It was our first day sponsoring Worthing FC this weekend, and with thebestofworthing banner up at the ground we hoped we were in for a good game! However it was an unlucky start to the season for the Rebels with 3 goals and 2 sendings off it was a dramatic opener.
Despite taking the lead and looking the better side throughout, the Rebels were beaten at the A2B Stadium by title favourites Leatherhead as both sides ended the match with ten men. For the second year running the start of the Ryman Division One South season was the start of a new competitive era at Woodside Road. Last year Simon Colbran’s new team began with defeat away to the Tanners, whereas this year the same club visited Worthing to take on Chris White’s almost entirely new side. White opted to continue with the 4-5-1 formation used in pre-season, but in the absence of midfielders Tom Manton (holiday) and Ryan Woodford (suspension), he selected assistant manager Mark Pulling in the starting eleven. It took just two minutes for Pulling to supply his first good cross for lone striker Terry Dodd, but the front man was unable to stretch to reach the ball and was flagged offside anyway.
Three minutes later left-back Steve Metcalf picked out Dodd, but this time his shot was blocked, and from the resultant corner centre-back Tony Timms headed over the bar. The Rebels were clearly in the ascendancy in the early stages and wide-man Tom Lawley saw a long range strike saved a couple of minutes later. Dodd then shot straight at Leatherhead goalkeeper Chico Ramos after a Pulling through ball with 15 minutes on the clock; undoubtedly the best chance of the opening stages. The Tanners’ Liam Pestle picked up a careless booking on 16 minutes for obstructing Mark Pulling’s attempt at taking a free-kick and shortly after he should have seen red for clipping Tom Lawley who was charging towards goal. Although the referee allowed him to escape without a second yellow, his side were punished by the Rebels from the consequential set piece on the 25 minute mark. With the visitors expecting dead ball specialist Pulling to either shoot or provide a cross, the experienced midfielder played a sneaky low pass around the wall to another experienced midfielder in Luke Gedling, who took one touch before firing past Chico Ramos to give the home side a deserved lead.
At the opposite end Michael Hunter escaped a dismissal of his own for handling outside his penalty area, but the referee sensibly decided only to show him a yellow card as a red would have been very harsh. With the break approaching Lawley was booked for a late tackle and Hunter produced a good save from the powerful strike of the visitors’ Tommy Hutchings; the Tanners’ only real chance in the first 45 minutes. A couple of minutes before half-time Leatherhead’s Greg Andrews picked up a head injury when challenging for the ball in the air with right-back Ryan Timms, and Bentley Graham was introduced as his replacement.
Half-time: Worthing 1-0 Leatherhead
The away side may have been labelled title favourites by many before the match, but it was once again the Rebels who looked the better side in the second half with Chico Ramos tipping over a deep free-kick before just doing enough to prevent midfielder Mike Huckett from doubling the lead. On the hour mark the game was well and truly turned though. With Tom Lawley challenging for the ball Liam Pestle appeared to stamp on the winger’s outstretched leg and a brawl ensued. The Leatherhead man was dismissed this time and the game became a battle in the middle for a few minutes at least. Tommy Hutchings was the next to go into the referee’s book for a late tackle on Lawley who was being battered whenever he received possession, before Jon Boswell and Gabriel Odunaike were introduced in an attacking substitution from the visitors.
With just over twenty minutes remaining, and tempers still flaring, Terry Dodd was sent off for a raised arm to level the sides at ten men apiece. Chris White quickly replaced his striker with another in Josh Biggs with Mark Pulling making way. Moments later, with 73 minutes played, the scores were level too though as a communication error between the Rebels’ Zac Beda and goalkeeper Michael Hunter let in Gabriel Odunaike to make it 1-1. A minute later at the opposite end Worthing had a strong penalty shout turned down as the impressive Callum Saunders was clipped just inside the area, but nothing was awarded. Saunders then tried his luck with a long range free-kick, but his powerful shot was deflected just wide. Saunders was replaced by John Lansdale with around seven minutes remaining and it looked as though the sides would share the spoils.
However in the 87th minute Jason Macleod managed to remain onside and latch onto a Tommy Hutchings through ball before firing past Michael Hunter to give the away side a scarcely deserved lead and almost certain victory. In the three minutes of added time Worthing centre-back Tony Timms twice came close to pulling a goal back, but it was the visiting side that stole the three points from a distraught Worthing team. The Rebels should take confidence going into the game at Walton Casuals on Monday though, as they made the favourites to win the league look average for much of the match and on another day would have claimed three points. The opening day curse struck once again though, and it is now seven years since any Worthing side has won the first match of a new campaign.
Full-time: Worthing 1-2