A competitive and sometimes fiery Sussex derby saw the Sports come within two minutes of victory at Woodside Road on Bank Holiday Monday.
James Hammond’s immaculate first-half free-kick had separated the teams, but Callum Kealy forced a late equaliser from the Rebels’ ninth corner of a gruelling second half – which had seen Elliott Romain shown a match-turning red card on the hour mark.
The countdown to the game was marked by controversy – more of which elsewhere – when Worthing declared crowd segregation for the match. Rebels officials cited the disturbing incidents which had marred their opening fixture in August, when a hard core (variously described as fifty or a dozen) of Dover Athletic followers had defiled the Worthing big day with ugly threats of violence.
Whatever the background, it left the hundred-plus travelling Sports penned into a small corner of the ground, without shade or seating. Given freedom to amble round the whole Woodside Road ground, would they have terrorised the home fans? To paraphrase the Duke of Wellington: “They may frighten the enemy, but they certainly don’t frighten me…”
Back to the action. An early burst of Worthing vigour had Borough on the back foot, but the visitors were steadily winning more possession and controlling the shape of play. Shiloh Remy and Milly Scarlett combined slickly to expose the Worthing left, but the final cross was gathered by keeper Harrison Male at the near post.
Midway through the half. Rebels won a free-kick temptingly close to the D, although video suggested a rather easy fall which deceived the referee; but in any case Worgan easily saved the dead-ball strike by Nodirbek Bobomurodov – an enterprising front-man whose movement tested defenders just as much as his name challenged any radio reporters…. And it was the same player, two minutes later, who came closest to a goal for Worthing pounding through the inside-right channel, only to see Worgs parry his shot before Scarlett knocked it breathlessly off the line. Phew.
The home side remained a threat, with directness and raw pace, but Borough were now combining well and turning up the heat. A super spell of several minutes’ pressure on the home goal culminated in a free-kick, in Hammond-esque range just 22 yards out and slightly right of centre. Curl it round the wall, Hammo, or dink it over? The Sports dead-ball ace did enough to beat the wall and the keeper – and the 1-0 stayed comfortably intact until half-time.
Early into the second half, Bobomurodov whacked a goal effort too high as the Rebels looked to raise the pace. And just past the hour came the moment that turned the game in their favour. Romain, fouled from behind by – need you ask – Bobomurodov, went down and reacted with an elbow. The Worthing player writhed, and referee Lewis Sandoe produced the inevitable red card.
Ten men, then, against the Worthing tide. Corner after corner rained down on the Sports goal area, but the defending was organised and resolute. Breakouts were as rare as Shawshank; but the Great Escape was not to be. With 88 minutes on the stopwatch, a huge corner-kick from the right was swung beyond the back post and, in a match-saving assist by Joel Colbran, nodded back into a mass of bodies under the bar – and forced home by Kealy for the equaliser.
Worthing pressed for a winner, although actually It was the Sports who twice broke away to create credible chances, with birthday boy Simo Mbonwke enjoying a storming full debut and almost capping it with a winner. But on the day, defeat would have been less than either of these two committed teams deserved.
Borough: Worgan; Scarlett, Wynter, Dickenson, Innocent; Hammond, Vaughan; Remy (Gravata 72), Mbonkwi, Romain; Hutchinson (Whelpdale 72). Unused subs: Bull, Holter, Perez.
Referee: Lewis Sandoe Att: 1662
Borough MoM: Simo Mbonkwe
Photo courtesy of Nick and Lydia Redman – the best snappers in National South (well, along with Andy Pelling…)