Littlehampton fall just short in FA Cup drama

Photograph courtesy of Martin Denyer (@MartinDenyer)

The FA Cup! Last season I managed to get to a game in every round until the 4th qualifying round when National League teams entered and of course they were barred from having spectators.

Without really realising I’ve managed to do the same so far this time around with Sunday’s 1st qualifying round tie between Littlehampton Town and their Sussex neighbours Whitehawk.

Having seen Town dispatch Sittingbourne a week and a half ago in the Preliminary Round, it was time to see if they could repeat the feat of sending another Pitching In Isthmian side out of the competition.

A glorious afternoon of Sussex sunshine greeted the crowd of 525 and the players as Town wasted no time in getting started. An early goal and a high press is the way Littlehampton seem to start in most games and this one was no different.

A floated Dave Herbert free kick into the box was met by an unmarked Dion Jarvis whose header was saved by Nathan Stroomberg, but George Gaskin was on hand to tap in after just two minutes. That certainly signalled to the Hawks they were in for a game this afternoon.

The lead however only lasted nine minutes as Town struggled to clear the ball when it came into their box and Henry Muggeridge, who was pivotable for the Hawks all afternoon, made sure the ball ended up in the back of the net for the equaliser.

Ten minutes later the visitors were in front, a clumsy push on Muggeridge by Lewis Jenkins gave the referee no option but to point to the spot and James Fraser gave the Hawks the lead for the first time of the afternoon.

Gaskin had a chance to pull the scores level again two minutes later, after beating the offside trap, he lifted the ball wide of the on-rushing Stroomberg but with not enough purchase on the ball it was cleared to safety.

Just after the half hour, Town had a penalty of their own. Lucas Pattenden’s strong run down the right found Jarvis in the box, who was brought down and Herbert made no mistake with the spot kick restoring parity once again.

With the game flowing end to end Jarvis then found himself clear of the Hawks defence and while his chip beat Stroomberg, who came then stopped and found himself in no man’s land, it also beat the crossbar.

It was Hawks then back in front, once again the Town defence unable to clear the ball convincingly and Muggeridge slotted home his second and the visitors third, a half time lead for Whitehawk and a chance for the 525 to catch 15 minutes of breath.

Just before the hour mark Town should have levelled once again, Joe Benn with an exquisite through ball to Gaskin saw the striker lift the ball over Stroomberg but unfortunately just over the bar. The Golds though didn’t have long to wait for their third goal, Jarvis with a strong run to the by line, the ball finding it’s way to Benn at the far post who volleyed past Stroomberg for 3-3.

Town then created the better chances and looked the more likely to score with Hawks struggling to break through the Golds back line and giving away possession cheaply in the middle of the park.

And out of nothing came two sucker punches, six minutes to go and Callum Edwards struck home a fourth goal for the visitors, Binfield a little slow getting down and the ball was past him. Worse to come two minutes after that goal Omarr Lawson scored a fifth with Binfield slightly unsighted from the bodies in front of him and looked a now comfortable passage into the next round for the visitors.

However, Gaskin and Town had other ideas as the front man curled in his second and Golds fourth in the final minute to leave a nervy five or so minutes of stoppage time for Hawks to negotiate, but for all the pressing from the home side they couldn’t find one more goal to take it to a replay and bow out after the most pulsating game of football of the 10 I’ve watched so far this season.

Having seen a lot of the home side so far there is no doubt they’ve competed very well against two sides from a division higher and with a strong start to their league season as well they are certainly heading in the right direction.

Great to see a fantastic attendance once again, as has been the case at grounds up and down the country, I just hope people enjoyed what they saw and carry on coming to watch the football on offer.

Rebels brush aside hard working Golds

Two games in two nights for me this week, although this one had to be cut a little short as the eldest daughter required picking up from her final guides meeting of the current year!

Having already seen both Littlehampton Town and Worthing in action this was a further chance to see how much difference a week or two makes in the company of former Rebels chairman Pete Stone for the first half and Simon Hull manager of East Preston for part of the second half.

With players Mitch Hand and George Gaskin jointly managing Town after Mark Bennett’s resignation a week ago, Hand sat out the game to manage from the sideline up against Adam Hinshelwood whose side the night before had beaten Baffins Milton Rovers 3-2 and once again the squad rotation was in full effect.

With so many promising young players coming through the Worthing ranks, pre-season is an ideal time to integrate them into the squad and while most are currently involved in training with the first team nothing compares to game time especially against County League sides where the games are much tougher.

And with Worthing keeping together a majority of their squad from the past two interrupted seasons there aren’t much tougher tests locally. Littlehampton have also kept together most of their squad too and will be hoping to make an impression on their return to the Premier Division of the Southern Combination.

The Rebels were out the blocks quickly with Shaq Gwengwe leading the line, looking sharp and ready to cause problems. The first chance however fell to the hosts inside five minutes, Joe Benn blazing over the bar with Worthing slightly back on their heels.

The visitors then took over the possession stakes although the Golds were very rigid in their two banks of four making it hard for Worthing to get through, patience and movement was the key for the Rebels.

That paid off after 14 minutes when the impressive Kyle O’Brien’s ball into the box wasn’t cleared and fell to Gwengwe who cheekily back-heeled the ball past James Binfield for the opening goal.

The lead however lasted just six minutes, Dion Jarvis’ ball over the top gave Benn the chance to score and slotted the ball past Harrison Male to level the scores.

O’Brien, who was finding acres of space down the left hand side, was at the heart of everything creative for the Rebels causing no end of problems. Again though it was the home side who should have scored just after the half hour mark when Benn was clean through and although his effort beat Male it also beat the far post.

As it was, the Rebels took the lead again through Aarran Racine seven minutes before the break, heading home at the far post from a Darren Budd corner to give the visitors the half time advantage.

That lead was almost increased early in the second half as Ty Mthunzi smacked a header against the bar from another Budd corner. There wasn’t long for Rebels fans to wait as Alfie Hall netted the third after Gwengwe harassed a Golds defender and Hall was left with the easiest tap in.

That was pretty much the end of my watching with said pick up occurring, Worthing added two further goals, both from Hall, to complete a comprehensive 5-1 win for the visitors.

Whilst Worthing are very slick in the way they play, it’s been honed over seasons and the Golds working as they do to protect themselves with the two banks of four defending not many sides should take them apart this season.

Very impressed with O’Brien on the left hand side, considering he looked like playing as the left back in a four, he spent more time providing the crosses as a left winger and with Joel Colbran providing width on the opposite flank Littlehampton had lots to think about for the 90 minutes.

Just over a week of pre-season left before Steps 5 and 6 begin their league campaigns whilst Step 4 have a wait of a little longer but that will arrive in no time and every hope there is no interruption this time around……..

Goals galore at the Sportsfield

Friday night football. It’s not too often it comes around so the chance to squeeze in an extra game is always welcome and even better when it’s within walking distance from home.

Before null and void kicked in last season Littlehampton Town had won 20 of 22 league games and on course for promotion and well placed to lift the Southern Combination League Division One title. They were five points clear of AFC Varndeanians with two games in hand and a massive 16 points clear of local rivals Wick who occupied the final promotion spot.

Promotion never came as the season was wound up early and the Golds find themselves like many others having to do it all over again. You can imagine there is a steely resolve amongst these clubs to achieve this time around what they felt they are deserving of and it will be interesting to see which clubs can repeat themselves.

Littlehampton have been very quiet over Twitter this summer, so trying to find out if they managed to keep all of last season’s players or even sign a few further additions was very hard to see! Their first team sheet of the season last Saturday at Hailsham Town gave the first clues and in all honesty was pretty much as I expected.

Their opening two games both yielded 6-1 wins, the latest side put to the sword were Midhurst & Easebourne in midweek, but Worthing Utd having won their opening two games as well were expected to provide a bit more of a sterner test for Town.

As it was, Littlehampton went for the jugular right from the kick off. They were in front in less than two minutes, a superb first time ball from George Gaskin found Harry Russell to slot past Aaron Relf in the visitors goal. Less than a minute later Joe Benn took full advantage of a defensive mix up to make it 2-0 with under five minutes on the clock.

Maybe I shouldn’t have been surprised with the fast start, Benn had them in front on five minutes at Hailsham whilst Dan Hegarty hit the target in midweek even earlier and in both games Town were three goals to the good by half time. Worse was to come for the visitors as Benn capitalised on some more lacklustre defending to fire past Relf for 3-0 and only 15 minutes of the game had gone.

Utd certainly looked quite shell-shocked at the way Littlehampton had approached the game and struggled to get any kind of momentum going across the pitch, Golds having a lot of joy with Lucas Pattenden’s direct running down the right flank. Benn completed a first half hat-trick on 34 minutes with the simplest of tap-ins for the hosts fourth goal before the break. The visitors had a glimmer of hope just a couple of minutes later after being awarded a penalty, but James Binfield was equal to the well struck spot-kick to keep his clean sheet intact.

To Worthing’s credit, they came out in the second half with some more purpose but still unable to force Binfield into any save of note and with a 4-0 lead Town were comfortably in control of the game. No more goals arrived until the final ten minutes of the game, Benn adding his fourth with a well executed chip over Relf and Jordan Layton the sixth from the penalty spot three minutes from time to make six goals in three games running for the home side.

Worthing know they won’t come up against sides like Littlehampton every week and for the hosts this is a side very capable of repeating last season but this time finishing the job. Both sides now take a break from league action as the Golds head to Beckenham Town in the FA Vase next weekend whilst Worthing host Greenways in the same competition.

Next up for me a Saturday double header for the first time ever and double FA Cup action, Langney Wanderers vs Harrow Borough and Newhaven vs Corinthian my destinations for what should be two great games.