The Mackerel Men began the day level on points with leaders Folkestone, but an 89th minute Akinola goal saw Invicta draw 1-1 with Haringey and propel Worthing to the top of the league.
Adam Hinshelwood made a number of changes from Tuesday’s Sussex Senior Cup victory over Horsham, recalling experienced centre-back Aarran Racine and in-form winger Reece Meekums to the starting XI. Strugglers Merstham also added to the narrative with their lineup, giving a starting berth to ex-Rebel Shola Ayoola.
The game started as it meant to go on; with plenty of action. Within five minutes Worthing found themselves lining up for a penalty, after Ollie Pearce was clumsily shoved to the floor. Having scored a penalty just four days earlier, Pearce stepped up to take it himself, but keeper Pierson made himself big and made an excellent stop to keep out the spot-kick.
A missed penalty is often something teams live to regret, but this proved not to be the case as Worthing took the lead just four minutes later. Young Jasper Pattenden met a floated cross with a header, which was only cleared as far as Ricky Aguiar on the edge of the box, who met the dropping ball with a half-volley that bounced into the bottom right corner and gave the hosts an early lead.
The lead was doubled just moments later, as Pattenden turned scorer to find Worthing’s second. A low cross from the right found the boot of Pearce, whose volley was indeed well saved, but the rebound fell to Pattenden and he slammed the ball home from close range.
Meekums could have made it three shortly after, courtesy of some ambitious sweeper-keeping. The ball was played through to Meekums and landed squarely in the middle of the attacker and goalkeeper, launching a straight footrace. Meekums got there quicker and lofted the ball over the head of Pierson 40 yards from goal, but his effort landed just wide of the post.
Merstham managed to pull one back after 24 minutes, through former Worthing man Ayoola. The visitors took advantage of a loose ball deep into Worthing territory, and fired a low cross into Ayoola who turned it home from very close range.
This goal could have signalled the tides turning in this tie, and indeed moments later things could have gotten worse for the hosts. Barry Hayles was played through on goal and looked to be beating the last man, before Racine brought him down. The centre-half was only given a yellow card, but many in the ground were looking worried that the punishment might’ve been harsher.
Just minutes later, Worthing quelled any doubts by extending the lead once again. Pearce took a shot from inside the box, which was blocked and flew high into the air. The ball dropped just behind Alex Parsons, who decided to take on an unorthodox overhead kick and the ball screwed into the bottom left corner. A good piece of improvisation, and exactly what the home side needed.
Merstham continued to grow into the game as the half wore on, but failed to test Carl Rushworth again and the score remained 3-1 as the sides entered the tunnel for half time. Worthing dominated proceedings in the first half, with Meekums looking particularly influential playing just behind the striker. The visitors had always looked threatening on the break, especially through Ayoola and Ekpiteta, but they had failed to really make their mark on the game.
The visitors started the second period dangerously. Ayoola pounced on a loose ball and bore down on goal, requiring an excellent last-ditch challenge by young full-back Cam Tutt to deny the striker. Minutes later, Chace Jaquart had another good chance for the visitors, firing a half volley just wide of the post from 25 yards.
This signalled the end of the resistance however, and by the 60th minute Worthing had regained all control. The Rebels exhibited some lovely play down both wings to stretch the Merstham defence, with Colbran and Parsons regularly getting in behind the defence to fire in dangerous crosses.
Worthing soon had their fourth goal of the afternoon, as the home side really began purring. Some neat link-up play saw Colbran in some space in the penalty area; he fizzed it low across goal, the ball struck the base of the far post and Pearce made absolutely no mistake tucking away the rebound, continuing the striker’s fine goalscoring form.
Four became five just minutes later, with the game running away from Merstham. Substitute Marvin Armstrong won a free kick 25 yards from goal, and Aguiar stepped up to take it. The midfielder stroked the ball deftly, and it nestled right in the bottom corner to open up a four-goal lead for the Mackerels.
By this point the game had ended as a contest, with the visiting players looking understandably dejected. This didn’t deter Worthing from pressing for more though, with substitutes Armstrong and Marley Marshall adding spark and impetus as the hosts pressed for more goals to improve the goal-difference.
The final goal was perhaps the best of the lot, as Colchester loanee Marshall rifled home an absolute rocket to seal the deal. The young attacker got to a dropping ball before the defender and blasted home a thunderous half-volley, which crashed off the bar and into the back of the net. It was Marshall’s first goal in Worthing colours, and one he won’t be forgetting in a hurry.
The referee blew his whistle to call an end to the game, which had ended as a competitive tie long earlier. A jubilant Woodside Road clapped off their team as they had learned of Folkestone’s draw, ecstatic in the knowledge they had gone top of the league. Merstham fell further into danger, dropping to 20th and just two points off the bottom.
The Mackerel Men now sit two points clear at the top of the table, with a now vastly improved goal difference. They have lost in the league just once since August 18th, and their good form showed no signs of stopping in this 6-1 victory.