Sussex FA Challenge Trophy final
Worthing 6 (Langridge 18, 35; Robinson 33, 90+4; Whitcomb 45; Ward 90+3)
Lancing 1 (Humphrey pen 89)
Classy Worthing put on a footballing super show to brush aside their lower-league neighbours and retain the Sussex FA Trophy with ease.
It was just Sussex County League side Lancing’s luck to encounter a Worthing team who are in the running for three trophies and at the top of their game.
They were pinned in their own half for most of a first half in which their South East Counties League opponents cruised into a 4-0 lead, and by the time they pulled themselves together, finally doing themselves justice in a competitive second half, the game was beyond them.
But their late penalty helped restore some pride before Worthing rubbed in their superior fitness with two stoppage-time goals to give the final scoreline a gloss that the quality of their football at times probably deserved.
Almost every one of Worthing’s starting XI excelled in what must surely have been one of the team’s best ever performances, with captain Naomi Robinson and fellow midfielder Ella Whitcomb scoring 30-yarders that would have graced any stage.
Pippa Langridge helped herself to two goals in the first 35 minutes, while the consolation of Kelly Humphrey’s 89th-minute penalty was short-lived as substitute Jodi Ward and Robinson, again, inflicted late blows that rubbed salt into battered Lancing’s wounds.
Worthing were in total control almost from the kick-off, passing the ball slickly over the superb surface at Sussex FA headquarters, with each player comfortable on the ball, Abigail Mason, at right-back, looking especially composed.
Their first shot came after four minutes when Hannah Hewlett found Gemma Worsfold, whose shot on the turn was easily gathered by Lancing goalkeeper Stacey Johnson.
Two minutes later, Claire Katoroz had to come to Lancing’s rescue, blocking Langridge’s goal-bound effort.
Her team’s first foray into the Worthing half came on eight minutes when Billie-Jo Cobb chased a high through-ball, rushing the Worthing defence into a hurried clearance.
Cobb, as is often the case for Lancing, was fighting a lone battle up front, but whereas she would normally expect support from the likes of Humphrey and Paris Akehurst, they were preoccupied in defensive duties as Worthing flew at them from all parts of the pitch.
Katie Burling, nominally Worthing’s left-back, spent most of the first half in the Lancing half, harnessing her commitment with composure and skill to provide a formidable force down the left flank.
Worthing’s first corner came on 10 minutes, but Worsfold headed Robinson’s inevitably superb kick wide. Robinson’s second, moments later, evaded everybody and just missed the far post before curling behind for a goal-kick.
Their opponents were dealt a big blow in the 12th minute when Humphrey limped off injured and had to be replaced by Gladys Hedger.
Robinson, Hannah Hewlett and Whitcomb were beginning to take a total hold on midfield, Whitcomb in particular looking dangerous with her surging runs from deep that put Lancing’s defence under immense pressure.
Worthing were creating chances almost at will, and on 17 minutes Burling played a wonderful ball into the path of Hewlett, whose shot from a narrow angle went into the side-netting.
Seconds later, Langridge almost opened the scoring in style when her clever back-heeled volley was saved by Johnson.
It merely delayed the inevitable, though, and in the 18th minute she was put through on goal by a magnificent pass from Worsfold that bisected two defenders, and Langridge finished with aplomb.
Worsfold, the club’s joint-top scorer before tonight’s game, almost grabbed her 12th of the season when she danced into the area after collecting another Burling pass, but she was denied by a great tackle by Holly Marsh, who was proving a collossus at the back for under-pressure Lancing.
Still the pressure was relentless, and the corners were mounting up. From another Robinson gem, Katoroz headed narrowly over her own bar.
Her fellow defender, Marsh, again came to the rescue when she calmly chested down a dangerous cross inside her own penalty area before blasting the ball clear.
The lively Worsfold was stretching Lancing, while Robinson pulled the strings in the centre. But it was Whitcomb who was proving the most influential, her pace and strength enabling her to get away from her markers and act as a support striker.
With the corner count mounting, a second goal was inevitable – and it came indirectly from corner number seven on 33 minutes.
Robinson‘s kick was returned to her almost 30 yards from goal and her angled rocket of a shot flew into the top corner to make it 2-0.
Within two minutes it was 3-0, Langridge converting Whitcomb’s low cross with the Lancing defence in tatters.
To add to the county league side’s woes, they had to replace substitute Hedger on 39 minutes, Colette Barry joining the fray. And two minutes later they had only their second attack of the half, Akehurst delivering another through-ball for Cobb to run on to, but Kim Chrimes was up to the challenge.
Akehurst was now alongside Cobb, and it led to the first sustained period of play in the Worthing half.
But it was to prove only a brief respite as Worthing grabbed a fourth on 45 minutes – and what a goal it was. Whitcomb was fully 30 yards from goal when she let fly with a magical strike that rocketed beyond the reach of Johnson.
Four minutes into first-half injury time, Lancing won their first corner of the game, but it was cleared, leaving Langridge to juggle the ball over two defenders and race into the opposition half, only to find herself bereft of support and her shot trickled wide.
The striker almost grabbed her hat-trick in the fifth minute of stoppage time. Worsfold delivered another immaculate pass between two defenders into the path of Megan McCready. Johnson fumbled her cross-shot but recovered before the waiting Langridge could pounce.
There was just time for Lancing to win – and waste – their second corner before referee Angela Bennett blew time on a 54-minute first half.
Half-time: Worthing 4-0 Lancing
Worthing manager Andy Burling would have warned his players to expect an initial onslaught from Lancing after the break, and to their credit, they came at their opponents with all guns blazing.
Akehurst again found Cobb, who broke into the box, only to be foiled again by the imposing Chrimes.
Having waited 49 minutes for their first corner, Lancing forced their third and fourth in quick succession within the first five minutes of the second half, and from the fourth, they mustered their first real shot on goal, Cobb failing to keep down her volley, which flew well over.
In stark contrast to the first half, Lancing were dominating, and the ball was rarely out of the Worthing half. In the 50th minute, Cobb made a great run at the Worthing defence, but her shot was stopped by goalkeeper Angharad Hills.
Cobb collected the rebound and found Nicola Harrison, who shot inches wide from six yards.
After weathering the pretty sizeable storm at the start of the half, Worthing began to slip back into their passing game, exploiting the gaps left by Lancing’s change of formation, which finally provided Cobb with some much-needed support.
Worsfold fired in a first-time shot from 20 yards after a brilliant run by Mason. Then Robinson struck an effort from nearer 30 yards, which Johnson saved at full stretch.
Langridge thought she had her hat-trick on 59 minutes when she finished off the unselfish Worsfold’s cross, but it was ruled out for offside.
Two minutes later, Johnson saved Robinson’s excellent shot on the turn.
The goalkeeper excelled herself on 65 minutes when she tipped Robinson’s screamer on to the roof of the net for Worthing’s eighth corner, but first of the half.
Hewlett headed the captain’s kick just over the bar.
For all Worthing’s dominance, Lancing were very much in the second half, and Chrimes had to redeem her own error to deny them a shot on goal.
Then it was Hills’ turn to pull off an impressive save, scrambling back to push Cobb’s superb 30-yard effort around the post.
The game had developed into an open, entertaining contest, although Worthing’s 4-0 lead took the edge off proceedings.
While injuries had forced Lancing boss Ross Waddington’s hand in respect of some of his substitutions, his opposite number, Burling, was determined to give all of his bench a taste of cup-final action, and with the game all but won, he generously allowed teenage goalkeeper Lani Smith to play the last quarter of an hour, replacing the reliable, but underworked, Hills.
At the same time, Humphrey returned to the fray, sufficiently recovered from her early injury to replace Harrison.
On 76 minutes Worthing should have had a fifth, when Worsfold and Robinson combined to present Emily Cook, another substitute, with a straightforward chance, but her first touch let her down and the opportunity evaporated.
Two minutes later Robinson fired a free-kick from distance just over, but Burling came even closer to a cup-final goal when her volley from 20 yards struck the bar.
Langridge, who had been replaced after an hour, returned for the final few minutes, as Burling continued to make use of rolling substitutes.
But it was Lancing, who were surprisingly handed the chance of a consolation goal on 89 minutes when McCready was penalised for handball, receiving a yellow card into the bargain, and Humphrey struck a fierce penalty beyond Smith’s dive.
Yet it was Worthing who had the final word, scoring twice in stoppage time, Ward – another substitute – taking advantage of lax marking to hit the fifth and then Robinson somehow scoring with a long-range free-kick that eluded everybody and wrong-footed Johnson.
It was always going to be tough for Lancing, playing a team not only in the next division up, but one who are in contention for the league title, not to mention one step away from the League Cup final.
But the biggest blow for the Sussex County League side was that Worthing were on fire. Their passing was slick, quick and precise; their close control immaculate and – on the rare occasions it was needed – their defending solid and confident.
Andy Burling’s side produced an almost perfect first half and rose to the challenge when Lancing hit back at them after the break to cruise to a well-deserved second Sussex FA Trophy in succession.
But their lower-league neighbours played their part in a decent spectacle, defending admirably under the incessant first-half pressure and finally looking like the team they can be in a much-improved display after the break.
Andy Burling (Worthing): “We were celebrating like we’d won it at half-time”
“That was our trophy, and that was part of our team talk at the start. I said that was our trophy and we want to win that back.
“I was so excited about this game, and I think my enthusiasm went through the team in the first half. It was absolutely brilliant. I loved it.
“At half-time I said almost expect them to come at us. Their half-time team talk would have been, hit them as hard as you possibly can. And it was a bit of a shock. We were celebrating, like we’d won it, and I tried to calm them down a little bit.
“I said it’s not over yet. Let’s start again. But unfortunately, they were a bit excited…”
“I try and play as many people as I possibly can. We’ve got a good squad, but unfortunately, changes often cause disruption.
“We have a massive game on Sunday against Crawley Wasps in the semi-final of the [South East Counties] League Cup. Hopefully, we’ll take tonight’s enthusiasm into that semi-final on Sunday.”
Ross Waddington (Lancing): “We lost the game in the first half”
“We were always the underdogs. We tried something new in the first half – we played a diamond defence with a back sweeper and a front sweeper – and when you’re not used to doing something, it’s quite easy to forget, and when the pressure was on, a few people forgot what their roles were.
“But we’ve not played for four weeks and the girls were just not at the races in the first half. There was a massive improvement in the second half. We changed our tactics again, went after them a bit. But we lost the game in the first half.
“We went 3-4-3 in the second half, with a higher line. We gambled a bit. We ran our luck a bit in the second half. Billie had a good chance, but the goalie made a good save. Then we had the penalty. It was unfortunate that [McCready] handballed it – fortunate for us.
“Kelly put it away well, but we were running on empty by then. I would have been gutted if we hadn’t scored a goal. The effort they put in was unbelievable. The second-half performance… I was so proud of them.
“We went back to something they were comfortable with. The girls knew how to play that and there was a massive improvement.
“The better team won, without doubt, but I was really pleased with the second half.”
Sent Her Forward player of the match: Ella Whitcomb (Worthing)
My shortlist took up half a page in my notebook, so dominant were Worthing and so well did each player perform.
Naomi Robinson was magnificent in midfield, pulling the strings, while Gemma Worsfold was a constant problem for Lancing’s midfield and defence.
But Whitcomb was impeccable. She barely put a foot wrong all night, and her penetrating runs through the crumbling ruins of a Lancing midfield stretched their defence, forcing them into uncharacteristic errors.
Close behind her was Katie Burling, whose assured performance – mainly on the left wing rather than at full-back – was a fine example of composure, neat footwork, athleticism and intelligent movement.
While Worthing’s defence has had busier days, right-back Abi Mason deserves credit for her composure and determination never to waste a pass, no matter how tricky her situation.
Inevitably, on a night of Worthing dominance, most of the Lancing action was in their own half, and defenders Claire Katoroz and Holly Marsh stood out.
Billie-Jo Cobb never lets her team-mates down, and after ploughing a lone furrow up front for Lancing in the first half, she had a more enjoyable second half, with support at last – unfortunately for her team, though, too little too late.
Sent Her Forward match rating: 7/10 Even in a one-sided first half, Lancing defended doggedly, and after the break they played a full part in an entertaining encounter.