After an impressive season at National League level to finish second to the excellent FAB Academy the Worthing College ECFA XI took their seat at the table of top College sides in England with a playoff away game at Milton Keynes.
Milton Keynes are current ECFA National Playoff and ECFA National Cup double winners, so the task at hand would be a challenging, yet exciting one as part of their player development.
Worthing went into the game at pretty much full strength with the injured Harry Russell and Fintan Walsh out, but did see the return of Jack Newhouse from injury after a 5 week layoff.
The game started brightly with both sides showing a great intensity to play the game at a high tempo and effective fashion. Worthing defended well with the back four of Williamson, Broughton, Boiling and Ball stood firm with some excellent positional sense. The midfield of Dollner, Griffin and Reynolds broke up plays and looked to play forward at every opportunity.
Milton Keynes were very expansive and impressive with their game plan, looking to get their wingbacks into play at every opportunity. This did create some opportunities, however Worthing keeper Luke Ramsay was more than up to the task with some outstanding saves; tipping one onto the post and another just over the bar.
At the other end Worthing were looking dangerous in attack exploiting wide areas with Nick Oxley and Luke Brodie being positive in attack and creating chances, but crosses were being cut out by the back three of Milton Keynes. Set pieces were a positive of Worthing’s play and this brought about a deserved opening goal. Liam Reynolds delivery was heading home between two centre halves by Oxley. 1-0 Worthing.
The remainder of the half saw Worthing resolute in defence, especially from corners with intelligent positioning and brave attacking of the ball to ensure the score stayed 1-0 at the break. Elliot Dollner had a glorious chance to make it 2 before the half, but his strike went just past the post. Reynolds ended his impressive half by curling an effort towards the top corner, which the keeper just about dealt with.
The focus at half time was to maintain the defensive shape, but to be even more intelligent when in possession to create further chances. However the second half started with Milton Keynes on top starting with 4 up front, however the back four of Worthing again stood tall.
James Thurgar was working exceptionally hard, but for little reward up front, but was looking to link play as and when he could. Milton Keynes got back on level terms just after the hour and was a tad fortunate. A Ramsay save went across the goal line, but the excellent number 10 beat Williamson to the rebound. 1-1. Spark the FA Cup/World Cup/Champions League celebrations with 20 or so players diving on the scorer. This shows how Worthing had worried their esteemed opponents.
Worthing continued to take the fight to Milton Keynes, but the intensity showed in the first half and passes going astray was going to cost Worthing dear in the end. Worthing had been outstanding at set pieces all game, but a lack of concentration was going to give Milton Keynes the lead. A well delivered corner was met by the centre half at the back post to again spark massive celebrations. 1-2.
Worthing made changes to try and get back into the game. Jake Heryet came on for the injured Oxley and Jack Newhouse made a welcomed return to replace Reynolds. This move allowed Brodie to move into a central position and almost got Worthing back into the game with a sweet left foot strike that was expertly tipped round the post by the MK keeper.
With time running out Worthing were pressing for an equaliser, but unfortunately got caught on the break, despite an outstanding tackle by Lewis Broughton the ball bounced into the path of the Milton Keynes sub who gave Ramsay no chance. 1-3. Again mental Milton Keynes celebrations.
With that the final whistle blew and the curtain came down on Worthing Colleges’ National League season. Performance Coach Dave Hall was philosophical in defeat; “At this moment we are all extremely gutted with regards to how the game panned out. First half the players were superb in their discipline and quality. Unfortunately the intensity of the game just got away from us with regards to effective decision making and that was the difference in the second half. Speaking to their coaching staff at the end they are current National Playoff and National Cup Winners and for them to say we are the best side they have played this season is great testament to the squad’s performances this year. There have been some great squads down the years at Worthing College and they didn’t achieve a second place finish or running a side like MK close, so the lads need to be proud of their efforts, but also take what they have learnt onto next week as well as their future football. I’m looking forward to working with these players further and again continue to be competitive and successful at this highest level of Football for Colleges’ in England.”