Match Report: Gareth Nicholas
Worthing crashed out of their third and final cup competition at the first hurdle thanks to late goals from former players John Lansdale and Curtis Gayler.
Manager Adam Hinshelwood rang the changes for this Sussex Senior Cup tie with Leon Moore, Cam Tutt, Alfie Young and Mo Diallo, all starting as Joel Colbran, Marvin Armstrong, Danny Pappoe and Ollie Pearce were all rested to the bench alongside Shaq Gwengwe and Mo Jammeh.
In a quiet opening to proceedings, it took sixteen minutes for the first chance of note to occur; Omar Koroma flicking on a header for Diallo to turn in the area and shoot goalwards but our one-time netminder, Kieron Thorp was out smartly to clear the danger.
Roco Rees showed equally fine reactions to prevent the hosts from going in front when he made a good save to deny another ex-Red and still fan favourite, Brannon O’Neill following an inch-perfect through ball by Gayler.
Jasper Pattenden dispossessed early sub, Jordan Wilson and Koroma found Dajon Golding over on the inside-right who steadied himself before blazing over from the edge of the area.
A forward run and pass by Ricky Aguiar into the same player nearly gave Golding a golden opportunity but Thorp was there first once more, until it looked like the visitors would get an ideal chance to take the lead with the awarding of a penalty for a pull-back by Gayler on Jesse Starkey, as the winger burst into the eighteen-yard box on the left. Hope were soon dashed however with the far side assistant referee holding his flag up for offside.
The game changed when Bridges went down to ten men, although, again, it was the assistant on the dugout side of the pitch that called over the man in the middle and only then was a red card shown to one-time Worthing midfielder Dean Lovegrove for a knee high foul on Pattenden.
Quick thinking from captain Lee Hall saw him nearly catch out Rees with a free-kick marginally inside the away half that had our number one backpedalling but gathering safely at the second attempt.
Gayler drove forward and struck from distance, although harmlessly wide, before a delightful ball down the right by Moore for Koroma saw the striker charge into the box where his effort hit the recovering Harry Docherty on his hand, virtually on the line without a spot-kick being given. The number thirteen, on this occasion proving not to be unlucky for some.
Moore then cut out a right-wing cross at one end and Golding picked out the recently-introduced Pearce in the penalty area who could only swivel and swipe past the far post.
It looked like the deadlock would finally be broken after Koroma came in off the left and his deflected attempt looped up off Steve Smith, dropping kindly for Golding to slice wildly off target.
A neat build-up involving Koroma and Pattenden led to a Starkey delivery being glanced onto the back stick by Pearce as the Prem leaders continued to carve out the better opportunities.
Half-chances fell to both sides but nothing as clear-cut until Gayler’s deep cross off the right flank presented the usually predatory Tom Tolfrey with a great chance that he managed to clear the crossbar with.
Less than ten minutes to go and suddenly we had some real drama, as a stunning long-range pass from the boot of Skipper, Danny Barker was brought down instantly by Pearce and soon dispatched emphatically from inside the ‘D’ to leave Thorp grasping at thin air.
Any thoughts of avoiding the dreaded penalty shootout didn’t last long however as Man-of-the-Match, Smith broke up a Worthing attack deep in his own half and broke clear along the right. He held the ball up before driving a low delivery into the box, O’Neill dummied and it ran for replacement, Lansdale to powerfully side-foot home a yard or two inside the eighteen-yard area.
Pattenden fired over, twenty yards out but it would be O’Neill’s tackle on Starkey, a couple of yards outside the hosts box that would lead to the match winner.
Lansdale picked up possession and played out to Tolfrey on the left. He then sent over beauty of a crossfield pass to meet the run of Gayler through the middle and he took the ball on, holding off the attentions of Aguiar to lift over the stranded Rees and seal victory with just three minutes left on the clock.
Even then, a Golding cross, shortly before he was replaced by Armstrong, was headed towards goal with plenty of gusto by Koroma and looked set to take the tie to penalties, only for Thorp to pull-off a magnificent stop as he flicked the ball up onto the underside of his own crossbar, with Docherty tidying up.
In truth, Worthing didn’t deserve to win and Three Bridges made it through to round three by virtue of taking the few chances that came their way. When or whether they’ll get to play that next tie though, nobody really knows.
Take care, stay safe and see you on the other side, again!