blewden, but his shot was stifled by the Rebels defence.  Lewes’ keeper – Lewis Carey – was called into his first action moments later, when he got down smartly to keep out Worthing captain Aaran Racine with a back post header.

Worthing were really upping the tempo, and in particular, Joel Colbran was coming to the fore.  The right back was bombing forward with aplomb, and linking up brilliantly with the approximately twelve year old Jasper Pattenden on the wing.  On 16 minutes, intricate play between these two and Pearce set Colbran free, but last year’s Manager’s Player of the Season sent his shot just over.

Five minutes later, Colbran killed a cross-field ball with a touch so delicious Nigella Lawson will do an hour long special on it, and then won a corner.  As Pattenden swung it in, Carey punched clear and Worthing got a second corner.  From this, Colbran again was the man on hand, but his firm header sailed wide.  A moment for Pattenden, who was making his debut today.  The Academy graduate was full of lively running, and showed confidence attacking his full back.

Then, on 26 minutes, the game lurched away from Worthing.  In the opening quarter they had on occasion been guilty of overplaying, and Ricky Aguair did so again here.  His pocket was picked by the alert Omarr Lawson, and Aguiar had little choice but to haul him down.  Initially a penalty was awarded, and no card, but when the referee consulted with his linesman, that decision was adjusted to a free kick, and the England Colleges teenager was given his marching orders.  Clearly given for last man, it’s possible that one of the covering defenders would have made it across…

Nothing came from that Lewes free kick, but it did from a much less dangerous looking one on 32 minutes.  Just inside the Worthing half (I think, I wasn’t entirely focusing), former Peacehaven & Telscombe midfielder James Hammond was stood over a free kick.  When he saw Tirana-born Kleton Perntreau off his line he smashed a shot goalwards, which appeared to hit the crossbar and bounce over the line.  After another consultation with the linesman, the referee awarded the goal, and the visiting Rooks were one up.  Legitimately a wonder goal, and my camera was nowhere near it.

That lead lasted approximately three minutes, until a Lewes defender pulled David Ajiboye down just outside the box.  Ollie Pearce stood over it, and effortlessly curled the ball into the top corner.  The former Bognor Regis stalwart scored 80 goals along the coast, and has started well since his summer move to the Rebels.

Lewes were the next to strike in what was becoming a topsy turvy game, and it was another delightful finish.  Omarr Lawson was dropping deeper and deeper to orchestrate play for the visitors, and when he slid an incisive pass to Charlie Coppola on the edge of the box, Worthing appeared to have the danger covered.  Coppola disagreed, and the England Colleges international turned on the edge of the area, and swept a left footed shot into the corner.

That was the last notable action of the half, and although Worthing had been the better side for most of the opening period, it was Lewes who had made the best of their more limited opportunities.  Although Worthing hadn’t been wasteful as such, a combination of bad luck and good defending had left them frustrated.  Another source of frustration was the loss of David Ajiboye to injury, and this would get worse through the match, as both centre backs Danny Barker and Aaran Racine would also have to be replaced.

The second half was a more even affair, with both sides having periods where they were in the ascendancy, and the game becoming more tense by the minute.  As players tired, counter attacks became a more likely source of goals, and that was how Lewes extended their lead in the 54th minute.  When Kieron Pamment – at Worthing last season, but now at Lewes via Burgess Hill Town – beat Joel Colbran for pace, he then stepped inside Racine and shot.  Perntreau saved well, but could only parry to where Luke Blewden was waiting, and the summer signing from Tonbridge – looking as happy as I’ve ever seen a player whilst actually striking the ball – finished in the empty net.

As the game continued to stretch, the athleticism and drive of three players became crucial.  Charlie Coppola, Olumide Oluwatimilehim (CTRL+C that one for later…) and Omarr Lawson were playing as complete box to box players, flying up and down the field in defence and attack.  Oluwatimilehim – newly signed from Three Bridges – in particular was snapping into tackles in the Makelele position, and doing it to great effect.

Coppola came close to getting his second in the 63rd minute, when he both started and (almost) finished a nice move.  Beating two in midfield, he played a one-two with Pamment, and managed to get a shot off despite two defenders covering him.  The shot clipped Worthing ankles and skimmed just wide of the far post.

Ten minutes later, Worthing reduced the deficit when new signing Jalen Jones scored his second in two games.  Having joined last week, former Crystal Palace left-back Jones scored on his debut against Whitehawk, and made it 3-2 when he headed in Pattenden’s corner.  His leap to meet the ball would have done his Cleveland Cavs namesake justice.

With six minutes to play, Lewes got a shot on target through Bermuda international Jonté Smith but it was straight at the ‘keeper.  The assistant referee (well, one of the Worthing staff) signalled six minutes of stoppage time, and two minutes later Colbran had another stinging drive palmed wide.

A minute later, Lewes put the game to bed, when Joe Clarke was robbed of possession by James Hammond in midfield.  Hammond released Pamment, and he passed to Smith who dummied.  The ball ran to substitute Callum Overton in acres of space on the right of the Worthing box.  He took his time, and finished high to the right of Perntreou to put the Rooks 4-2 up.

With four of the allotted six played, Lewes aimed squarely at their own feet and pulled the trigger, when they gave away a needless penalty.  Somehow, despite winning a penalty, Worthing managed to have a player sent off – and Adam Hinshelwood will surely be furious that someone as experienced as Darren Budd managed to pick up two yellow cards for dissent in only 15 minutes on the pitch.  Pearce duly dispatched the penalty with aplomb into the top left corner, and the away fans could feel the brown adrenaline.  Finally, with six minutes of stoppage time extended to eleven, the final whistle was blown, giving Rooks fans and players alike the chance to celebrate.

The Wash Up

An absolute belter of an Isthmian League clash, I’d have been certain if you asked me after the first twenty minutes that Worthing would win comfortably, but of course anything can happen in football.  And when you lose two players to red cards (in not a particularly dirty match) and three to injuries, it’s a reasonable indicator that it’s not going to be your day.

As it is, with Folkestone Invicta and hated rivals Bognor Regis Town both winning, Worthing drop down to 8th, but retain enough games in hand to put them back up to second.  Where Lewes now sit.  Haringey Borough’s loss means that only eight points now separate the newly promoted Rooks with a second successive automatic promotion.

For Worthing, Ollie Pearce, Joel Colbran and David Ajiboye all impressed, particularly in the first half, where their neat, quick interplay caused havoc for the visitors.  If Ajiboye had completed the game, I can honestly see Worthing salvaging a point, even down to nine men.

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My man of the match though, has to come from Lewes, and it is a tight one.  Charlie Coppola was a dangerous outlet, and worked his socks off, whilst Omarr Lawson was instrumental creatively when he dropped deep.  Frankie Chappell was well organised at the back, and kept the defensive unit ticking along, but the final vote foes to Olumide Oluwatimilehim.  Having joined at the turn of the year, he has clearly already established himself as an important player for the Rooks, and was instrumental in them taking all three points at Woodside Road.

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