Rebels run riot on return to Woodside

Tuesday evening saw the return of Worthing FC to Woodside Road. You might ask well surely that’s the same for most clubs who either haven’t played since late last year or those at lower levels who managed a few games behind closed doors in April and May.

The Rebels didn’t manage to play a home game last year after extensive work to replace the playing surface after countless many months of waiting and the ‘home’ matches they did get to play were up the A24 at Horsham’s Camping World Stadium.

457 fans were there to welcome the team back on home turf and along with the much better playing surface the installation of long overdue new floodlights were also given their debut on a sun kissed evening on the South Coast.

Worthing boss Adam Hinshelwood kept his players fit and together once the lockdown period subsided and almost all of last season’s squad have re-signed for new campaign. Joining them are goalkeeper Harrison Male, defenders Will Seager and Pat Webber and the statement signing of former Orient midfielder Dean Cox, some uncertainty around the season long loan for Kane Wills from Dorking Wanderers it appears.

Worthing’s last competitive game before a halt was called to the season was a Sussex Senior Cup exit at the hands of Three Bridges in early November, a game the Rebels should have won but credit to Bridges who turned the game around and deservedly progressed to the next round.

But there was to be no repeat this time around as the Rebels literally blew their opponents away with a scintillating first half performance. It took just three minutes for the home side to open their account, Jasper Pattenden’s corner headed home at the back post by Aaron Racine.

Eight minutes later Worthing went further in front, a very lean and sharp looking Ollie Pearce crossed for Pattenden to tap in for 2-0. There wasn’t very long to wait for the third Rebels goal, a miscued clearance from the visiting keeper went straight to Pearce who strode into the area and netted with some aplomb.

Less than twenty minutes were on the clock when Jesse Starkey added the fourth passing the ball into the net after neat footwork from Cox and Pearce fashioned the opportunity.

It didn’t stop there as Pearce calmly fired the ball under the keeper for his second and Worthing’s fifth with a little more than 23 minutes on the clock, Bridges not able to keep hold of the ball when they did get it and Worthing just clinical with every opportunity.

Pearce thought he had his hat-trick on the half hour mark, but his free kick around the wall was inches wide of the post and the Rebels went into the half time break with a very comfortable lead.

That lead was almost increased one minute after the re-start, substitute Shaq Gwengwe capitalising on a weak back pass, beating the keeper but the ball striking the bottom of the post and away to safety.

The best goal of the night came on the hour, when Pattenden cut in from the left hand side and unleashed a curling shot into the top right hand corner for his final touch of the night. A host of changes from the home side didn’t hamper the game with Bridges still struggling to get hold of the ball and escape from their own half.

The visitors did find the back of the net thirteen minutes from time for a consolation goal, the home side then content to play out the final throws of the game without troubling the scoreline.

I’ve found in all three pre-season games I’ve watched so far with six different sides the quality is not dipping after the substitutions are made, I’m not sure if that’s because players are so eager to play and express themselves after two years of stop start football or something else but I’m not complaining at all!

The Rebels definitely look like they have enough to be in the title race once again for promotion, some big signings made and that continuity they’ve kept within the squad looks as if it will bode well for Hinshelwood and the club.

Bridges claim cup win

It was a Tuesday night before lockdown and a mad rush to get in as many football matches as possible before battening down the hatches for the second time this year.

Although to be fair, Three Bridges vs Worthing in the Sussex Senior Cup was always going to be my destination far before the realms of unpredictability rolled the dice once again, a second viewing of Bridges and a third of the Mackerel Men.

Having caught my first 0-0 of the season the previous evening in the same competition I was hopeful that was just a blip and more goals would be on offer, well that 0-0 had to have a penalty shoot-out, so not counted really is it!

One huge bonus for the visitors was the return of Alfie Young to the heart of the defence, a big player for Worthing and one needed since Aarran Racine decided to step away to concentrate on his business.

Having seen both sides in action at least once already this season, there was less of an unknown quantity about either side. As you would expect the Mackerel Men had most of the possession but Bridges were content to make the most of the play when they had the ball.

The first real chance of the game came on 16 minutes, Worthing Mo Diallo was denied by Bridges stopper Kieron Thorp after fashioning a chance himself. Bridges though came back and ex-Mackerel man Brannon O’Neil brought a fine save out of Roco Rees in the Worthing goal.

With Worthing enjoying their better spells down the flanks, the next good chance came from Dajon Golding cutting in from the right wing but blazing wildly over when looking set to open the scoring.

The game should have turned on its head in the 42nd minute, a lunging challenge from Bridges centre half Dean Lovegrove on Jasper Pattenden saw the defender receive his second red card in as many matches and leave his side with just over half a game to complete with ten men.

Worthing certainly had a little more intensity in the second half, trying to pull Bridges across the pitch and make the most of the extra man advantage but the hosts made the visitors work hard defending well against Diallo and Omar Koroma, not allowing either striker much sight of Thorp’s goal.

Koroma did get a sight of goal just before the hour mark, bursting through the Bridges defence beating Thorp but hitting the defender on the line which kept the scores level.

The hosts were increasingly creating chances on the counter-attack as Worthing pushed forward trying to break the deadlock and indeed were nearly caught out as Gayler sent the ball over Rees goal when well positioned.

The Mackerel Men made them pay for that miss as substitute Ollie Pearce was slipped in and fired emphatically past Thorp to give Worthing the lead on 82 minutes.

The lead was to last no more than a minute as Bridges replied immediately through John Lansdale. Skipping through the Worthing defence, the ball found it’s way through to Lansdale hammered the ball past Rees to give Bridges renewed hope and a way back into the tie.

Worse was to come for Worthing as minutes later Curtis Gayler finished off a fine counter-attack with a measured finish past Rees to give the home side the lead and under three minutes left to play.

Koroma thought he had levelled the scores in the last minute, a Golding cross picking him out in the six yard box but the tall striker’s header hit the bar and the loose ball cleared away to safety.

Bridges held firm in stoppage time despite a barrage of balls into the box and secured their place in the last sixteen of the cup at the expense of their higher league placed opponents.

After the game I caught up with Worthing boss Adam Hinshelwood to get his views on the game:

‘Bit frustrated we didn’t take our chances, but we should have had a penalty in the first ten minutes instead of an offside decision going against us which changes the game in my opinion, but on the night we didn’t show enough quality in the final third and they fully deserved to win.’

‘We made a lot of poor choices on the ball and clinical ruthless finishing was lacking for me, we would turn down a simple pass for a more difficult one. It’s football though, it happens and we’ve already identified improvements to be made and the players like myself will be working hard to improve.’

‘Great to have Alfie (Young) back, a real big player for us and the way we want to play, but for the two goals last night I have already had a conversation with him on how he could’ve done better in both situations and potentially prevented them which he agreed with, so he will learn from it and that’s what this group of players do, they are honest, hard working and Alfie epitomises that, he is very brave to get on the ball and play it out from the back.’

‘With the lockdown coming in, its very frustrating but it is what it is we have to deal with it and then try and find the momentum we were building in the league on the return. Hopefully, a shining light will be that the pitch can be done in this time.’

‘We’ll try and do some Zoom sessions with the boys over the next four weeks and keep in touch with them as much as we are allowed to do, obviously no training for the same period of time I hope has no or little effect when we do re-start.’

Town come good despite windy battles

This weekend saw me head ‘home’ to Kent and to Greatness Park, home of Sevenoaks Town. I lived in Kent for nearly 31 years until I moved down to Sussex, Sevenoaks might be the hometown but Otford Utd were my club having lived in the nearby village for 18 years. However, going home to places from my childhood I really love but this was to be the first time I had watched Town in an enclosed ground scenario.

I saw many great games and battles between the two clubs and sadly while Otford went out the Premier Division via relegation, Oaks went the other way and won the title and with it promotion to the Kent League. Stabilisation in that competition eventually led them to another league title and into the the Ryman/Bostik/Pitching In Isthmian South East Division where they sit now. They were 10th in the table before Covid-19 struck in March and on Saturday it was a first return to competitive league action since then.

Of course this ‘new normal’ is quite different for each of level of grounds you go into. Pre-paid for ticket is now expected, easily done, face recognition for a temperature check is a new one in the first three weeks, luckily I passed and of course sanitising points as you enter the turnstiles and a one way system to enter and exit the ground, very well thought out. Also a word or two to say about the stewards/volunteers here, first class from the car park to inside the ground, happy to answer any query we had, even got a printed team-sheet without needing a picture of the written board!

What I wasn’t expecting when I got here was to see two very familiar faces to me, firstly Jason Bourne, the ex Tunbridge Wells player and manager, who knows my family very well and secondly Julian Leigh, a man I’ve known for the best part of 30 odd years through him playing for Otford and Sevenoaks as well, again well known to my family and nice to have a short catch up before the game began.

A game that wasn’t ever going to be for the purist with wind dominating the full 90 minutes, Bridges with three ex Worthing players in their ranks, Mason Doughty, Hayden Skerry and Brannon O’Neill were the brighter starters playing with the wind with the latter controlling the game from midfield in front of a good sized crowd of 137.

Oaks also included an ex Rebel in Joe Tennent who had a fine game at centre back alongside Thomas Ripley, but they struggled to created anything in the final third of the pitch and it was no surprise to see the visitors take the lead on 12 minutes through Alex Barbary.

The home side didn’t find any joy down the wings either and despite O’Neill probing and prompting Bridges couldn’t add to the scoreline and one of the few attacks on the visitors goal saw Oaks draw level on the stroke of half time. A corner headed back across goal landed on the head of striker Kyle Da Silva who nodded home from just a few yards out to send the sides in level at the break.

The goal certainly came at the right time for the home side who hadn’t offered much in the first 45 minutes but came out with a better game plan in the second half. Had Bridges continued to play in the same vain against the wind, there might have been a better outcome for them but it was Sevenoaks who played the better football with more joy down the flanks whilst Bridges struggled to get any joy from Tennent and Ripley.

Oaks took the lead on 71 minutes after Jason Thompson broke the offside trap, rounded the keeper and netted. Just four minutes later, Thompson added his second after great work from Tyrell Richardson-Brown down the right hand side who squared to the striker to slot home. Those two quickfire goals put the game out of Bridges’ reach and with James Bessey-Saldanha adding a fourth in stoppage time a comprehensive victory goes down in the record books before a trip to Corinthian in Tuesday’s FA Cup tie.

Manager Mickey Collins will certainly be pleased with the way his side responded in the second half but knows a stern test will await his team on Tuesday evening. For Bridges, a long way to go with this being only the first league game, the front two of Barbary and Tom Tolfrey will give a few sides problems this season and had they taken one or two of the chances that did come their way in the first half the game could have ended with a different complexion.

Tuesday night is FA Cup night again and my first look at Adam Hinshelwood’s Worthing who started the season with a good 2-1 victory at Folkestone Invicta, East Grinstead are their opponents and a new ground I’ve yet to visit, I’m certainly making the most of this season!