Lewes boss Tony Russell says it was the Rooks fans who got his team through a though 2-2 draw with high-flyers Hornchurch on Tuesday, as Razz Coleman De-Graft and Joe Taylor struck late to secure a valuable point.
Russell was left celebrating on the touchline as “limbs” went off in the stands following Taylor’s late leveller after a combative game under the lights at the Dripping Pan.
Attention now turns away from the Isthmian Premier League and to Saturday’s FA Trophy first-round encounter at Chesham United.
And while Russell is well aware of the challenge that awaits his team, he reckons the positivity from the fans on Tuesday night can be carried into the weekend.
“Out of nowhere we were 2-0 down, but from that point on is where the positivity started to come through – and we have to thank the crowd for their part as well,” says Russell, reflecting on the draw that extends Lewes’ unbeaten run to three games.
“They were sensational. I spoke about this last year and it’s what I love about Lewes – the Dripping Pan can change the game purely because of the fans.
‘The loudest I’ve heard the Dripping Pan’
“The moment the second Hornchurch goal went in, I could hear the fans geeing up the players and getting behind them. It was like there was a roar went up from the home end. The supporters were still cheering, still confident. There was no frustration, no calls to lump it long, just positivity.
“The atmosphere became louder and louder, and it made us play better. Even at 2-0 down we didn’t feel sorry for ourselves and a big part of that was the crowd.
“We spoke about it during our session the next day. The players reacted to that positivity and pushed on. It was the loudest I’ve heard the Dripping Pan even though fewer fans were in there than when we sell out. To have more than 600 fans in there, getting louder as the game went on. That positive impact made us push.
“It’s the influence of the support, of the Pan. We felt it last season and that was the first time this term that I’ve really experienced it. It was a proper Lewes night.”
‘People jumping over each other’
Razz got the Rooks back in the game with a sensation strike, before Taylor peeled off his man and found the time and space needed to rocket the second into the top corner.
Discussing Taylor’s strike, Russell adds: “It was mad. I stood up when we scored and sort-of did a fist pump and turned to the crowd, and there were limbs! There were people jumping over each other.
“I’ve never seen it at Lewes, just absolute carnage. People grabbing each other and screaming – and that’s what the fans deserve after they helped up get the draw.
“We’d been probing and looking for that opening, and it came. Tom Champion all of a sudden did something out of the ordinary by stepping forward with the ball, which made them do something out of the ordinary.
“Because Champs drove into midfield it messed with Hornchurch’s shape. He passed to Alfie in midfield and the centre-half, who had been following JT all night, got stuck to Alf.
“Champs gets the ball back and lifts it over the back line, where JT has peeled off that defender. Without Champs’ run and Alfie’s movement, we don’t get the ball to JT in space. And what a finish from the boy too.”
Focus on Chesham
Saturday sees Lewes head to Chesham United, who sit third in the Southern League Premier South. A place in the FA Trophy second round is at stake, and Chesham come into the tie unbeaten in four.
Discussing the class, Russell says: “I’ve watched a few of their clips and I’ve also spoken to a number of their opposition managers in their league.
“They’re riding high right now and are battling to get promoted. They’re a very good side and it’s probably one of the hardest draws we could have faced. The pitch is pretty massive, they have brilliant forwards and are always a threat in front of goal.
“We’re going to have to play really well, there’s no doubt in my mind. It’s a hard one that’s for sure, but we’ll be ready for it.”
Saturday’s 3pm kick off will be the Rooks’ sixth game in October, with more to come as soon as Tuesday at home to Aveley. Lewes are down to play a further seven fixtures in November, and Russell is mindful of managing his squad through the weeks ahead.
“We have to also understand we have a game on Tuesday, then it’s two games a week for a good while,” says the boss. “We’re carrying a few knocks and some of that lads we need to manage, so they’re also OK to Tuesday against Aveley.
“It’s a conundrum and I need to work out who is fit and who isn’t. But Saturday will be a hard game no matter what team we field. It could be a bit boggy if the weather turns and it’s on a large pitch.
“Three of the lads ran over 11-and-a-half km against Hornchurch, one lad went 12km. So I have to manage that workload, especially when they also ran hard against Margate. It’s about being careful and fielding a team, and sticking to a gameplan that works.”
Chesham United vs Lewes
The game kicks off at 3pm on Saturday, with Lewes fans able to buy tickets on the gate at The Meadow. Tickets start from £12 for adult, £10 concessions, £5 U18s and free for U12s.