The Rooks overcame a disjointed opening half an hour to beat previously unbeaten Cray Wanderers in a game that saw the visitors have two men dismissed in a repeat of last season’s encounter at The Pan, reports Stuart Fuller.
Darren Freemen made two changes to the side that surprisingly drew at Shoreham in midweek with Gus Sow and Charlie Coppola coming back into the starting XI as Reece Bowers-Williams and Liam MacDevitt dropped to the bench, knowing that the key to winning the game against the strong Kent side would be to retain possession in the middle of the field, consequently starting with a 4-5-1 with Bouwe Bosma supporting Jamie Brotherton up front.
The open exchanges saw the visitors have plenty of possession at the back but their ultimate long-ball approach to their forwards was easily neutralised by Lloyd Cotton and Frankie Chappell. Neither keeper was forced into a save in the opening twenty minutes despite some nice approach play. However in the 24th minute the visitors took the lead when the ever-impressive Jay Leader rose unmarked in the box from a Brandon Scott corner and headed home.
Lewes continued to impress going forward although seemed to have the wrong shooting boots on as efforts from Bosma, Conlon and Hammond flew over the bar. There was a long stoppage at the end of the half as Cray keeper Blue landed heavily claiming a Gus Sow corner and there was concern that he may not be able to continue. But the remaining action in the first period took place in the time added on for his injury. Jamie Brotherton found himself in the middle of it all, first being involved in the sending off incident involving Bradley Stevenson. Brotherton chased down a ball with Stevenson and the Cray forward reacted poorly when both players got to their feet, pushing Brotherton in the chest. It certainly appeared to be a harsh red card, something both benches agreed on.
Less than a minute later Steve Brinkhurst was sent through and was felled on the edge of the area by Barney Williams. Penalty to the Rooks and the Cray full-back could count himself lucky he didn’t receive his second yellow of the afternoon. Brotherton stepped up and scored his third penalty of the week to level the scores at half-time.
The visitors made two changes at half-time, looking at trying to catch the Rooks on the counter-attack but it was the home side who dominated in the next fifteen minutes, consistently getting in behind the Cray backline but just failing to find the final killer ball. In the 57th minute a clever lobbed ball over the back four say Bouwe Bosma run beyond the back four and cleverly lob the ball over the advancing Blue and into the empty net.
Lewes really needed a third just to settle the nerves and continued to press whilst Cray were happy to try to catch the Rooks on the break. Their job became almost impossible when centre-back Mitchell Nelson, who up until this point, had had a great game, steamed into Boswa from behind with no intention of getting the ball and received one of the most obvious red cards you’ll see this season. From the resulting free kick, Brotherton’s effort didn’t trouble the keeper.
It should have been a stroll in the last fifteen for The Rooks but all of a sudden the nerves set in and Cray had their most dangerous spell although Chris Winterton once again showed his quality in dominating his area.
The 475 crowd plus the Lewes bench were relieved to hear the final whistle and the three points extended the club’s best start to the season for four seasons.
With Darren having to rush off for his wife’s birthday celebration, Assistant Manager Ross Standen faced the questions from Barry Collins post-match.
Next up for the Rooks is a trip to fellow top of the table challengers Walton Casuals at their new Waterside Arena on Saturday, kick off 3pm.
Lewes: Winterton, Brinkhurst, George, Hammond, Cotton, Chappell, Bosma (Landais – 79 mins), Sow, Brotherton (Malins – 90 mins), Conlon (Williams-Bowers – 84 mins), Coppola
Subs not used: Reed, MacDevitt,
Booked: Cotton, Conlon
Cray Wanderers: Blue, Mundele, Williams, Leader, Nelson, Dawson, Henry, Dent (Osibidu – 74 mins), Power (Freiter – 46 mins), Stephenson, Scott (Parker – 46 mins)
Subs not used: Evans, Vines
Sent off: Stephenson, Nelson
Referee: Adrian Harris
Man of the Match: James Hammond