It’s often the case that eagerly anticipated football matches between two strong teams turn out to be disappointingly cagey, sterile affairs. Last night’s eventful Under 18 clash was nothing of the sort, developing as it did into a minor classic.
It was clear from the outset that both sides were determined to be positive in their approach, energetic pressing from the hosts saw them able to capitalise on an error in the Worthing defence to take an early lead. The Rebels soon hit back, though, after strong work from Luca Allen down the right led to his cross being slammed precisely into the bottom corner by Cavan Gratwick. Burgess Hill regained the advantage in the 27th minute, only for Worthing to get back on terms 5 minutes later, a rash challenge from their keeper in the six yard box resulted in a penalty – Freddie Chester making no mistake from the spot.
The first 45 minutes had been compelling viewing, though Freddie’s yellow card and injuries to Luke Harrison and Zac Jeanes forced Nathan into making some changes – Jack McLelland replacing Zac, with Evan Hoarty shifting out to right back, and David Castanheira coming on for Luke.
Within 5 minutes of the restart, Worthing went ahead for the first time, due to an own goal from the hosts. The pendulum continued to swing though, with the Hillians hauling themselves back level just after the hour mark. This really was anyone’s game now, both sides continuing to carve out attacking opportunities. A shirt pull on Jack gave Worthing a free kick on the edge of the Burgess Hill box, Cavan stepping up to hit a screamer into the far corner. With less than 10 minutes to go, this was a goal worthy of winning the contest, but the drama was far from done. Nathan’s sideline urgings for the lads to settle down and switch on went momentarily unheeded, a bit of hesitancy in our midfield saw the hosts break clear, and bring themselves on terms once again with an excellent strike from 12 yards out.
Into the last minutes, and an incredible recovery block from Ben Royall (to go with his earlier goal-line clearance) prevented Burgess Hill from getting their noses in front. A point each would perhaps have been the fairest outcome, but the Reds had come here to win – a surging 50 yard run down the right from Evan left the yellow-shirted defenders in his wake, and he fired low and hard across the keeper, 5-4 Worthing, and surely that was the victory in the bag. So it proved, as the lads navigated a lengthy period of added time reasonably comfortably, the main incident being a yellow card for the Burgess Hill assistant manager.
A fantastic game of football, then – credit must go to both sides for their positive, entertaining styles of play. The £5 entry fee seemed a bit steep for an Under 18s game, but the match proved worth every penny and more, in truth. The young Rebels showed a tremendous attitude throughout the contest, and deserve plaudits for their resilience and determination. Strong performances across the pitch, with a mention for defenders Danny Jordan & Ben Cheverton who both showed plenty of grit and composure in their play.
If the reverse fixture later in the season at Woodside is anything like this one, get down to the ground as you will not be disappointed.