While some might argue it was only an under-23 team that journeyed west from Kent, nothing should be taken away from an outstanding effort by everyone in a red shirt – and one in green – as the visiting side were still full-time professionals who were very much in the game.
In what was a much changed Worthing line-up from Saturday’s equally thrilling 4-4 draw at Wimborne Town – with a visit to Loxwood the following night in mind – a familiar face took to the pitch for Gillingham in the shape of Noel Mbo. For it was he who denied us victory at “home” to Kingstonian with a second-half equaliser early last season.
In an action-packed game, it was the home side who created the opening chance of the contest after just four minutes, when Ricky Aguiar’s ball in from the right found it’s way through to James Crane on the opposite side of the penalty area but his shot was blocked by Louie Catherall in the visitor’s goal. It was The Gill’s who had the best chance to take the lead five minutes later, when Aarran Racine was penalised for a foul in the box on Henry Woods but, “Super Lucas” came to the rescue as he flew across to his right to keep out Darren Oldaker’s low, driven spot-kick. Play quickly switched back to the other end and the lively David Ajiboye fired in a right-wing cross but there was no one there to apply the finishing touch. A free-kick from the eager-to-impress, Jesse Starkey was then headed off the line by Jack Tucker before Callum Kealy headed over the bar after Ross Edwards had played the ball back in.
Oldaker and Woods linked up to present Bradley Stevenson with a shooting opportunity that he could only put wide, while a long ball from Racine found Crane making his way down the left flank and he, in turn, found Aguiar who also put his effort wide of the target. Aguiar was soon involved again as his initial shot was blocked and Ajiboye hooked the follow-up past the post.
The deadlock was eventually broken on twenty-six minutes, when Callum Kealy got the faintest of touches to a Sam Rents cross to delicately guide the ball in off Catherall’s left-hand post. Ajiboye went in search of a second Worthing goal but saw a powerful drive blocked by the Gillingham defence and only missed the target by a matter of inches when he took a touch and aimed at goal from thirty yards, via another set-piece delivery from former Gill, Starkey who had played him in down the inside-left channel. Then it was Starkey’s turn to test Catherall from distance and he was desperately close to forcing a save from the number forty, his long-range rocket narrowly flying over the crossbar.
Five minutes before the break and it was that man Starkey playing a key role once more, as he laid the ball inside to Ricky Aguiar, who passed it into the same side of the net as Kealy had earlier, to give the home side a two goal cushion going into half-time.
The second forty-five minutes started the same as the first, with a goal after four minutes. Stevenson advancing down the middle unopposed and unleashing a low finish from around twenty yards past a well beaten Covolan. He was at it again a couple of minutes later as he forced the Brazilian into a full-length save diving to his right and tried his luck for a third time in quick succession from the resulting corner but couldn’t keep his volley down.
An end-to-end game nearly saw Worthing extend their lead, when Crane hit the post, Ajiboye subsequently clearing the crossbar, then Gillingham almost equalised, as the referee pointed to the spot for a second time, with Alfie Young the culprit on this occasion. His foul on goalscorer, Stevenson gave former Kingstonian loanee, Mbo the chance to level things up from twelve yards but he too was denied by the brilliant Brazilian in our goal, who saved this time with his legs as Mbo opted for safety by going straight down the middle. Half-time sub Roman Campbell fired over the rebound.
It wasn’t until the last ten minutes that a third goal came from the men in red, when Ajiboye’s pace on the left saw him cut inside and burst into the box where some nifty footwork followed by a cool finish saw him beat the ‘keeper in some style.
The final five minutes brought further chances at both ends, with Kealy and Starkey with a chip and long-range missile respectively looking to put the gloss on a thoroughly deserved home win.
Instead, it was the team from The Priestfield Stadium who completed the scoring for the night, with two minutes to go, as Tucker found the bottom corner after Oldaker’s corner had been headed off the line by Crane.
Visiting Captain, Ben Chapman had one last effort on goal but Covolan held on.