Both teams started by playing the ball on the deck and keeping possession comfortably, but defenders weren’t shy when it came into snapping into tackles during the opening exhanges.
The first shot in anger came from us in the seventh minute but Ricky Korboa saw it fizz past Rikki Banks’ left-hand post.
Worthing’s first serious attack ended with Harvey Sparks’ cross flashing across our penalty area in front of both charging and defending bodies, then Paris Hamilton-Downes did well to block an attempt from Zac Newton on 13 minutes.
The home side kept on the front foot and Morath-Gibbs managed to deny Newton again and Kane Wills slammed a controlled volley on a dropping clearance into the arms of Alex Kozakis, but they eventually took the lead on 21 minutes.
Tommy Bradford lost the ball by the centre circle and it was worked finally into the feet of Omar Bugiel whom made space past Morath-Gibbs before shooting low back across the oncoming Kozakis.
That spurred us into action and we almost equalised four minutes later; a corner was initially cleared but Hamilton-Downes slung in a cross which was defended away from the incoming Jahmahl King by the penalty spot. We kept the ball alive on the left through Korboa and Peter Adeniyi for Miller to drive into the home box and Sekou Kaba smash his cut-back on target, only for Banks to parry it away.
We continued to probe forward but were thankful to Kozakis for getting a fingertip on a close range Reis Stanislaus volley which diverted the ball onto the bar, but we levelled matter on 38 minutes.
We built from the back until Bradford’s attempted through ball was half cleared. Kaba showed good strength to win back possession, Korboa flicked a pass past his marker and Miller took it on in the box before shooting low across Banks for his second in this competition.
And we completely turned the score around just three minutes later as we shifted the ball in front of the Worthing area before a lofted pass found Kaba behind the defence with no offside flag. Banks went to close him down so our midfielder unselfishly lifted the ball over him for Bradford to head home from close range.
And Miller and Korboa, after displaying good pace to get into the Worthing area, were both denied from testing Banks further by last ditch tackles before the break.
HALF-TIME: 1 – 2
We came out looking determined not to allow Worthing to settle back down, with Miller testing Banks from 18 yards and Kaba harshly booked for tangling with an opponent just inside his own half despite getting a foot on the ball first
Bugiel had another sight of our goal on 55 minutes but Morath-Gibbs did enough to take the pace off his shot and Kozakis easily gathered the ball, before we went up the other end only for Korboa to shoot straight at Banks after Kaba played him in with a perfect through ball between two defenders.
But we put a bit more daylight between us and our hosts just after the hour; Brendan Murphy-McVey spread the ball out to Korboa whom played a one-two with Kaba before teeing up Miller from inside the area. Banks got down to parry our man’s shot but the ball rebounded in off the static Will Hendon to make it 3-1.
Hamilton-Downes and Morath-Gibbs both made good blocks on shots as Worthing looked to reduce the arrears quickly, but then we were reduced to 10 men as Kaba was penalised for an innocuous foul on halfway which gave the referee no choice but to flash a second yellow.
The home side sensed blood and began to push us onto the back foot; Kozakis was immense as he punched away two corners from inside a melee of bodies in the 70th minute, while the whole back four were either winning big headers or watching wayward crosses sail out of play.
Sean O’Toole came on to give us fresh legs in midfield but Worthing hit back on 78 minutes as Newton played in a decent cross for Bugiel to guide a header in from around 10 yards.
Our backs were against the wall for the last 10 minutes of normal time but we strained every sinew to maintain our lead; Gary Elpwick headed over a clear chance on 81 minutes, Bradford and O’Toole both ran back to deny opponents shooting opportunities on the edge of our box, King headed away a wicked corner delivery and Kozakis comfortably claimed a couple of crosses.
The pace of Miller, O’Toole and sub Kingsley Aikhionbare gave us a release at various points but, as the referee indicated four minutes of added time to the players, it seemed like we might complete a well-earned victory.
In fact, it could’ve been more comfortable had the referee given us a chance to score from the penalty spot after O’Toole was shoved over in the 93rd minute but, instead, he awarded one to the home side in the 95th minute by penalising a supposedly ‘high foot’ by Hamilton-Downes and Bugiel ensured his side a replay and himself a hat-trick from 12 yards.
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