Ellie Mason scored a dream debut goal on her comeback from injury as Lewes secured a first win of 2022 with a 2-0 result over Sunderland at the Dripping Pan.
Mason, who joined the Rooks from London City Lionesses in the summer, has had to wait half a year to don a black and red shirt but needed just 41 minutes to open her account with a fierce strike from the edge of the area.
Izzy Dalton’s early stunner had put the hosts ahead in front of 525 fans at the Dripping Pan – the highest attendance so far this season.
Freda Ayisi was sent off in the second half for a second yellow card, while Sunderland’s Grace McCatty was shown a straight red for a lunge on substitute Georgia Timms late on.
The victory means Lewes sit seventh in the FA Women’s Championship – two points behind next Sunday’s opponents Crystal Palace.
Dream debut for Mason
Mason joined Lewes back in the summer while carrying an injury and her road to recovery has been a long one, not free of setbacks.
Indeed, interim boss Craig Gill had not expected to field the full-back against Sunderland, but a number of injuries and absences due to Covid meant the 25-year-old started in defence.
Gill had expressed in the build-up to the game his expectation of an improved performance from the 1-0 defeat at Charlton the previous weekend.
Indeed, what with the Christmas break and Covid postponing a number of fixtures, Gill’s troops were seeking a first win since the mid-November triumph at Sheffield United.
Dalton’s genius puts Rooks ahead
And it took less than six minutes for Lewes to take the lead. Following a break from midfield, Amelia Hazard collected the ball inside the penalty area and neatly laid off to Dalton, who let leash into the top corner.
Dalton was unlucky not to find the net for a second time on 20 minutes when her in-swinging free-kick missed everyone but bobbled narrowly wide of the far post.
Moments later and Sunderland had their first real opening when captain Keir Ramshaw had time to look up and arrow a shot from distance two yards wide of Tatiana Saunders’ left-hand post.
The chance was a reminder of the threat the visitors could muster when building down the left, but it was on the opposite flank where Lewes’ next opening came. Ayisi beat her marker to a Paula Howells ball down the line, and when the striker centred to Ashworth-Clifford the winger sought to lift her shot over the onrushing Allison Cowling, only for the ball to hit the goalkeeper and trickle out for a corner.
Mason architect of debut goal
Moments from the break and Lewes bagged their second. Mason began and finished off the move, first breaching the midfield bypassing a string of challenges, before playing Ashworth-Clifford free on the edge of the box. Her shot was saved, and Ayisi was unlucky not to force the ball home in the resulting scramble. But it eventually fell back to the lurking Mason, who slammed home to trigger raucous celebrations from the bench and in the stands.
The second half continued in much the same vein as the first, with Mason heading wide in the opening couple of minutes. However, the pattern of the game then changed when Ayisi collected a second yellow card for a trailing leg on Neve Herron.
Despite being down to 10 players it was Lewes who persisted in pinning their visitors back – centre-backs Ellie Hack and Nicola Cousins happy to play it around the defence and pick balls forward.
On the rare occasion Sunderland encroached into the Lewes third, Sophie O’Rourke was there to cut out the danger.
With 15 minutes remaining Lewes came close to a third of the afternoon when Zoe Cross linked up with Hazard to rifle a ranged effort inches from Cowling’s right-hand post. It was an indication of Lewes’ threat despite being a player down, and soon after Gill rang the changes, with Georgia Timms and Heidi Logan replacing Hazard and Ashworth-Clifford respectively.
Into the last 10 minutes and Ramshaw was unlucky not to convert a Jessica Brown cross as her header pinged off the post – and moments later Sunderland were also reduced to 10 when McCatty was shown a straight red for a swiping lunge on Timms.
The parity in numbers aided Lewes’ tick towards three points, with Howells and Logan holding the ball up down either flank as the clock neared full time. Gill threw on Josie Longhurst, Ellie Noble and Lea Cordier as eight minutes were added on after the 90.
And while injury time dragged on longer than this due to a couple of clashes of heads, eventually the hosts saw out the game to collect three well-earned points.
Gill: ‘Great quality and energy’
After the match interim manager Craig Gill was all praise for his players after they dug in to secure the victory.
“We’re delighted with the response from the players following the lost to Charlton last week,” said the boss. “The players came to training and applied themselves very well. Morale has been great, which shows their character after a defeat.
“We showed our quality in training which we didn’t have against Charlton and we took that into today’s game. We played with great quality and energy, and also showed discipline both with the ball and without – and particularly when we went down to 10 players.”
On the 525 fans in attendance, he added: “The crowd made a huge difference today – a great support and with the band there as well, it really drives the players on.
“A season highest attendance is great! It’s great for the club, great for the players and I hope we gave them plenty to be entertained.”
Next up for Lewes is a trip to Crystal Palace on Sunday 30 January, with kick off scheduled for 2pm at Hayes Lane.
1 Tatiana Saunders
2 Ellie Mason
4 Amelia Hazard
5 Nicola Cousins
6 Ellie Hack (c)
7 Lucy Ashworth-Clifford
10 Freda Ayisi
14 Paula Howells
20 Sophie O’Rourke
23 Izzy Dalton
27 Zöe Cross
Georgia Timms (for Hazard)
Heidi Logan (Ashworth-Clifford)
Josie Longhurst (Howells)
Ellie Noble (Cross)
Lea Cordier (Mason)
* subs unused
1 Alison Cowling
19 Megan Beer
2 Neve Herron
5 Grace McCatty
6 Louise Griffiths
10 Maria Farrugia
14 Emma Kelly
7 Keira Ramshaw
17 Abbey Joice
16 Grace Ede
9 Eve Blakey