The Weekend Match: Worthing 0-3 Enfield Town

One of the more notable aspects of Woodside Road (or, for those of you who prefer your football grounds thoroughly modern, “The Bibby Financial Services Stadim”), the home of Worthing Football Club, is how cluttered it is. During the first half of yesterday afternoon’s Isthmian League Premier Division match against Enfield Town, I took a walk around the whole ground. There were two park benches which I hadn’t noticed before, even though I visit here five or six times a season. There’s netting everywhere (to protect nearby houses from errant balls) and little caged off areas containing the sort of machinery that they produced public information films about in the 1970s. Many years ago, we ascended to the top of the main stand there to sit down for the second half of a match and found a half-dressed taylor’s dummy already in place nearby. It wasn’t Halloween.

Most of all, though, there are goalposts. They’re resting against the perimeter fence in one corner of the pitch, pushed into a gap next to the main stand, and leaning against a fence next to the food hut. The reason for this is understandable. The club has a 3G artifical playing surface which is regularly used by the local community. It’s still a lot of goalposts, though. I counted fourteen sets – all with nets, though one did have a broken crossbar – dotted around the place, and that wasn’t including the two on the actual pitch itself. And it’s a heavy-handed cliché to drop so early on, but it’s almost inescapable. Worthing could have lined those other fourteen sets of posts and nets around the perimieter of the pitch before kick-off, but they still would have struggled to hit any of them yesterday. Worthing’s Isthmian League season, a season which seemed like it might have such a bright future just a couple of months ago, is sliding from view, and in the most curious of ways, considering everything.

One of the more persuasive arguments against the newer generation of artifical pitches was that of home advantage. Clubs that installed them, it was argued, would play train on them regularly and would have a familiarity with them that would give them a distinct advantage when playing teams without them. Bearing this in mind, it feels almost counter-intuitive that the biggest cause of Worthing’s recent difficulties has been their home form. Despite the 3G pitch, they’ve won just four of their thirteen home league matches so far this season and recent defeats have seen them drop from being genuine promotion contenders to fighting an increasingly losing battle for so much as a play-off place. The club has also been successful in growing its attendances this season – yesterday’s attendance continued a downward trend which stretches back to before Christmas, but was still the highest of the day in their division – but the alleged 3G home advantage and the lift that we’re always being told teams get from big crowds simply don’t seem to be working at the moment.

Visitors Enfield Town have something like the same problem. Like Worthing, they have won just four home matches this season, and inconsistency has been the plague of another team that was pushing near the top of the table earlier on this season. They arrive in West Sussex off the back of three successive league defeats, a run which followed four successive wins over the Christmas and new year period. They have dropped down the table with this undulating level of performance but, like Worthing, a place in the play-offs is still very much there to be fought for. Recent bad form certainly doesn’t seem to have affected the number of those who are prepared to travel to see them play. They have a large travelling support behind one goal, stretching along the fence and around the corner towards the main stand. There may well be 150 travelling supporters here today, in the sort of weather conditions that make curling up on the sofa with a DVD seem like a very tempting idea indeed.

For much of the first half, the wind is the winner of this match. Enfield have the “advantage” – such as it is – of attacking with it behind their backs, but such is its strength that it is as much capable of causing their players to overhit their crosses and passes as it is of preventing Worthing from clearing their lines properly. Worthing do look capable when they do attack, but on the whole they’re pinned back into their own half by strong gusts of wind, and it looks as though two decent goalkeeping performances are going to keep the scores goalless until half-time when, with two minutes left to play of the half, a header from a corner from Dan Rumens is backheeled over the line from close range by the bearded and slab-like Billy Bricknell, that most onomatopoeic of non-league forwards. It’s a lead that Enfield deserve on the balance of play.

Margins between victory and defeat in football matches, however, can be extremely narrow. We can imagine the Worthing half-time team talk. “The wind is behind us… we created some chances”, and the like. Within three minutes of the start of the second half starting, however, Worthing’s afternoon is in ruins. To be completely fair, there isn’t a great deal that they can do about the second Enfield goal, when the ball bounces loose in the right hand corner of the Worthing penalty area and Matt Johnson lashes in what is colloquially called a “thunderbastard” from an improbable angle, but two minutes later Johnson is in the right place again, this time to pick up a ball from the right hand side, take one touch to control it, and then slide it under the goalkeeper to put the result beyond pretty much any reasonable doubt. And all of this with half of the Enfield supporters still in the bar, finishing their half-time pints.

The avalanche is brief, but terminal. Worthing do pick themselves back up and try to get back into the game but, while there are chances and goalmouth scrambles at each end of the pitch, with the rain picking up again and blowing in sheets across the pitch, the efforts of both teams to try and keep the ball on the ground increasingly feel as though they’re in vain. Enfield seem happy enough to settle for what they’ve got but they still look dangerous with almost every attacking move on account of a porous-looking Worthing defence, whilst at the other end the home team push to try and find a way back into the game, only to find Joe Wright in the Enfield goal a difficult object to get past. As the futility of the task of getting back into the game starts to spread around the ground, the match runs out of energy a little in its closing stages. There’s no way through for Worthing, today.

There are a few scattered boos from the home end when the final whistle. It can feel a little surprising to hear these at a non-league match, but they’re kind of understandable, in their own way. This hasn’t been the sort of afternoon when anybody in their right mind would particularly want to be standing on a terrace watching their team lose at home for the seventh time this season. Frustration is inevitable, especially in this weather. For all of that, though, the top half of the Isthmian League Premier Division remains as cluttered as Worthing’s ground, and despite the fact that losing this match has dropped them to tenth place in the table they remain just two points off Bognor Regis Town, who currently occupy the division’s final play-off place. With just four points between third and tenth in the table, there’s still clearly all to play for, this season.

For Enfield Town, meanwhile, this result lifts them above Worthing and into eighth place in the table. The two clubs are level on points, but Enfield have one of the best goal differences of all the teams fighting to fill those play-off places, something which might come in useful, should things remain this tight towards the very end of the season. If either of these two clubs can get their home league form to match their away form, they could yet apply a little pressure to the division’s top two teams, Dorking Wanderers and Haringey Borough, who have opened up a bit of a gap between themselves and those below them. Otherwise, the play-offs are likely to be the best that either of these two teams can hope for this season. Consistency is the key to success in this division, and it’s difficult to avoid the feeling that both of these two teams remain works in progress, in this respect at least.

There’s a small number of pictures that I took of yesterday’s match – yes, including the clutter – right here.

Highlights of yesterday’s match are available, for those who wish to peruse them: