Worthing finally returned to action at The Crucial Environmental Stadium as they swept aside Pagham with a late Jasper Pattenden hat-trick rounding off an emphatic victory.
Match Report: Gareth Nicholas
A particularly young – even for us – line-up featured a large number of academy youngsters but also included a smattering of more established first-teamers.
Harrison Male made his debut in goal alongside right-back Jamie Smith, while Aarran Racine was back after an extended break, and Luca Cocorrachio returned to red following a brief spell at Haywards Heath Town. Amongst the subs were teenage prospect Josh Jackson and Albanian trialist Leonardo Elezaj.
On a bitterly cold evening, the first chance of the game fell to the visitors as Dave Crouch scooped a right-wing cross over the bar from close range, at the end of a quick and incisive break.
A minute later however and the deadlock was broken when Pagham failed to clear their lines and Shaq Gwengwe capitalised a few yards out.
The same player almost doubled his and his side’s tally within a matter of seconds but despite getting two bites at the cherry, Lions’ goalkeeper Connor Kelly kept him at bay.
That advantage though could have been wiped out shortly afterwards when Tom Atkinson, up from the back, forced Male into his first save of the night at the expense of a corner. Ex-Red Dylan Jelley rose above a crowd of players at the far post, only to head over the bar.
Former Rebel Jazz Rance then drove forward in search of an equaliser, and fired narrowly wide of the target as we approached the midway point of the opening period.
Two goals in five minutes just before the half-hour mark gave the hosts a more comfortable lead.
Firstly, Ricky Aguiar seized on some hesitancy by Ollie Hambleton and powered his way into the penalty area to calmly slot past Kelly.
Then, Kyle O’Brien led a rapid counter-attack from left-back that resulted in Pattenden slipping in Gwengwe, to tuck home his second and Worthing’s third.
Pattenden came within a whisker of making it four when he cut in off the left flank and sent a rocket flashing inches the wrong side of the far upright.
The guests responded through a left-wing run and delivery of their own, via the industry and boot of Rance that was met at the back stick by Crouch and blocked by Male for a flag-kick.
There was still enough time before the turnaround for Kelly to perform a contortionist’s act as he somehow managed to reach behind himself, while airborne to prevent O’Brien’s byline rescue from sneaking in at the front post.
Leeds-born debutant Male started the second forty-five off with a huge throw out to Pattenden, who immediately headed into the path of Aguiar to set the midfielder racing clear from only fractionally inside the Pagham half. However, with too much time and space in the eighteen-yard box, he couldn’t beat Kelly who conceded a corner; from which the returning Racine crashed his header against the crossbar.
Into the final twenty and the substitutes took control, at least as far the scoring was concerned.
Barely ten minutes after entering the fray and Under-18 graduate, Toby Witham had bagged his maiden strike for the Seniors. Briefly pausing for an offside flag that never came, unperturbed, he confidently sent Kelly the wrong way to find the bottom corner.
Two minutes later and the visiting Lions nearly got themselves on the scoresheet when replacement, Ash Hawkes slid into the six-yard area in an attempt to get on the end of a low, left-sided delivery but missed by a hair’s breadth.
Ten to go and we were treated to The Jasper Pattenden Show.
Back on to replace the tiring Gwengwe with a quarter-of-an-hour remaining, he’d helped himself to a hat-trick by the time the full-time whistle had blown.
Commencing via a lung-busting run and beautiful curling effort that crept inside the far post, Jasper was soon on the rampage down the inside-left channel again as he outpaced the Lion’s rearguard and casually completed his brace.
After giving the away team a torrid time on one side of the pitch, he moved over to the right where he beat Kelly for the third and final occasion by bearing down on goal from an angle and dinking over the custodian to round-off a well deserved treble.