An impressive first-half performance from a makeshift Lewes side was not enough to see the Rooks progress in the FA Trophy, as two goals early in the second half saw Ryman Premier side Kingstonian claim the win in a closely-fought game at Kingsmeadow reports Tom Harper.
With a number of first-team regulars missing through injury and suspension, Darren Freeman made several changes to the side from the win at Three Bridges, handing a debut to development squad midfielder Jack Whitmore and giving Gus Sow his first start of the season.
The changes also saw Steve Brinkhurst partner Stacey Freeman in the centre of defence, Matthew George move to right-back and Duncan Culley start on the left wing, with Jonte Smith making his first start since returning to the club on loan from Welling United.
The Rooks started brightly and came close to taking the lead twice through Whitmore early on, as the midfielder sent a header over the crossbar and saw a half-volley deflected wide from two Sow set-pieces during the opening stages.
Lewes continued to look for the opening goal, with Culley seeing a long-range half-volley pushed wide by Kingstonian goalkeeper Rob Tolfrey. From the resulting corner taken by Sow, Culley sent a thumping header against the crossbar.
The Rooks finally made their bright start count by taking the lead after 20 minutes, as Freeman sent a header goalwards from another Sow corner, and Smith appeared to get the last touch inside the six-yard box to help the ball past Tolfrey.
Conceding the goal appeared to wake the hosts up after their poor start, with Joe Turner heading wide at the far post and Lucas Covolan reacting well to deny Ryan Moss after only being able to parry a low effort from Turner, as the Rooks saw their makeshift back four tested for the first time.
Lewes continued to play the better football though, and should have doubled their lead just before half-time, as Stephen Okoh forced a fine save from Tolfrey and Jamie Brotherton was only able to guide his header on the rebound over the bar from close range after good build-up play down the right.
After being on the back foot for much of the first half, the hosts made a bright start to the second and saw Covolan make a smart save to keep out a powerful effort from Turner, with Moss volleying the rebound wide.
Kingstonian equalised in fortunate circumstances after 53 minutes, as Moss capitalised on uncertainty between Brinkhurst and Covolan to charge down an attempted clearance from the goalkeeper and roll the ball into the empty net. The hosts took the lead just four minutes later, with Moss dispossessing Brinkhurst in the penalty area and sending a powerful effort past Covolan and into the roof of the net from close range.
Lewes responded well to conceding two preventable goals in quick succession and came close to equalising minutes after going behind, as Brotherton sent a low cross-shot from the right side of the penalty area across goal and just too far ahead of Culley in the six-yard box.
Kingstonian were causing the Lewes defence problems with their pace going forward and almost doubled their lead through Yousseff Bamba, who sent a shot from on the by-line on the left just over the bar.
The Rooks were struggling to create chances against a more well-organised Kingstonian back four after the break, but were unfortunate not to equalise midway through the half, as Okoh latched onto a through-ball from substitute Ian Robinson but saw his effort well saved by Tolfrey.
The game began to peter out in the closing stages, with Kingstonian controlling possession and still looking threatening going forward. They should have secured the win late on through Moss, who was only able to hit the crossbar with a close-range effort from a low George Wells cross.
Unfortunately for the Rooks, they were unable to make the most of this missed opportunity and were left to reflect on a dominant first-half performance that deserved a bigger lead at half-time and a poor start to the second half that ultimately proved the difference between the two sides
Despite this, Lewes can take plenty of positives from the game, with a number of players performing well out of position or after not featuring often for the first-team this season.
The Rooks will hope to build on these positives when they welcome Ramsgate to the Pan in the league next Sunday, kick-off at 3pm.
Kingstonian: Tolfrey, Goode, Wells, Lamont (Khan 81), Hogg, Inns, Bamba, Bonnett-Johnson, Moss, Derry, (O’Leary 46) Turner.
Unused Subs: Stripp, Kelly, Page.
Lewes: Covolan, Brinkhurst, George, Sow (McCarthy 90), Freeman, Uade, Culley, Whitmore, Brotherton (Kealy 80), Smith (Robinson 59), Okoh.
Unused Subs: Dramis, Osei-Asamoah.
Referee: Joel Mannik