Lewes narrowly missed out on the play-offs by just two goals, despite a Razz Coleman De-Graft hat-trick helping the Rooks to a superb 3-1 win at Canvey Island on the final day of the season, reports Tom Harper.
Tony Russell made two changes to the side that beat Haringey Borough 4-0 in their previous game, with Rhys Murrell-Williamson replacing the suspended Deon Moore and Archie Tamplin coming into the side in place of Alfie Young, who picked up an injury in the warm-up.
The Rooks knew coming into the game that they needed to win and hope for a Cray Wanderers defeat at Haringey in order to make the play-offs, and they made a bright start, with both De-Graft and Murrell-Williamson going close with efforts from distance early on.
The first clear-cut opportunity of the game fell to the hosts though, who saw Evans Kouassi narrowly miss the target with only Lewis Carey to beat.
Lewes nearly made the most of this let-off immediately, as Carey’s goal-kick found Joe Taylor in behind the Canvey defence, but his attempted lob landed on the roof of the net.
The Rooks took the lead on 24 minutes through De-Graft, who danced into the penalty area before shooting past Bobby Mason and into the bottom corner.
Canvey’s only chances were coming on the break and they came close to an equaliser through Kouassi, who ran in behind and drew a smart save from Carey with his strike from a tight angle.
Lewes lost Will Salmon to injury during the closing stages of the half but were able to get through to half-time at 1-0 up, with Cray leading 2-1 at Haringey at the break.
The hosts levelled five minutes after the restart, as Rob Girdlestone finished from close range after Lewes had been unable to clear a corner from the right.
The Rooks responded well though, and regained their lead on 56 minutes through De-Graft, who collected a pass from Tyrique Hyde down the left before finishing past Mason at his near post.
Lewes received a further boost with news of a Haringey equaliser against Cray, meaning that a third goal for the North London side would lift the Rooks into fifth place if they could stay in front in Essex.
The Rooks could only take care of their own result though, and did so by scoring a third goal on the hour, De-Graft completing his hat-trick with a superb curling strike after cutting inside from the right.
Lewes’ task was made more difficult five minutes later, as Ayo Olukoga was shown a straight red card for what the referee deemed a deliberate handball as he attempted to beat Kouassi to a long ball forward.
Despite their numerical disadvantage, Lewes were keeping their hosts at bay relatively comfortably, with a smart Carey save from a Connor Hubble header being the closest Canvey came to mounting a comeback.
The better chances continued to fall to the Rooks, who saw Taylor draw a fine save from Mason at his near post with an effort from a tight angle.
Lewes continued to push for further goals but were unable to find them and with Haringey not scoring a third goal against Cray, the Rooks were left to reflect on an impressive season, but one that has seen them just miss out on the play-offs on goal difference.
Canvey Island: Mason, Sorondo, Mvemba, J. Salmon (Albon 65), Girdlestone, M. Hall, Edwards, Hubble, Sachs, Paxman (Ronto 65), Kouassi.
Unused Subs: Tinubu, Ashman, Jackson.
Lewes: Carey, Olukoga, Champion, W. Salmon (Huckle 34), Mundle-Smith, Tamplin, Pritchard, Hyde, Murrell-Williamson, De-Graft, Taylor.
Unused Subs: Young, R. Hall, McGonigle, Middleton-Tozer.
Booked: Carey, Mundle-Smith, Murrell-Williamson.
Sent off: Olukoga.
Attendance: 1,120 (approximately 100 Rooks fans)