Jamie Howell admitted a draw would have been a fair result in the big Boxing Day derby at Nyewood Lane.
The hosts were delighted to nab a 1-0 win after Worthing had the better of the first half and missed a late penalty.
It’s the sort of hard-fought win they need to maintain top spot going into the second half of the table and the rivalry between the neighoburing clubs means they won’t lose too much sleep over the point that got away from the Rebels.
For an hour it was anything but a Christmas classic – but it came alive in the last half-hour thanks to Steve Harper’s winner, that missed spot-kick and a flashpoint which saw a dozen players have a dust-up and Jon Marzetti sent off for a tackle on Tom Manton.
Howell said: “We were delighted with the three points.
“Worthing did well but Dan Beck, who went sick, was a big miss for us in midfield and I think that showed in the first half when we couldn’t get our passing game together.
“In the second half we were a lot better.
“Worthing played well but we did well to grind out the win. We had Ben Andrews playing having had an injection and putting in a couple of unbelievable blocks and Craig Stoner obviously made a couple of excellent saves.”
Marzetti saw red after a robust tackle on Worthing’s Tom Manton which left both camps with very different views.
The Worthing players reacted furiously, sparking 12-man fisticuffs which the officials took a couple of minutes to calm.
Howell said: “I actually thought it was an unbelievably good tackle. We want our defenders to be hard but fair and I thought that tackle was.
“The ref has said the player has gone over the top of the ball, but my view was that he got the ball, so couldn’t have been over it.”
The first chance of the game fell to Jason Prior, in his final home game for the Rocks, as he ran on to a precise through-ball by Kane Wills.
His low shot beat keeper Alan Mansfield but was wide of the far post.
Tom Lawley had a great opportunity to put the Rebels ahead when he seized on a loose ball after a poor clearance by Andrews, but he held on to it for too long and defenders crowded him out.
Stoner made a brilliant save to claw away a deflected goalbound effort by Paul Kennett. Steve Metcalf was next to threaten a lethargic-looking Rocks team but his cross-shot after a run into the area down the left was blocked by Stuart Axten.
Terry Dodd was played in on goal by a nice flick from Prior, but he fired a rising shot wide.
There was controversy three minutes into the second half when Dodd claimed he was tripped as he ran into the box to meet a cross from Prior as the Rocks broke quickly down the left. His appeals were waved away by the referee.
Worthing were still threatening, with Jamie Brotherton looking a threat cutting in from the left.
Andrews headed inches over from a Harper cross and then on 61 minutes the Rocks took the lead.
Dodd’s square ball across the box set up Prior and when his connection was well-blocked by Mansfield, the loose ball was driven high into the net by Harper.
The Rocks looked certain to take a two-goal lead when Prior ran through and slid the ball past Mansfield with 17 minutes to go, but his shot hit the base of the post and trickled out.
Worthing were handed a lifeline with seven minutes left when Stuart Axten was judged to have tripped Jamie Brotherton. The Rocks breathed a sigh of relief when Huckett sent the penalty well over the bar.
The match erupted with four minutes left when Marzetti slid in on Manton.
Around a dozen players got involved and the officials struggled to keep control before sending off Marzetti, who looked unimpressed with the decision – but the Rebels couldn’t make their one-man advantage count and the Rocks were soon celebrating what could be a vital three points.
Rocks: Stoner, Marzetti, Wollers, Crane, Axten, Andrews, Harper, Wills, Prior, T Dodd, Johnson. Subs: Breach, Boyle, Saunders, Blatchford, Bond.