Gills produce strong second half display but suffer narrow defeat.
A clinical Worthing side took advantage of two missed Gillingham penalties to clinch a 3-2 victory on Tuesday evening.
Darren Oldaker’s early spot kick was saved by Lucas Covolan and Worthing took encouragement and went on to secure a comfortable half-time lead with Calum Kealy and Ricky Aguiar both beating Louie Catherall.
Bradley Stevenson pulled one back soon after the second half begun, and Worthing survived another penalty, this time taken from Noel Mbo, before adding a third through David Adjiboye. Jack Tucker set up a tense final few minutes but the hosts held on for the win.
Jason Lillis and Ian Cox took the game with Ben White also in the dugout. Catherall started in goal with Tucker and Ryan Huckle partnering each other in the centre of defence. Oldaker and Henry Woods lined up in midfield with Mbo and Dan Darbyshire in attack.
Worthing fielded a familiar name in their side with Jesse Starkey among the starting XI for the hosts. The midfielder played once for the Gills last season as a substitute and scored against Phoenix Sports in the Kent Senior Cup.
Both teams started brightly but it was Worthing who created the first chance on four minutes. Ricky Aguiar got the better of Aaron Simpson and worked the ball across goal for striker partner Calum Kealy. His shot was on target but Miquel Scarlett did well to block.
On nine minutes Gillingham had a golden opportunity to open the scoring; Woods was fouled by Aarran Racine and the referee had little option but to award a penalty. Oldaker stepped up and struck it low to the left but Covolan guessed correctly and saved it.
Gills had some defending to do four minutes later; Starkey’s free-kick to the near post was taken off Aguiar’s head by Tucker. Kealy had a second bite of the cherry for Worthing but he couldn’t generate enough power to beat Catherall.
Bradley Stevenson and Ricky Aguiar both went close, but it was the hosts who finally broke the deadlock on 27 minutes. Sam Rents delivered a cross from the left in to the near post; Kealy made contact and although the pace on the ball was slow the direction was enough to beat Catherall as the ball trickled into the opposite corner.
With momentum on their side Worthing went for a second before the interval; Kealy and Starkey coming close with the former Gills man seeing a 35-yard strike go narrowly wide.
However, just before the break Worthing did grab a second. Starkey was involved once more; spotted Aguiar in space and the striker had time and space to pick his spot and find a way past Catherall.
The half was just a few minutes old when Gillingham pulled one back. Stevenson was placed just outside the centre circle but a short pass found him in yards of space. He moved forward, wasn’t tackled, and from 20 yards produced an excellent finish to beat Covolan.
He nearly bagged a second moments later but his drilled shot from a greater distance was brilliantly palmed wide by the keeper before the corner was placed high by Stevenson.
Alex Parsons came close to getting a third for Worthing but the contact made from Starkey’s cross was poor and the Gills defence breathed a sigh of relief.
Another spot kick was awarded by the referee on 65 minutes when Stevenson was brought down by Alfie Young. Noel Mbo took on the responsibility this time but the strike was straight down the middle and Covolan saved with his legs before Campbell’s follow up cleared the bar.
Just when Gills looked like they would force their way through for an equaliser Worthing effectively sealed victory inside the last ten minutes. Adjiboye cut in from the left, his pace allowed him to burst inside the penalty area and he used slick footwork to beat two defenders before a delicate left foot finish gave Catherall no chance.
With time ticking away Gills had to plough forward in numbers and with just a couple of minutes to go set up a tense conclusion. Oldaker’s corner was initially headed off the line; Tucker was placed on the edge of the area and drilled a right footed effort into the bottom corner.
Chapman went close at the death but his left footed effort was held by Covolan.
Worthing: Covolan, Racine, Rents, Young, Edwards (Mthunzi 66), Crane, Parsons (Pattenden 84), Starkey, Kealy, Aguiar (Cocoracchio 90), Adjiboye.
Unused subs: Luff
Gills: Catherall, Scarlett (Campbell 46), Huckle, Tucker, Simpson, Chapman, Stevenson, Oldaker, Woods (Yeboah 81), Mbo, Darbyshire (Hlabi 68).
Unused subs: Walker, Morrell, Bramble.