Following Tuesday night’s disappointing FA Cup exit at Corinthian Casuals, Reds returned to a more familiar-looking line-up, with Luca Cocoracchio, Dean Cox, Ollie Pearce, Jesse Starkey and Tom Chalaye all restored to the team. Will Seager, Kyle O’Brien, Mo Diallo and Reece Myles-Meekums all took their places among the substitutes. There were no places for either Shaq Gwengwe or Mo Jammeh.
The game didn’t spark into life until 15 minutes in, when the Rocks caught the hosts' backline napping and Johnny Ashman broke through them all too easily, before rounding goalkeeper Harrison Male and slotting home. He nearly made it two soon afterwards, thanks to the crossing accuracy of teammate Kenny Alieru, only to volley over the crossbar once he’d controlled and turned.
It was nearly at the midway point of the first-half that the Sussex side finally threatened the opposite end of the pitch, Pearce picking out Dayshonne Golding with a right-wing delivery that also went over the top courtesy of an awkward, angled header. Less than 60 seconds later, Pearce couldn’t keep his header down either, as a delightful crossfield pass by Danny Barker to Starkey helped create the opportunity.
Eventually, Worthing made their pressure pay when Golding, Chalaye and Pearce combined to devastating effect; the former brought down an Alfie Young ball and squared to Chalaye, who’s scuffed shot was turned in from close-range by Pearce to level the scores. A trademark run through the centre of the park, by Marvin Armstrong almost resulted in a third for the Reds but, this time, Pearce flashed a low effort a fraction wide of the far post.
Armstrong was at the forefront of a relentless spell of home pressure again; leading an impressive counter-attack that he came close to ending himself but bent his attempt just the wrong side of the back stick.
Rocks were having difficulty in clearing their lines and Golding soon pounced on some indecision in the guest’s rearguard, to charge to the byline and send in a delivery that Armstrong helped onto Pearce, on the right-hand side of the penalty area, where he rounded goalie Arthur Janata. However, a brave block by Rimmel Daniel at his front upright reduced the damage to a corner, when it could have been far worse.
The men from Rookery Hill endured a torrid afternoon with Golding and his touch and turn on the end of a Starkey cross, almost resulted in Tobi Joseph knocking into his own net, shortly before the break. Despite all the domination enjoyed by the home team, they found themselves behind once more, very much against the run of play. Barker suffered the misfortune of getting the ball stuck under his foot, presenting Paulius Ditkevicius with enough room to fire a 20-yard rocket past the helpless Male.
That wasn’t quite the end of the scoring for the opening 45 though. A Cox corner caused mini mayhem in and around the six yard box, leaving Young to restore parity in stoppage time.
Worthing’s summer signing had another assist to his name just shy of the hour mark and it came via a flag-kick again. On this occasion, his delivery was met by the towering presence of skipper Aarran Racine, who rose highest to power home with his dome. Pearce making sure the ball had crossed the line, via the crossbar. Janata then had to be alert to hold a low drive by Pearce, on the edge of the area, as the hosts continued to conjure up chance after chance.
More twisting and turning saw Golding lead the visiting defence a merry dance, only for Janata to keep his side in the contest by keeping out his eventual effort. A neat one-two between Chalaye and Golding nearly bore fruit, as the former gave Pearce the opportunity to extend the advantage, only for the striker to bend the ball above the bar.
United were never truly out of the game and almost got themselves right back in it, when Ola Ogunwamide did well on the right flank before cutting inside and bursting into the box, where he forced a smart stop out of Male. The final few minutes saw a clean through Pearce kept at bay by a fine tackle on the edge of the eighteen yard area by Joseph. Male demonstrated that it’s never over ‘til it’s over with another fine save to frustrate Elliot Kettle.
An extra three minutes were indicated, giving sub Myles-Meekums, hugging the right-hand touchline, the opportunity to take down a high ball with a deft first touch, move it on to Armstrong, then Pearce who drove forward but wasn’t able to apply the coup de grace, as he marginally missed the back stick.