After winning in the Eliminator against Braintree on Wednesday night, the Rebels travelled to Oxford City in the Play-Off Semi-Final.
The Hoops finished 3rd in the Vanarama National League South, which meant they avoided the Eliminator stage of the Play-Offs in midweek, with a bye straight to the Semi-Finals.
Adam Hinshelwood was forced into two changes from his starting XI last time out against the Iron. On loan midfielder Jack Paxman’s season was cut short after breaking his metatarsal in Wednesday’s win, while goalkeeper Harrison Male missed out with a rib injury. Deputising for the injured pair was James Beresford in midfield and Alieu Secka in goal.
Some 15 minutes before kick-off, the other Semi-Final between Dartford and St. Albans concluded with the Saints winning on penalties, meaning the winners of the contest would earn a home Play-Off Final.
It was a lightning quick start at the RAW Charging stadium with both sides creating big chances inside the first three minutes. First, it was Joel Colbran who found Ollie Pearce with a ball in behind the Oxford defence, but Chris Haigh did well to rush out and make the stop to deny the Reds’ talisman.
The hosts then found Alfie Potter with a ball in behind the Worthing defence. He took the ball around the rushing Secka in goal, but with an empty net in front of him, Potter miss-controlled the ball and it ran out for a goal kick.
The tension of the high-stakes affair was on clear display inside the first 20 minutes, with nervous moments for both keepers in possession under the high press. Both were able to recover from their errors to keep it goalless.
On 25 minutes, the hosts broke the deadlock. The Reds were caught napping at the back from a Hoops throw in. Dangerman Zac McEachran found time and space on the edge of the box to pick out the bottom left corner with his shot to give Oxford the advantage.
The hosts doubled their advantage just before half time. Secka came out to deal with a cross but was caught in no man’s land when the ball was nodded down to Potter who fired into the empty net from close range. Worthing left themselves with plenty of work to do after the break.
Hinshelwood swapped Beresford with Mo Dabre at half time as he looked to get his side back into the contest.
The Rebels had more control of possession at the start of the second half but couldn’t create anything clear cut and Hinshelwood made his last two changes on 64 minutes. He raised a few eyebrows taking off Kane Wills and Pearce and the two were replaced by Jesse Starkey and Alex Parsons.
Worthing huffed and puffed but couldn’t find a way through. Their best chance came on 85 minutes when Starkey’s deep free kick into the box found Joe Rye whose chance went begging as he struck it wide.
A memorable first season at step two came to an end for the Reds as Oxford marched onto the play-off final against St. Albans.
There’s still a chance at silverware for the Rebels who travel to the AMEX Stadium on Thursday to take on Bognor Regis is the Sussex Senior Cup Final.