Worthing are a decent club with sizable support, tradition and potential. In the past, there have been several familiar faces – or rather well-known people - as manager, with a number of former Brighton & Hove Albion bosses or stars in charge at Woodside Road. Over the years, they include Barry Lloyd (twice), Gerry Armstrong and Adam Hinshelwood. Some were at the helm during the early stages of careers while others were in the hot-seat after a stint at the full-timers.
The incumbent should be familiar to the majority of Angels’ fans. Gary Elphick was a key figure in the team relegated from Conference South, under Tommy Warrilow.
Just to recap, at Longmead, a few years ago, now, 2014/15 brought a fresh manager, hope, plus a brand new squad and style. The first year proved a struggle, in a baptism of fire for Steve McKimm. The former Sutton coach only had a couple of experienced players at the beginning, after an exodus of relegated team members, and there was a drop-zone scare. But supporters appreciated what Steve was trying to build and achieve and, despite some difficulties with recruitment, the football was entertaining.
Last year, the Angels made the play-offs but have fallen just short in 2016/17. Trying to regain the position in the set-up now called National South was always going to be a huge challenge. It is arguably more difficult to be relegated from the division than it is to earn a place via promotion. Perennial strugglers usually manage to survive, while new-boys in many cases thrive.
Anyway, there is next season and fans of most Isthmian clubs have to wait several years for such excitement – unless owners are throwing money around. And a Kent outfit that tried that recently will be visiting Tonbridge again for 2017/18!
Worthing are the last opponents before the summer break. The Rebels seized their place in the Isthmian Premier, for the first time since 2007, after play-off triumph last May. At the semi-final stage Hythe suffered 7-0 humiliation on the artificial pitch at the Sussex coast, with Faversham the beaten-finalists, by 3-0, in front of a crowd of 2,000.
Gary Elphick had transferred from relegated Lewes for 2015/16 and soon became joint-manager alongside Jon Meeney, on top of playing duties as a centre-half. The former is now manager, with Matt Piper as assistant, after the dual effort ended about two weeks ago.
The erstwhile colleague informed players of plans to leave at the end of term, but “management” decided to “make the change now”. Meeney is credited with spearheading the transformation of on-field fortunes at the once debt-ridden outfit. He was assistant to Adam Hinshelwood when, quoting from Worthing’s official website, “the playing budget was completely cut and the club on the verge of dissolving”.
In June 2015, following a successful takeover, and the departure of Hinshelwood, he was made joint boss with the-then recently-signed ex-Rook defender. The pair steered the Sussex side to third place and promotion via the play-offs.
Meeney remained in a role at the club’s development centre and former Angel, Elphick, took sole charge for the first time against relegation-threatened Kingstonian. The home tussle on April 8 finished 0-0. The Easter period earned a precious point, from a 1-1 draw with Burgess Hill on Monday, which had followed a 0-1 defeat at Wingate & Finchley a couple of days earlier.
The all-Sussex clash attracted a crowd of around 600 to Woodside Road and a 94th minute equaliser from substitute Jack Newhouse ensured Rebels’ Ryman Premier survival.
The previous two outings, under joint effort, concluded with goal-less stalemate versus struggling AFC Sudbury (April 1) and a 2-1 triumph at Merstham (March 28).
All of the promoted clubs started 2016/17 in good form but only Harlow sustained it throughout the campaign. Folkestone Invicta, Sudbury and Worthing flirted briefly with the play-offs to varying degrees, but the trio experienced relegation scares as the campaign drew to a close.
Tonbridge defeated the now-doomed Suffolk side 1-0 on Saturday, but Neil Cugley’s Invicta killed off promotion dreams on the bank holiday by the same score-line, at Cheriton Road. The victory gives the East Kent side a fighting chance on the last day.
Worthing are 14th but the points-gap from the drop zone is only five and denying the Hillians an Easter win left the county rivals in the danger area.
At Woodside Road, there are strong Brighton connections in the squad – the current boss started his playing career with the Albion a dozen years ago, before performing mainly at Conference level. He has made just over 20 appearances this term.
Team members that include the Championship outfit on the CV include Sam Rents and Kane Wills. Generally, there is a blend of youth products and older hands from the Sussex semi-professional circuit.
Steve McKimm’s men cannot make the play-offs, with sixth the highest possible position, depending on other results. Somewhere in the top eight would probably be a fair reflection of a mixed season. It kicked off with high hopes and an unbeaten league run that lasted until late-September, but a disappointing festive period including 0-3 defeat at Worthing, plus other unpleasant surprises, means another year in the Ryman Premier. Only achieving two Isthmian wins since the end of February eventually put the kybosh on the promotion bid.
Against a background of such poor form it is probably surprising the play-off chase lasted until the penultimate match of the season. Rivals also slipped-up fairly regularly, so a much lower points tally is required for the top five this year. The pair at the pinnacle, Havant & Waterlooville and Bognor, in a two-horse championship race since early-March, are miles ahead of the rest. The runners-up, likely to be the latter, will almost certainly be favourites for the second promotion place, although the play-offs are a lottery. It might be handy if both are in National South next term.
The match between Tonbridge and Worthing on Saturday April 22 at Longmead Stadium is a 3pm kick-off. Don't forget however there is a disability match between Tonbridge Angels and Maidstone Utd kicking off at 2:00pm and refereed by none other than Steve McKimm so do come early
Match sponsors are Tonbridge Flooring Studio, the Match Ball sponsor is Rob Jenner, and the Match Sponsor is 90 year old long time Angels fan George Plowman. We thank them all for their fantastic support!
Updated 21:11 - 22 Apr 2017 by Jim Rowe