The victory, and the temporary bragging rights, go to the Rebels after an extraordinary 1-0 steal over rivals Eastbourne Borough at a baking hot Priory Lane. The Rebels won it with their only credible chance of an afternoon dominated by Borough, who just could not find a way past inspired Worthing keeper Roco Rees.
The crucial goal came on 35 minutes through Jake Robinson’s back header at the front post, looping over keeper Ben Dudzinski and creeping apologetically in off the back post.
At first sight, a little bit freakish - or was it a moment of exceptional skill from an exceptional striker? Robinson has been outwitting defenders for two decades – his first goal for Albion came at 16, on a very wet Withdean night in 2002, against Forest Green Rovers in the Something or Other Trophy (yes, this reporter was there!).
His return now, after a serious year-long injury, is a joy – unless you are one of those defenders, of course.
Adam Hinshelwood has built a superb team that is well equipped for this – very high – level of football. Youth and experience – but a little bit more of the latter. Strength and pace respectively, in the right positions. Able to look after the ball until the right moment.
But Mark Beard’s vigorous, front-foot Eastbourne side found ways of disrupting the Worthing way. Borough’s opponents rarely find themselves with time on the ball – and for many spells of this tense, absorbing contest the Rebels looked second best.
The first fifteen minutes were something of a phoney war, with neither keeper seriously threatened. Then the influential Jack Paxman – skipper for the afternoon in the absence of injured senior pros Brad Barry and Alex Finney – released Shiloh Remy with a sweet ball through the inside-right channel, but as Rees closed the angle, Remy curled his shot just inches over the top left corner of the Worthing net.
Eastbourne had five or six more chances before the break, but some breathtaking saves by Rees kept them at bay: a reflex stop to deny the impressive Yaser Kasim and a full-stretch tip over from Remy stood out.
Second half, more of the same – one corner and one half chance for the Rebels, squeezing pressure and several great chances for the Sports. Too many to mention really, but the most painful miss saw Zak Emmerson on 78 mins racing clear on goal – until Rees somehow sprawled at his feet five yards out to smother the ball.
But the young keeper saved his very best until the very last seconds of the tie. DeCarrey Sheriff cut in from the right and drilled a low shot which Rees beat away from the foot of the right post. With the keeper sprawling, the ball spun high and Emmerson rose to meet it with a firm header to equalise – but in the final game-changing moment, Rees had sprung up, stretched his right arm and with a double punch pushed the ball away.
It was literally incredible. Never mind Gordon Banks from that Pele header in Mexico 1970, or Jim Montgomery in Sunderland’s 1973 FA Cup Final triumph. That save was up there with the Great Goalkeeping Miracles.
There was still time for a final desperate launch on goal - but Leon Gravata’s goalbound curler was hooked off the line. Some games you win handsomely, some you’re not quite sure how you did it. 1-0 to Worthing, and the men from Woodside Road go through to the Third Qualifying Round.
Eastbourne United 1 Berkhamsted 3
All good things come to an end, and United’s Cup run was halted by step-three side Berkhamsted.
No pretentions, Berkhamsted were the better team, and they had even signed a winger from MK Dons during the week to seal the deal!
Considering the gap between the teams, United gave a very good account of themselves in front of a near 200 crowd at the Oval.
It took 20 minutes of fairly even play before a great save from James Broadbent went loose in the box, and Berkhamsted reacted quickest to make it 0-1.
United were not daunted and eight minutes later a corner from Hayden Beaconsfield found Alfie Headland, who nodded home the equaliser.
In the second half Berkhamsted turned up the pressure and 10 minutes in they went 2-1 up after a scramble.
United brought on Ed Ratcliffe and Tigana Quebe, but within minutes Berkhamsted put away a free header in the box to seal the tie at 3-1.
Broadbent made another terrific save to keep it respectable and Alfie Headland headed just over.
At full-time, it was one of those rare occasions when both teams were fairly happy; Berkhamsted were through and United had given a step-three team a bit of a fright.
From the FA Cup to the RUR Cup and on Tuesday night United beat Pagham 2-1 to go through.
Max Thompson pounced on a mistake by the Lions keeper for an early opener and Callum Barlow made it two. Pagham converted a penalty to make it 2-1 at half-time.
On Saturday, United are again in Cup action as VCD visit in the FA Vase.