It took two deflected goals and extra time with a man advantage for Brighton U23’s to finally get the better of Worthing; who more than held their own against supposedly illustrious opposition.
- Tolaj (70')
- Roberts (73')
- Jenks (106')
- Myles-Meekums (65')
- Racine (76')
Reds were robbed of the services of Carl Rushworth, Dayshonne Golding, Kieron Pamment and Tom Chalaye from Saturday’s squad due to them all being cup-tied. So, that meant call-ups for Tyrese Mthunzi and Toby Lydon-Gardiner on the bench, as Jesse Starkey, thanks to the vagaries of the suspension system and, the man, the legend, Mr. Jack Fagan dusted off his gloves to play in a Senior Cup Semi-Final, once again.
It took a few minutes for either side to find any rhythm but when they did, it fell to Reece Myles-Meekums to fire in the first shot of the night, with a defensive deflection carrying it over.
Joel Colbran’s cross then flicked off the head of Warren O’Hora; allowing Starkey to force Hugo Keto into blocking with his legs at his near post, at the end of a good team build-up.
The ‘visitors’ were on top at this stage and Ollie Pearce’s touchline delivery flew up into the night sky off Archie Davies and Ricky Aguiar volleyed the ball as it dropped, inches wide.
Pearce soon came close to breaking the deadlock himself; blasting a free-kick, just outside the area, towards goal and seeing it parried by the increasingly busy Keto and Ollie was nearly on the money again shortly afterwards, as his deft layback, following some delightful one touch passing from back to front, set Starkey up for an attempt that only gradually drifted away from the top corner.
Assistant Manager, Aarran Racine couldn’t keep his header down, as he met Aguiar’s corner before Fagan was called into his first serious business of the night; diving full-length to tip Taylor Richards’ low drive around the far stick after the Seagull’s ten had nicked the ball off Starkey and played a quick one-two with Romaric Yapi, on the right flank.
A rapid counter-attack by the Albion resulted in Jordon Davies supplying Peter Gwargis to his left and missing the subsequent centre, which an unmarked Lorent Tolaj drove over via the slightest of deflections.
Two more tries by Starkey saw him miss the target from a free-kick and find the gloves of Keto but his influence on the team and game itself was clearly evident.
Archie Davies bent a beauty down the left wing, into the path of Richards who was denied by a stunning, one-handed reflex save from Fagan, who kept him out at the front upright.
Meanwhile, teammate, Gwargis and our own Meekums – at the end of a purposeful pursuit – both wasted good chances, with J. Davies also being kept at bay by a red wall, as the half drew to a close.
The early exchanges of the second period predominantly featured the Premier League hopefuls.
Gwargis caused problems with his direct running and movement, only for the long leg of Racine to stop him in his tracks before he could get his shot away and Richards forced a corner, after J.Davies had been the protagonist.
The same player then decided to try his luck by his own means; bursting into the box from the inside-left channel but unable to beat Fagan, who was more than equal to his powerfully-struck strike.
However, despite concerted pressure it was the underdogs who got their noses in front when Pattenden’s trickery on the left saw him drift inside and tee-up Aguiar for a long-range screamer that Keto pushed smartly around the post. The subsequent flag-kick reared up off the head of J.Davies and nicely onto the dome of Racine, leaving Meekums, with his back to goal, to nod nonchalantly over the right shoulder of a startled Keto, who couldn’t get his hands up in time.
That though, merely awoke the beast and Fagan’s crossbar shook all night long – sorry, that was AC/DC – after Haydon Roberts struck it, courtesy of a twenty-yard piledriver.
Then, barely sixty seconds later, Tolaj hit an absolute belter out of the reach of even Fagan, from just outside the ‘D’ into the keeper’s far top bins.
Our number one for the night almost blotted his copybook when his attempts at playing sweeper-keeper led to him losing the ball to Yapi, only for Alfie Young to get back and spare his blushes by sliding in and clearing off the line. That coming after a clean-through Yapi had done some alternative clearing but, not in a good way; lifting his effort the wrong side of the bar.
Sadly, from the resulting corner, the set-piece was worked short to Gwargis, whose low delivery was slid home by Roberts off the inside of the back stick.
Undeterred, the ‘away’ team hit back immediately as Starkey’s floated flag-kick was met by the imposing figure of Racine to emphatically restore parity.
An end-to-end contest continued as Richard’ backside took the sting out of Pattenden’s attempt before Worthing’s task was made that much harder when Yapi seized on a moment’s hesitation by Young who pulled, well more like stroked him down and received the inevitable red.
Capitalising on their numerical advantage, the Seagulls soon had Fagan scrambling the ball to safety, following Teddy Jenks’ hit from distance and, shortly afterwards, J.Davies couldn’t quite get on the end of Skipper, Alex Cochrane’s left wing cross, as we entered the additional thirty.
Yapi fired over from the edge of the penalty area and Gwargis held his head in his hands as another good opening went begging but a winning goal wasn’t long in coming.
In the first minute of the second period of extra time, neat interplay was finally rewarded when substitute, Jack Spong laid the ball back for Jenks to spank a low drive that took a massive touch off the hugely unfortunate Aguiar and practically trickled into the net via the base of the post.
A cruel way to go out but the non-leaguers can take an almighty amount of pride and self-belief out of a performance that belied the gap in the team’s respective standings.