Worthing United 2 (Knight 28; E Chrimes 80)
Further evidence – if evidence were needed – that county league football in Sussex is going to be a classier affair this season was provided by another of the league’s newcomers today.
Worthing United, like their rivals Saltdean United last week, deservedly beat a side who will be playing two tiers above them this season as grassroots football continues to fine-tune its assets with the new season beckoning.
Both teams have been formed at established men’s clubs from the nucleus of other women’s sides who have fallen by the wayside – and both have squads that will surely see them through the depths of winter injuries, suspensions and all kinds of other absences.
While Saltdean’s 5-0 victory last week over South East Counties Premier League side Eastbourne was notable particularly for the lethal finishing of their star striker, Worthing United’s win against Hassocks – another South East Counties Premier team – was more a team affair – although in Emma Chrimes they have their own goal machine who will surely fill her boots at county league level.
The former Haywards Heath and Wivelsfield striker has joined Andy Burling, her manager at Worthing until a couple of weeks ago, and several team-mates in a switch to the other side of town to join a revolution that looks set to put the location well and truly on the women’s football map.
Chrimes, who gave birth to a boy less than three months ago, was a second-half substitute in her first appearance in a Worthing United shirt – and inevitably scored.
She also hit the bar, landed another effort on top of the net and took a nasty blow within seconds of coming on as she chose not to make a quiet entrance at the Robert Albon Memorial Ground.
It was a demanding afternoon for their visitors, who saw plenty of the ball in an even first half but fell by the wayside after the break, against a substantially different XI as Downer rang the changes and gave game time to some of the recent arrivals from Worthing.
In what became a template for the first half, United began the game with some neat possession football and a perceptive pass from Amy Davey, but it was Hassocks who mustered the first shot on goal.
The dangerous Billie Philpott dispossessed Lauren Stevens, beating three players down the right and then sent over a decent cross to Katherine Chappell, whose volley lacked power and was dealt with comfortably by goalkeeper Molly Towers.
Worthing responded with a good run down the left by Lucy Jellett, but although her cross found Faye Charles in the centre, the striker was unable to control the ball and the chance went begging.
The match settled quickly into an entertaining spectacle, with the home side passing the ball neatly in midfield, and Jordan Lucas and Steph Carter – another ex-Worthing debutant – forging an instant understanding.
But Hassocks, too, were not averse to the odd top-quality pass, and Chappell delivered the first of many from her on 12 minutes to send Tallie Bright away down the right.
Worthing were dealt an early blow when the threatening Jellett, who had made a bright start, took a knock in just the 13th minute and had to be replaced.
On 17 minutes Philpott gave the United defence another fright when she raced on to a neat pass from Kirsten Mair, but although she got a touch, with Lauren Stevens nipping at her ankles, it was not enough to trouble Towers unduly.
Hassocks had another opportunity when they were awarded a free-kick between the penalty area and touchline, deep in Worthing territory. But Chappell sent her kick into the side-netting.
It was still a relatively productive spell for the visitors, though, with the rampaging Philpott a real threat, and they won the game’s first corner on 20 minutes.
But again they wasted the chance, Ellie Moquet sending her kick straight out of play.
At the other end, Paris Akehurst put Melissa Knight away down the right, but her cross was deflected into goalkeeper Sarah Chappell’s arms.
Hassocks broke again but as Philpott bore down on goal she sent her shot high and wide, the referee taking the opportunity to signal for a brief drinks break.
It seemed to suit Worthing United best, and they took the lead almost immediately after the restart, with a superbly worked goal on 28 minutes.
Akehurst and Lucas swapped passes, and when the latter returned the ball to the former, she found Carter, who broke into the Hassocks penalty area before laying the ball off to Knight, who sent a crisp, angled finish beyond Chappell.
Hassocks responded through their favoured outlet, Katherine Chappell finding Philpott with another lovely through-ball. But the striker was stopped in her tracks by a superbly timed challenge from Lauren Westwood, suffering an injury in the process.
Once manager Alastair Fitzsimons was satisfied Philpott could continue, he sent on his only substitute, Lisa Callow, for Moquet, and almost instantly his team won their second corner. But Callow’s kick was too strong for everybody and the danger was quickly cleared.
On 34 minutes, Hassocks were briefly reduced to 10 players as Chloe John was shown a blue card and a two-minute spell in the sin bin for illegally halting a Worthing United attack. But in keeping with the match so far, the resulting dead-ball opportunity was wasted.
The game was still pretty even, but United’s confidence was growing as they stuck to their possession game plan, and they turned defence into attack with clever inter-passing between the impressive Lucas, Davey, Akehurst and Nicole Webley, who had come on as yet another first-half substitute.
On 38 minutes Worthing won their first corner of the game after good play by Knight. Carter’s kick was cleared for a second corner, which this time Carter took short before that, too, was cleared.
Four minutes later Hassocks came so close to an equaliser. Mair latched on to a hopeful through-ball and played in Philpott, who struck the base of the post from 15 yards.
Moments later, Mair threaded another excellent pass into the path of the ever-willing Bright, and her cross-shot was heading for Towers before Westwood intervened, heading behind for another Hassocks corner.
Callow’s kick fell conveniently for Philpott, but it took the striker by surprise, and she was unable to control it.
The visitors had another chance, from a free-kick 40 yards out. Philpott got a foot to the ball, but as it ran loose, Towers pounced on it.
With the half moving into time added on for the drinks break, Worthing won their third corner after Lucas’s shot took a deflection. But Akehurst’s cross was headed clear.
They won their fourth four minutes into added-on time. When Carter’s kick came back to her, she laid the ball off to Davey, whose shot was easily held by Chappell.
Half-time: Worthing United 1-0 Hassocks
It had been an entertaining, open first half, with both sides spurning opportunities. With the visitors appearing to tire, and their hosts ready to send on eight new faces for the second half, it felt as though Hassocks’ best chance of winning the game might have gone.
Within 60 seconds of the restart, the size of their task was evident.
Emma Chrimes, who joined the fray at half-time, along with her wife, Kim, substitute goalkeeper Stacey Johnson and several others, immediately won a corner.
And she met Carter’s kick with a header that rocked the bar before taking a kick for her pains in the ensuing melée, all within the first minute of the second half.
With Lucas rested, Worthing lost a little bit in midfield, where the contest between Carter and Hassocks’ Chappell was a particular highlight.
But with Chrimes’ pace and strength up front, they were a much sharper attacking proposition.
On 50 minutes Carter crossed for another substitute, Abz Beadle, who met the ball first-time but ballooned her effort over the bar.
Hassocks were beginning to struggle against a rejuvenated Worthing, but Philpott was continuing to cause their opponents problems.
In a superb run in the 54th minute she raced past five players down the left flank before playing a one-two with Lilah Sinclair.
Philpott brilliantly turned Kim Chrimes and fired in a close-range shot which Johnson saved equally impressively.
Chrimes made amends moments later when she somehow managed to block Chappell’s goalbound effort after the attacking midfielder had broken through.
While Hassocks made the occasional personnel change to give players a rest, Worthing made a series of substitutions, including bringing back Davey, who had impressed in defence, in a more advanced role.
But with only one goal between them, the South East Counties side were not out of the game, and immediately after the second-half drinks break, Philpott – inevitably – escaped the clutches of Kim Chrimes with another superb turn, only to find the defender back in her path, throwing herself in the way of her shot.
On 76 minutes Davey robbed Gaby Fitzsimons but shot just wide.
Then Davey intercepted a rare weak goal-kick and fed Lucy Jellett, now happily back in the action, but the winger’s shot was deflected around the post by Chappell for the first of a string of Worthing United corners.
And on 80 minutes the pressure paid off.
Emma Chrimes, who had proved such a thorn in Hassocks’ side with her strength, speed and ability to hold up play, caught Sam Newman in possession and gave Chappell no chance for a debut goal just a dozen weeks after giving birth.
As if that wasn’t dispiriting enough, Lucas returned to the action after a well-earned rest and resumed her striking midfield partnership with Carter.
Hassocks were wilting, but they were not going to roll over. Philpott cleverly found Sinclair, who danced round Johnson but was denied – once again – by Kim Chrimes.
In the 88th minute Emma Chrimes had an excellent chance to double her tally and kill off Hassocks completely after beating the defence for pace to a through-ball. But she shot straight at the prone Chappell.
Then Davey found Jellett with another wonderful ball down the left. The winger beat two markers but her shot was deflected for Worthing’s ninth corner of the contest – and fifth of a dominant second half.
As the game entered added-on time, Philpott somehow found a way through the Worthing defence again, but her shot just missed the near post.
And the last meaningful action of the match fittingly featured Emma Chrimes again, the striker gliding in to head Lucas’s cross on to the roof of the net.
If the past two weeks are anything to go by, followers of the Sussex County Women’s League are in for a treat this season, with a bunch of new teams set to fight it out for the title.
There are currently 10 teams registered for the Women’s Division, compared with six in each of the past two seasons.
And Saltdean, Newhaven and AFC Varndeanians are all expected to be competing with Worthing United at the top end of the league.
I have now seen Saltdean and Worthing in pre-season action, and in truth, both squads would survive in the South East Counties League, whose Division One West is technically on the same tier as the county league, although in practice it has tended to contain the stronger sides.
The biggest asset for both sides is the strength of their squads. Saltdean have more than 20 players – and had several key ones missing in their big win over Eastbourne last week.
Worthing United say they have 26 players registered – and even before the bizarre events at their neighbours Worthing FC in the past couple of weeks, they would have been confident of being there or thereabouts by the end of the season.
But the addition of the likes of Steph Carter, Kim and Emma Chrimes – with others due to join shortly – means that any team that finishes above this lot will almost certainly be tasting glory next May.
Jason Downer’s biggest challenge may well be to keep all of his squad happy.
Hassocks, rather like their SECWFL rivals Eastbourne last week, are hard to assess. Both brought tiny squads to face their county league opponents and neither looked match-fit for the season.
But Hassocks have some top-quality players who are likely to stand out even at their level once the season gets going.
With the dangerous Billie Philpott and elegant playmaker Katherine Chappell, they will cause headaches to teams of all abilities.
Jason Downer (Worthing United): “We’ve got at least six more players away at the moment”
“The first two teams we played [in pre-season friendlies] were a league above us, to be fair. So today was the first chance we got a chance to see what standard, what level we could be playing at, not only in our league but if we aim to get higher, what sort of standard that would be.
“And I think we played very well. Sometimes we lost control of the game, but we still managed to get it back and keep the ball. We played the tempo at our standards [for] pretty much the whole game, and I think that paid off towards the end because Hassocks looked quite tired.
“We’ve been training for eight weeks already, and a lot of that has been fitness-based. We’ve had two friendlies, against teams that did played us off the pitch. So our fitness kicked in from there.
“You wouldn’t have thought the [former Worthing] girls were new. They gelled quite quickly. We’ve had a couple of [training] sessions with them. They’re a great bunch. They all get on. And we’ve got at least six more who are away at the moment, and then potentially, a couple more coming across as well.
“I want to win [the league] and do the best we can. But I don’t want to put any pressure on the players, so we’ll just take one game at a time and go from there.”
Alastair Fitzsimons (Hassocks): “We should be ambitious”
“In the first half I thought we were probably the better team. We probably needed to take our opportunities when we had them in the first half, but I liked the way we used the width of the pitch.
“I think we did switch off for their goal. That was probably our one big mistake in that half. The rest of the time, their shots were from distance, more or less straight at our keeper.
“Second half it was a different game. The changes that Worthing made certainly helped their play. Some of our players tired a little. We only had 12, and then a couple picked up injuries during the game, so that was a bit of a struggle.
“But I think the fact that we were tiring towards the end made us drop and sit a little bit deep. That is something that hopefully, by the time the season starts we will have sorted.
“[Having played pre-season friendlies against both Saltdean United and Worthing United] They are quite different teams.
“Saltdean, I would say, are very comfortable in possession, quite happy to play the ball around – although it’s probably slightly easier to manage their strikers. If you don’t let their strikers turn, you’re probably going to be OK.
“Here I think we saw – particularly second half – a bit more variety from Worthing. I thought they had a good second half. I don’t think they threatened us that much in the first half, but second half I think they did ask us some real questions, so congratulations to Worthing today.
“Once we get going – we’ve got a few players coming back – we should be looking, certainly for a top-half finish. It will be interesting to see what Herne Bay are like. They’ve just come down [from the London & South East Region].
“Chichester and Bexhill are going to be good sides, but we’ve done OK against them on occasion in the past, so I think we should be ambitious, and I think we should look to challenge those three teams.”
Worthing United are a club with a special – if rather tragic – place in Sussex football. Two years ago, almost to the day, two of their players were killed in the air show disaster at nearby Shoreham, on their way to play for the club.
The players, Jacob Schilt and Matthew Grimstone, have a special place in the club’s affections: there is a memorial garden between the clubhouse and pitch, and a brand new stand named after the pair, whose deaths affected so many lives.
They will clearly never be forgotten, but the club is moving on in more than one sense.
Chairman Steve Taylor, one of the most enthusiastic club bosses I’ve ever come across, wants to see the men’s section progress, but he was also keen to set up a women’s team – which he has now done, with the aid of former Shoreham and Adur player and Lewes coach Jordan Lucas and manager Downer.
He told me: “I want the women’s and men’s teams to be treated equally here. They deserve it.”
And sure enough, Downer said that was one of the key aspects that attracted him to Lyons Farm from Lancing, where he had been manager and then chairman of their women’s team.
Now he has an assistant who would be the envy of clubs at a higher level than Worthing United.
Until a fortnight ago Andy Burling was preparing to lead Worthing FC Ladies into their first campaign in the South East Counties Premier Division after seeing them to the Division One West title last season.
But after a disagreement at the club, he has left, along with his daughter, Katie, and a number of the players, many of whom excelled on their debut today.
Burling told Sent Her Forward: “I feel that the team has kind of been taken away from me, having built it up for so many years.
“They have brought a coach in and I felt a bit undermined.”
Sent Her Forward player of the match: Steph Carter (Worthing United, 8/10)
No matter how good Worthing United were before the cross-town exodus from Worthing Ladies, they are now a markedly better side.
And one of the main reasons is the excellent Carter, who, with the similarly impressive Jordan Lucas, ran the midfield with calm authority, energy and excellent passing. Carter played in a more advanced role than I’m used to seeing her, and it proved a big plus for United’s front-runners.
Lucas (8) was also outstanding, calmness personified and rarely hustled off the ball. And her passing, too, was excellent.
Emma Chrimes (8) also had a massive impact when she entered the fray for her debut – a constant menace and handful for the Hassocks defence. Free-scoring Chrimes has shone wherever she has played, but I can’t help thinking this could be a record-breaking season in the Sussex County League if today is anything to go by – just a few weeks after giving birth.
Amy Davey (7) shone in defence in the first half and in a more advanced role in the second, as did Kim Chrimes (7) after half-time.
Hassocks had two outstanding players – Billie Philpott (7), who frightened the life out of United’s defenders before they settled down, and Katherine Chappell (8), who supplied the ammunition throughout in a fascinating midfield tussle with the Worthing pair.
Claire Stevens, Lilah Sinclair and Kirsten Mair also showed some excellent touches.
Sent Her Forward match rating: 7/10 Another decent pre-season friendly, which was more combative than some I’ve seen, complete with a liberal sprinkling of stardust.