Report By Gareth Nicholas
Charlie Carter and Emily Linscer started in place of Niamh Andersson and Georgia Tibble as Becs Bell came in for the unavailable Maddie Hotson, on a big night under the lights.
In a game switched to The Crucial Environmental Stadium, the Reds knew that only a win would do if they were to overhaul long-time nemesis Ebbsfleet United at the top of the table.
They got off to a promising beginning too, Katie Young sent Bell racing up the right where she nicked the ball past former loanee Alicia Macleod on the byline and fizzed in a low delivery that went all the way across the penalty area to an unmarked Chloe Winchester. After taking the time to set herself, her goalbound effort was inadvertently blocked by teammate Sammy Quayle. ‘Winch’ tied up the loose ends by laying back for Katie Cooper, at least twenty yards out but ‘Coops’ couldn’t keep her shot down.
Macleod recovered well to deny Quayle, when the striker, despite a great first touch, delayed long enough for the defender to intercept, as she was about to pull the trigger. Goalkeeper Lauren Graves then gathered following a heavy touch moments later, with Rachel Palmer providing both openings.
Upon reaching the midway point of the first-half, Graves held onto Ellie Russell’s header, via Palmer’s corner prior to a threaded through ball from the same source playing in Captain Carter. Pouncing on Macleod’s failed attempt to clear the danger, Charlie rode her fellow Skipper’s challenge and drove inside the near post to open her account for the season.
A palpable sense of relief floated round the ground and the lead might have been increased at the end of a flowing move featuring Katie Young, goalscorer Carter, Linscer and Hayley Bridge whose cross narrowly evaded Quayle at the near post and was initially missed by Winchester. Although Chloe robbed Pam McDonnell for a second bite that Graves got her fingertips to at the expense of a flag-kick.
The width of the crossbar was all that separated Lincser and a second strike for the hosts, thanks to Winchester’s overlapping run that saw her take Quayle’s reverse pass and led to Charlotte Virley being held off and the woodwork being struck by ‘Em.’
Good strength by Bridge resulted in her holding off Chloe Higham and releasing Bell. Becs surged to the byline and created havoc with a ball into the box that eventually ended with Graves frustrating Linscer once more.
In fact, Acorns’ netminder had been busy building up to that stoppage-time moment; demonstrating sharp reflexes in keeping out Bell and Quayle, as the home side continued their quest for further breathing space.
However, that space ceased to be two minutes after the break, thanks to Ava Hutson’s deep free-kick causing absolute pandemonium in the eighteen yard box. Once everyone had, seemingly, tried to either get rid of the ball or divert it the other way, Hazel Barnett put a stop to all the madness when she placed her half-volley neatly over the head of Palmer and just under the crossbar, to change the whole complexion of the evening.
A set-piece of their own may have brought glad tidings, although Graves’ intervention ensured an incoming Tibble wouldn’t be able to reclaim the initiative at the back stick.
No one, it appears, can stop Super Sammy Quayle at the moment though and the in-form forward did what she does best, a few minutes later.
Young picked out Palmer, who dissected the pair of Jade Page and Higham with a pass that Quayle dragged away from Virley before turning and, helped slightly by a deflection off Hutson, despatched into the bottom corner.
At the heart of many of Worthing’s best chances, Palmer soon carved out an opportunity for a more comfortable advantage by getting the better of Virley not once but twice, Quayle using her body well to hold up and nudge into the path of Tibble, who dragged wide.
An occasionally nervy performance had seen the Ladies in Red not their usual fluent selves at times and the visitors offered a stark reminder, courtesy of another Hutson free-kick just landing on the roof of the net, that they weren’t going to have it all their own way.
After surviving that particular scare, Andersson skipped past McDonnell and hammered marginally the wrong side of the other upright, outside the box, then left fellow sub Alice Horton for dead on the right-hand touchline, delivered a cross that somehow evaded everyone which Humphrey – on herself at half-time – teed-up Palmer with but Palmer scooped over.
Four extra minutes added to the tension before it could all, at last, be released.