Sharing six goals and exchanging the lead on three separate occasions, Hastings United and Worthing FC played out a superb FA Cup Sussex derby.
But they were unable to be separated in their First Qualifying Round meeting, with Shola Ayoola’s added-time equaliser cancelling out a second-half ‘U’s lead to force a replay this upcoming Tuesday, reports Will Hugall.
Having never had a goalless result in their previous 11 FA Cup meetings, it was no surprise that both defences struggled in the first half as each side took turns to lead. With Hastings controlling the second half, however, and grabbing what looked like a winner through Daniel Ajakaiye, it was a deflating moment for the Pilot Field crowd when Ayoola levelled the scores again in the 93rd minute.
While both teams made a lively start, it was the ‘U’s who would grab the opening goal after six minutes, as Ben Pope forced a corner and Sam Beale’s inswinging delivery caused chaos at the near post, somehow resulting in a goal directly from the corner.
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An almost immediate response brought Worthing level in the 10th minute, as an initial Ricky Aguiar cross was only half-cleared by Jake Elliott and Jack Dixon, and Aguiar’s second attempt caused Sam Adams to inadvertently pass between his centre-backs, with Reece Meekums slotting a finish under Louis Rogers.
While Dixon had a tentative penalty shout turned down when his heels were clipped by Joel Colbran, the hosts would go behind in the 21st minute as Jesse Starkey’s corner was met by Jalen Jones, and Meekums flicked on to captain Danny Barker, who lifted over his shoulder and found the left of the goal in superb fashion.
After the Rebels were denied a penalty of their own, with Craig Stone cleared for a lunge on Meekums, it would be United’s turn to capitalise in the 32nd minute, equalising as Lanre Azeez powered his way to the left by-line before lifting a cross to Dixon, who towered to head into the bottom-right corner.
Chris Agutter’s side had the better of the half’s remaining minutes, and Gary Elphick could have put them ahead at half time, only for Colbran to clear on the line after a Beale corner.
Serving as a complete contrast to the first, the start of the second half saw few genuine opportunities, with Rogers saving well from Marvin Armstrong, while the closest opportunity came when a cross evaded Pope but almost went in off a Rebels defender, with Roco Rees reacting quickly to save.
Beginning to control the match, Hastings then twice went close through Dixon twice, who drove powerfully and headed over, before the midfielder set up Pope, whose acrobatic effort was blocked.
With Worthing backpedalling, Meekums followed up a shot over the bar from Ollie Pearce’s backheel with almost conceding a penalty, as an Azeez cross struck his arm in a moment of controversy.
Azeez would not wait much longer to play a crucial role, however, as in the 79th minute he burst away on the break before sliding a pass right to wing partner Ajakaiye, and after being blocked first time, Ajakaiye put the ‘U’s ahead, collecting to fire into the bottom right corner.
With substitute Ayoola penalised for handball when set to pounce on an Elliott back pass, an upset appeared all but sealed for the hosts as time ran out.
With four minutes added, however, a free kick conceded on the edge of the box by Hastings in the 93rd minute proved decisive. As Starkey, Meekums and Aguiar combined, the latter put in a cross which Rogers spilled, and Ayoola pounced to fire into the back of the net and break Hastings hearts.
A final Ryan Worrall corner could have yet won it for the hosts, as Elphick met the ball and headed onto Dixon, but the midfielder’s shot crashed back off the post and the rebound went over, confirming the replay at Woodside Road this Tuesday, kicking off at 7:45 p.m.
Speaking to local media after the game, Hastings manager Chris Agutter was positive about his side’s performance in the tie, stating: “No disrespect to Worthing, I thought we were the better side, especially in the second half.
“We’re disappointed not to win and that’s a reflection of where we are at the moment; we are disappointed not to beat a side a league above us.”
When asked about the final goal, Agutter was sympathetic for Rogers: “He has got two hands on it but as he has caught it the centre-half has run into him.
“Anywhere else on the pitch, that would have been a foul.
“It wasn’t just that, and I am not one to really talk about refs, but there was a stonewall penalty when their left-sided centre-half virtually caught the ball from a cross. It was just one of those days really.”