Will Seager, Luca Cocoracchio, Dajon Golding and Reece Myles-Meekums all came in for this eagerly awaited second-versus-first clash between two in-form teams, with Joel Colbran, Pat Webber, Marvin Armstrong and Luke Robinson the ones to make way.
On a difficult pitch, it was the visitors who almost grabbed the early initiative when Aarran Racine got his head to Jesse Starkey’s corner but just couldn’t get it on target.
Followed a short time later by Seager releasing Myles-Meekums on the left who, in turn played the ball inside to Golding. He burst to the byline before picking out Pearce in the penalty area, only for Ollie to fire straight at Stortford ’keeper Jack Giddens.
The host’s first sight of goal arrived near the midway point of the opening period, thanks to the ever-dangerous Ryan Charles. Popping up on the opposite side of the pitch (right) he stung the palms of Harrison Male with a long-range effort that needed parrying and pouncing on, at the second attempt.
However, Reds soon returned the favour on their own right flank, through Luca Cocoracchio going long with a free-kick that Golding nodded down for Meeky to turn and pull wide of the far post, more than twenty yards out.
Undeterred, an impressive home team responded once more via Jonny Giles getting the better of Beresford and driving into the area but drilling his shot too close to Male.
Chris Harris flicked on a header for Darren Foxley, as Bishop’s threatened to make the breakthrough again, though the ball had a tad too much on it and ran safely through to Worthing’s number one.
Looking to atone for his earlier error, James Beresford drifted inside Johnville Renee before playing a delightful pass down the channel for Golding to pick out Myles-Meekums with. Reece got past Captain Ryan Henshaw on his way towards the box and found Golding in it; Dajon twisting and turning to engineer room for a shot that he, off balance, sliced over the small stand.
A defensive horror show then led to Blues leaving their guests feeling the same as the colour of their (opponents) kit when Cocoracchio and Male failed to deal with a high bouncing ball. Launched forward by Henshaw, the two teammates appeared to leave it to each other as Male got caught in no man’s land at the edge of the eighteen yard area, leaving a grateful Harris unable to believe his luck and slot home into an empty net.
An unfortunate ricochet then gave a stretching Harris the opportunity to go from goal scorer to creator; prodding on to Giles whose attempt sailed narrowly over the target from the tip of the ‘d.’
That got the second half action underway, a little more than ten minutes in and it was only another five that saw the clock tick marginally past the hour mark and Giles, this time, made no mistake.
Sam Robbins’ throw-in, a matter of yards from the left wing corner flag, led to Foxley swivelling and swinging the ball over to Ben Marlow on the far side of the penalty box. His first time knock to Giles was also blasted first time on the volley to put the promotion hopefuls in the ascendancy.
If the hosts edged the first forty-five there could be no doubting their domination of the second.
A swift counter-attack resulted from Giles beating sub Budd in the air, with Foxley picking up the baton and reaching the eighteen yard box, where he forced Male into a low stop. The ball eventually rebounding off Giles for a goal-kick.
Club Skipper Budd had been part of a triple change that saw Armstrong and Webber enter the fray at the same time and it was Marv that enjoyed a rare sight of goal a short while later.
Pearce’s throw on the left had seen Callum Kealy dump another replacement, Anthony Church on his derriere, only for Billy Cracknell to feel the full force of Callum’s cracker and Armstrong to flash fractionally the wrong side of the far upright.
Pattenden’s flag-kick was headed down and over the top by Racine, although the result was put beyond any lingering doubt a few minutes afterwards by a stunning finish from El Capitan and sponsors Man of the Match, Henshaw.
Giles floated a free-kick that bent back away from the pack, allowing an effectively unmarked Henshaw to side-foot the ball as it dropped and volley a beauty beyond Male.
The Premier Division leaders were well and truly beaten by now and keen to simply salvage something from a rare off night; Kealy latching onto Seager’s slide-rule pass but finding the gloves of Giddens.
Hands finally warmed, Stortford’s stopper had them practically burning when Pearce played a one-two with Starkey at a dead-ball delivery and drew a double-fisted punch, at the expense of a corner.
Unfortunately, the referee spotted an infringement as the custodian came out to collect Starkey’s subsequent inswinging delivery, denying Kealy a consolational tap-in.