Worthing 1 (Worsfold 54)
Crawley Wasps Reserves 0
Worthing shook off their cup hangover to reach their second final of the season with a clinical, if unspectacular, victory over Crawley Wasps Reserves.
Having retained the Sussex FA Challenge Trophy just three days ago, Andy Burling’s talented side overcame the greater physical challenge of a higher-ranked team to make the South East Counties League Cup final – and suggest they will be able to live in the league’s premier division, to which they look likely to be promoted, next season.
They will face an even stiffer test in the final, against reigning Premier Division champions Parkwood Rangers – but unlike today’s semi-final, it won’t come less than 72 hours after an energy-sapping, emotionally draining cup showpiece.
Thursday’s comprehensive victory over Lancing looked to have taken its toll on Worthing in a first half that failed to spark into life, the home side riding their luck as Wasps wasted a handful of golden chances before settling down after the break and earning a deserved victory.
The game was won in midfield – where, after an even first half of contrasting approaches, Worthing eventually dominated, with Gemma Worsfold, Hannah Hewlett and Naomi Robinson impressing – and in attack, where, after watching Wasps squander a series of presentable chances they clinched their cup-final place with a cool, unhurried finish.
Wasps never gave up but from the moment Worsfold put Worthing ahead nine minutes after half-time, they struggled to break down their hosts’ back line, whose players grew in confidence by the minute.
The victory keeps Worthing on course for a remarkable treble – they sit in third place in Division One West, three points off the lead with two games in hand – having also reached the semi-finals of the Ryman Cup in their first season in the competition.
But they could – and maybe should – have been behind within 30 seconds as they suggested they had not yet shaken Thursday night’s triumph out of their system.
Zoe Martin caught the Worthing defence napping, and put Amy Clark in on goal, but her fierce shot from inside the penalty area was pushed around the post for a corner by Lani Smith, who then took Natalie Stephenson’s high flag-kick comfortably.
In the fourth minute, Smith was again at the centre of events as she rushed from her goal to thwart the onrushing Clark as she bore down on goal.
Two minutes later, Megan Hannah, in the Crawley goal, was doing similarly to deny Pippa Langridge as she chased Worsfold’s through-ball.
As Worthing started to settle after the early scares, Robinson won – and took – a free-kick 25 yards out, but her effort sailed wide.
Clark squandered another opportunity on 16 minutes, forcing her way between Steph Carter and Brooke Marshall to fire in a shot, which was blocked. The ball came back to the 10-goal Crawley striker but she shot wide from 16 yards.
Still Wasps dominated, with Worthing struggling to piece together moves and misjudging the weight of their passes.
With 20 minutes gone, Toni Smith found Clark, but her shot was deflected for Wasps’ second corner.
Having ridden their luck in the opening quarter, things were starting to click for the home side, and they pieced together a beautiful passing sequence to open Crawley up.
It started with Katie Burling’s beautifully judged pass to Worsfold on the left wing, and the ball made its way deep into enemy territory with a series of neat, short passes involving Hewlett, Ella Whitcomb, Robinson and Megan McCready.
But there was no fantasy ending to Worthing’s fantasy football.
Crawley were seeing less of the ball, but they were still making good use of the possession they had, and on 27 minutes Clark was given another clear-cut opportunity after being played through by Stephenson. But with just Smith to beat, she chose to shoot early and the ball flew well wide.
If that was a straightforward chance, an even easier one fell to Stephenson herself a couple of minutes later. The Worthing defence stood still as the winger found herself in oceans of space inside the area, but inexplicably, she failed to hit the target.
Still the chances came. Martin robbed Burling and found Stephenson on the right wing. She somehow managed to get a cross in but found only the goalkeeper at the near post with reinforcements queuing up at the far post.
Moments later, the ball was back at Stephenson’s feet, and this time she slightly overhit her cross and another opportunity went begging.
Worthing were still struggling to master their normal passing game, and while they had plenty of possession, their opponents were looking the more dangerous, seeking to bisect Worthing’s central defenders at every opportunity to send Clark clear.
But time and again, Marshall came to the home side’s rescue, making timely interceptions, usually while in retreat.
Wasps earned their third corner three minutes from the break, but Martin headed Stephenson’s kick over, and in the final action of the half, Worthing belatedly pieced together another neat move involving Worsfold, Hewlett and Langridge, who laid the ball back to Worsfold, but her shot, off balance, went wide.
Half-time: Worthing 0-0 Crawley Wasps Reserves
Unsurprisingly, the hosts seemed to step up a gear after the break, putting Wasps under a spell of concerted pressure.
Burling found Worsfold in the area, and she crossed to substitute Jodie Ward, but she was unable to shake off the attention of a couple of Wasps defenders.
Robinson tried her luck from distance with a high volley, but Hannah easily held her effort. Then the Worthing captain got in a dangerous cross from the right, but Shaney Bolton – a collosus in defence – did well to cut out the danger.
In the 54th minute the Wasps defence switched off, and Worsfold easily shrugged off Carys Dunn as she made her way into the Crawley area. And in stark contrast to the visitors’ first-half efforts, the midfielder kept her head and slotted calmly past Hannah to put Worthing in front.
Wasps responded immediately. Toni Smith, who was impressing in midfield, played a wonderful ball for Clark to chase, but Lani Smith was out of her area like a shot to brilliantly – and somewhat bravely – tackle the experienced striker.
The visitors racked up their fourth corner on the hour, Lisa Richards meeting Stephenson’s kick, but her header was saved on the line by the goalkeeper.
Two minutes later Wasps had a double let-off when Worthing hit the bar twice in the space of 30 seconds.
Firstly, Langridge’s effort struck the woodwork, and Hannah brilliantly saved Hewlett’s follow-up at point-blank range.
Then Robinson’s floated effort from 30 yards met the same fate, the rebound hurriedly cleared by a relieved Crawley defence.
Worthing were now totally in the ascendancy, and Worsfold shot wide after excellent work down the left by Robinson.
At the other end, Clark, never shy to have a go, let fly from 20 yards but cleared the bar by a similar distance.
Worsfold and Robinson were dominating midfield, and the latter was once again the target in the 70th minute, earning another free-kick 30 yards out in a central position. She took the kick herself and missed the goal by inches.
Emily Cook, one of a number of Worthing substitutes used by Burling, teed up Hewlett 25 yards out, but she shot wide as it looked increasingly likely that one goal might be enough.
At the other end, Toni Smith attempted to take on the Worthing defence single-handedly, robbing Robinson in midfield and beating two players before shooting weakly straight at her namesake.
Crawley Wasps attacks were becoming rarer as they appeared to tire more quickly than their opponents.
But Clark, who never previously got out of first gear, suddenly found a second wind to win a fifth Wasps corner through sheer determination.
Substitute Tracey O’Hagan was now alongside Clark in attack, with Martin, who had been given a breather during the second half, dropping into a deeper role.
But they were struggling to break down Worthing’s defence, which was matching Crawley’s for solidity but showing slightly more composure under pressure.
After Worsfold hit another effort just wide, Wasps moved to a back three as they chased an equaliser in the final six minutes to try to take the tie into extra-time.
But there was little more goalmouth action, and most notable events of stoppage time were yellow cards for former Rottingdean team-mates Clark, for hacking at Robinson, and Worsfold for a more innocuous-looking challenge on Jessica Rippin.
It was a good test of Worthing’s credentials as the promotion favourites took on a side now established in the higher league – though with work still to do if they are to extend their Premier Division stay to a second season.
Buoyed by Thursday night’s Sussex Trophy victory, they matched their opponents, and a single clinical finish was enough to kill off their game – but laboured – opponents.
Andy Burling (Worthing): “This is huge for Worthing”
“One of the things we said before the game to try to get away from [the euphoria of] Thursday was, this is a much bigger cup. It does raise the profile of women’s football in the town.
“This is huge for Worthing, absolutely huge.
“There were some heavy legs out there from Thursday. There must have been four or five who couldn’t take a lot more, but they did well, on a big pitch.
“Because they were closing us down so quickly, we struggled to get our pass-and-move, pass-and-move because they are such a good team.
“But they’re the teams we need to be playing week in, week out. When we don’t have so much time on the ball, we need to release the ball early. We’re getting there – and it worked in the second half.
“Going forward, especially, I think we’ve got to have a main striker, like [currently pregnant] Emma Chrimes, who can actually hold the ball up and then draw in players with her.
“At the moment we’re not holding the ball up – we need to take the pressure off the defence a little bit.
“Overall, I think we were the better side. We created more chances, played the nicer football. They did shake us up a little bit, which is what we needed. We’re not used to being hit quite as hard as that. But overall, I think we deserved to win.”
Simon Pavey (Crawley Wasps Reserves): “There’s nothing to be down about”
“I’m very disappointed. I thought we dominated the first half and didn’t take our chances.
“I wish Worthing a lot of luck in the final. They played incredibly well. I think they probably learnt a lot from the game today. Hopefully, they’ll be promoted next season. The physicality of the game in the next division up is, I think, a lot stronger.
“But I think they weathered the storm very well, to be honest.
“We were lacking a couple of key players today through sickness, which I think would have made a bit of a difference to us. But I think we competed very well. It was just the finishing in front of goal.
“I’ve just said to the girls that there’s certainly nothing to be down about. We came here and competed very well – just didn’t take our chances – and if we carry on playing like that, with the intensity and the physicality of the games in our league… I thought the performance of the girls was outstanding.”
Sent Her Forward player of the match: Gemma Worsfold (Worthing)
The difference between the two sides was the midfield – which Worthing largely controlled in the second half – and the finishing. Worsfold was at the heart of both, providing energy, skill and pace and then a level head to take the sort of one-on-one chance that Crawley had spurned time and again in the first half.
Worsfold, who has 12 goals in 13 games for Worthing, was the key attacking element, striking down both flanks and supporting lone striker Pippa Langridge.
But behind her, Hannah Hewlett and – inevitably – Naomi Robinson – provided the platform from which she was able to express herself.
Both were excellent after shining in the centre for Worthing on Thursday, too, while Brooke Marshall and Katie Burling were probably the pick of an impressive defence.
Wasps also defended well, with Lisa Richards and Shaney Bolton standing out. But their key players were in midfield, where Toni Smith, Zoe Martin and in parts Natalie Stephenson impressed.
Sent Her Forward match rating: 6/10 Both sides struggled, for some reason, to produce a flowing game, but neither side lacked endeavour.