Worthing beat Merstham to guarantee Bostik Premier Division survival
George Barker scored his first Worthing goal on his home debut as the Mackerel Men secured Bostik Premier Division survival with a 3-2 win over Merstham.
Barker tapped in from close range to put the hosts a goal up just after the half hour mark and Harvey Sparks blasted into the top corner in early in the second half to double their lead.
A defensive lapse allowed the visiting side the opportunity to get back into the game when Reece Hall found space in the box and beat debutant goalkeeper George Bentley.
Substitute Ben Pope restored Worthing’s two-goal barrier with 15 minutes to go before Tutu Henriques pulled a goal back in the 89th minute but the hosts held on for victory.
Adam Hinshelwood made five changes to the team that drew 1-1 at Margate on Saturday as captain Darren Budd and Alex Parsons returned following injury lay-offs.
Worthing started brightly as Sparks, returning to the side, sliced wide from the edge of the box and Reece Myles-Meekums lofted over the bar from six yards.
The hosts, without a recognised defender on the bench, suffered a blow in the 15th minute when Danny Barker was stretchered off having suffered a nasty looking injury.
As a result Zack Newton was introduced and Worthing changed to a 4-4-2 formation, Sparks moving to left-back and Parsons moving to right-back.
George Bentley, replacing Lucas Covolan in the Worthing goal, made a solid save to deny Daniel Bennett when he was called into action for the first time in the 27th minute.
Worthing took the lead in the 31st minute when Darren Budd’s free-kick was headed back across goal by Aarran Racine to Barker who tapped in his first goal for the club.
Due to numerous injuries six minutes of stoppage time were added on at the end of the first half and Sean Bennett-Johnson dragged wide moments before the half-time whistle.
Five minutes into the second half an impressive passing move involving Jesse Starkey and Sparks led to Barker breaking through, but he scooped over from an offside position.
Worthing doubled their advantage in the 57th minute when Newton’s mishit shot landed at the feet of Sparks who rifled into the top corner.
Two minutes later Bentley did well to hold Hall’s fierce shot from close range before Racine headed just wide at the near post from Starkey’s corner at the other end.
Poor defending saw Worthing fail to clear following a corner in the 66th minute and Hall fired low into the bottom corner to pull a goal back for Merstham.
Three minutes later they could have equalised, but substitute Dion Moore curled inched over the crossbar having found space in the Worthing penalty area.
With Merstham threatening having made a double offensive substitution, Pope eased home nerves in the 76th minute slotting into the bottom corner from Budd’s through ball.
It was a vital goal as Moatsiders substitute Henriques pulled another goal back for the away side in the 89th minute to ensure a tense finale, but Worthing held on.
Worthing: Bentley, D. Barker (Newton 15’), Racine, Budd (c), Clarke, Young, G. Barker, Parsons, Myles-Meekums (Sisimayi 77’), Starkey (Pope 62’), Sparks.
Subs Not Used: Sisimayi, Rance, Pamment.
Goals: G. Barker 31’, Sparks 57’, Pope 76’.
Booked: Starkey 36’.
Merstham: A. Jones, Abnett, J. Jones, Kavanagh, Harwood, Cooper (Henriques 5’), Bennett, Bonnett-Johnson, Collins (Penny 67’), Onwugbonu (Moore 67’), Hall.
Subs Not Used: Lubango, Hayden-Smith.
Goals: Hall 66’, Henriques 89′.
Booked: Kavanagh 24’, Bennett 43’.