An excellent team performance was not enough to help Lewes to victory in their final home game of the season, as the Rooks were forced to settle for a point in an entertaining game against Sussex rivals Hastings at the Pan reports Tom Harper.
Darren Freeman made three changes to the side that had lost at Carshalton in their previous game, with academy full-back Harry Reed, making his first start for the first team, Matthew George and James Hammond replacing Steve Brinkhurst, Lloyd Cotton and Stephen Okoh in the starting line-up.
The visitors knew that a win would ensure they finished in the play-off places and they took the lead after just three minutes, as Shomari Barnwell climbed highest at the far post to head a Bradley Stevenson cross into the bottom corner. Hastings should have doubled their lead almost immediately, with Kiernan Hughes-Mason seeing his close-range effort well saved by Chris Winterton after he got in behind down the right.
The Rooks capitalised on this by equalising after six minutes through Jonte Smith, who sent a close-range header from an excellent Jamie Brotherton cross past Ryan Nicholls in the Hastings goal and into the back of the net. Lewes were on top at this stage, playing some impressive football in midfield and looking dangerous every time they went forward.
It was therefore no surprise when the Rooks went ahead after 18 minutes, as Jack Dixon sent a superb effort from 25 yards into the top corner.
The Rooks weren’t ahead for too long though, as Barnwell doubled his tally for the afternoon with a well-directed header past Winterton from a dangerous Matt Bodkin cross to draw Hastings level after 34 minutes. The visitors should have taken the lead minutes later through Harry Stannard, who sent a volley from inside the area onto the roof of the net after Alex Malins mis-timed an attempted headed clearance.
Lewes made the most of this by regaining the lead five minutes before half-time, as Malins sent a far-post header from a Hammond free-kick back across Nicholls and into the bottom corner. There was still time for more action in the first half though, with former Lewes defender Ollie Rowe having a goal disallowed for offside after converting a free-kick from the left at the far post.
Lewes made a bright start to the second half and nearly doubled their lead within minutes of the restart, as Smith latched onto a long ball forward and saw his half-volley from a difficult angle on the edge of the area come back off the far post.
The visitors could have levelled the scores minutes later, as a long throw from Ollie Black led to a goalmouth scramble before the Rooks were eventually able to get the ball clear. Hastings did equalise for a second time ten minutes into the half though, with Hughes-Mason showing good composure to run through and finish calmly past Winterton after good build-up play down the left.
Despite knowing they would be unable to make the play-offs after Saturday’s defeat at Carshalton, Lewes continued to play as though there was as much riding on this game for them as there was for the visitors, with Smith proving a constant threat to the Hastings back four.
The Rooks took the lead for a third time after 67 minutes, with Dixon getting his second goal of the game, as he saw his looping header from a Ronnie Conlon cross at the end of a fine passing move in midfield find the back of the net, despite Nicholls getting a hand to it.
Lewes were playing with plenty of confidence and forced Nicholls into a double save minutes later, as he did well to keep out a curling effort from Conlon, before blocking Brotherton’s effort on the rebound from a tight angle.
Unfortunately for the majority of the impressive crowd of 771 at the Pan, the Rooks were unable to hold onto this lead, as a free-kick from the right with ten minutes remaining wasn’t cleared, allowing Rowe to finish from close range and level the scores.
Both sides pushed for a winner in the closing stages, but there were no chances of note, and both teams had to settle for a point.
This was an impressive display from Lewes, who showed good character to bounce back from a disappointing defeat on Saturday and play arguably some of their best football of the season against a side who will now be competing in the play-offs at the end of the season. Post match it was a happier Darren Freeman who chatted with Darren Freeman.
The Rooks will hope to finish this season with a positive result at Chatham Town on Saturday, kick-off at 3pm.
Lewes: Winterton, Reed, George, Harrington (Hurley 86), Hammond, Malins, Brotherton (Robinson 73), Sow, Smith, Dixon, Conlon.
Unused Subs: Landais, McCarthy, Bown.
Hastings United: Nicholls, Hughes-Mason, Crutwell, Emptage, Sobers (Black 16), Rowe, Bodkin, Johnson, Barnwell (Collin 65), Stevenson, Stannard.
Unused Subs: Akoto, Rose.
Referee: Damith Bandara