Lewes came back from a 1-0 half-time deficit to record a hard-fought victory in an ill-tempered opening day game, reports Stuart Fuller.
With injury and player ineligibility, Darren Freeman was forced to field an untried starting eleven with a centre-back pairing of Lloyd Cotton and Steve Brinkhurst, celebrating his 150th appearance for the Rooks whilst new signings Alieu Njie and Matthew George started at full-back. In midfield Ronnie Conlon was pressed into action despite not fully recovering from his knee injury that’s ruled him out of most of pre-season.
The opening phase of the game was played in the middle of the field, with both keepers hardly put under pressure. In the 16th minute Chipstead full-back Erivaldo Felix danced through three challenges and beat Chris Winterton from the edge of the box to give Chipstead the lead.
The goal shocked Lewes into life and they finally started putting pressure on the Chipstead goal. Dan Perry had the best chance in the 30th minute, controlling a Dawes knockdown and hitting the ball narrowly wide of the far post.
It’s fair to say that Darren Freeman gave the team a passionate team talk at half-time as they came out of the blocks strongly in the second period. Matthew George was replaced Leon Dramis who wasted no time in showing his talent despite playing out of position.
The Rooks continued to cause problems for the Chipstead defence, winning a number of corners. Dan Perry was unlucky not to equalise from one when his shot hit the keeper’s outstretched leg, whilst a goal-mouth scramble from another saw the ball cleared off the line twice.
On the hour Dan Perry chased a ball into the area and his heels were clipped. Penalty? Initially not according to the referee but his assistant quickly corrected him. Perry dusted himself down and sent the keeper the wrong way to equalise. Chipstead came straight back at Lewes and Winterton had to be smart to make a couple of decent saves including one from a Ben Osman free-kick.
Tom Vickers and Alex Laing were sent on to replace Ronnie Conlon and Charlie Coppola respectively as The Rooks pushed forward looking for a winner. With ten minutes left another Lewes corner caused chaos in the six yard box and James Hammond reacted the quickest and scooped the ball home to give Lewes the lead.
The final ten minutes tested the nerves of the 50 plus Lewes fans, who made the journey, with a player melee which saw the officials unsure as to what went on in the middle of the pitch, eventually handing out a couple of yellow cards including one to Alieu Njie.
Fortunately the referee seemed to forget to add on the additional time for the incident and there was a sigh of relief at the final whistle. A win’s a win but Freeman will be slightly unhappy (hear his thoughts post-match here) at the performance although he will be pleased that the players asked to play out of position give their all.
Freeman will be hoping for a better performance and the return of a number of players on Wednesday when the Rooks host Walton Casuals, kick-off 7:45pm at The Pan.
Lewes: Winterton, Njie, George (Dramis), Hammond, Brinkhurst, Cotton, Coppola (Laing), Conlon (Vickers), Perry, Dawes, Jones
Subs not used: Street, Stroomberg
Referee: Paul Johnson