The Rooks came out on top in a feisty affair at South Park last night thanks to a strong team performance although it came at a cost, reports Stuart Fuller.
Darren was forced to make a couple of changes from the team that comprehensively beat East Grinstead Town on Saturday, with Stacey Freeman rested and Lloyd Harrington unavailable due to work commitments, giving opportunities for the return of Lloyd Cotton and James Hammond.
Despite seeming to play every few days at the moment, South Park started the game energetically, looking to play the ball long to the dangerous pairing of Lavery and Chris Smith, whilst the Rooks looked confident, being able to play the ball along the ground and make use of the wide playing surface.
With a quarter of the game played it was the physios rather than the goalkeepers who had been tested the most. However the balance of play changed in the 24th minute thanks to a wonder strike from James Hammond, who controlled a lateral pass from an excellent run by Jack Dixon and smashed the ball home from 25 yards via the underside of the bar (pictured above from the lens of James Boyes).
Two minutes later The Rooks had a big shout for a penalty when Gus Sow appeared to be brought down by Thomas in the South Park goal as he looked to take the ball around the keeper but the referee waved play on.
Tackles started to fly in from both sides with Wilfred Grimaud coming second best from a legitimate challenge on the edge of the box that saw him leave the field, limping heavily.
The second half was barely a few minutes old when the observational skills and judgement of the officials were called into question. With the ball pinging around the South Park area, Charlie Coppola appeared to catch Merchant late but the reaction from some of the home fans, including one who pushed Charlie to the floor was completely ignored and the young Rooks winger was the only player cautioned from the incident.
Emotions were close to the service and a number of bizarre decisions were infuriating the players, the benches and the fans. Instead of taking a few moments to calm the situation down by speaking to both captains, play continued and just five minutes later, Matthew George and Kieran Lavery were both shown a straight red for an incident after the Lewes left back had cleared the ball.
The Rooks didn’t let the situation get to their heads and within two minutes doubled their lead when Jonté skipped around a couple of rash challenges on the edge of the box and his shot took a deflection off a South Park defender and wrong-footed Thomas.
South Park responded by committing more players to attack and there appeared to be a few more yellow cards shown but the Rooks defence stood firm, with Winterton commanding and the centre-back pairing of Cotton and Malins imperious.
With five minutes of injury time to be played Lewes wrapped up the game when Gus Sow neatly played in James Hammond who cut inside his defender then slotted the ball under the keeper.
This was probably the toughest game the Rooks have participated in this season and whilst the three points took us up to 4th in the league, the win came at a cost with Matt George now likely to be absent for 3 games due to suspension, whilst Wilfreid Grimaud needing further investigation into his injury.
Post match, Darren was obviously delighted with the performance after the game but also concerned with the way the second half played out.
Next up for the Rooks is the small matter of a trip to third placed Greenwich Borough on Saturday, kick off 3pm.
South Park: Thomas, Stafford, Elliott, Rixon-Nicholls, Merchant, Burgess, Gill, Moody, Lavery, Smith, Senior
Sub not used: Unknown
Sent off: Lavery
Lewes: Winterton, Brinkhurst, George, Hammond, Cotton, Malins, Grimaud (Conlon – 43 mins), Sow, Smith (Bown – 80 mins), Dixon, Coppola,
Sub not used: Munoz-Fernandez
Booked: Hammond, Coppola, Dixon, Sow
Sent off: George