A Chris Whelpdale brace helped Lewes into the third qualifying round of the FA Cup with a hard-fought 2-1 win at Isthmian South Central side Ascot United, reports Tom Harper.
Tony Russell was able to name Ronnie Vint and Deon Moore in the starting line-up on their return from injury and international duty respectively, with Bradley Pritchard also recalled to the side and handed the captain’s armband.
The opening stages saw few clear-cut opportunities for either side, with both easing their way into what would become an incredibly competitive cup tie.
Lewes took the lead with their first meaningful attempt on goal after 17 minutes, Whelpdale unleashing a powerful strike from 25 yards that took a deflection and looped past Hugo Sobte and into the back of the net.
Whelpdale was enjoying plenty of possession playing in behind Tommy Wood and nearly claimed an assist, playing Kalvin Lumbombo-Kalala in behind the Ascot defence, with Sobte forced into a fine save to deny the dangerous winger.
The Rooks were looking dangerous whenever they had the ball in the final third, but the hosts grew in confidence as the half progressed and soon started to create half-chances of their own.
The first of these saw Nathan Harvey make a smart stop down to his right to keep out a powerful strike from Harry Grant, before Brendan Matthew ran in behind before missing the target with only Harvey to beat in the closing stages of the first half.
Ascot continued to push for an equaliser after the break, with Lewes forced into some last-ditch defending to prevent the ball being forced in from close range after good play down the left.
The Rooks soon took control of the game again though, with Whelpdale shooting straight at Sobte from the edge of the box at the end of a sweeping move.
Whelpdale went close again minutes later, as his seemingly over-hit cross from the right only just dropped wide of the far post.
The hosts remained a threat themselves, substitute Harvey Killeen blasting a George Lock cut-back from the right over the bar when well placed.
Lewes made the most of this let-off by doubling their lead on 57 minutes, another excellent passing move ending with Wood crossing from the left for Whelpdale to finish from close range.
Ascot nearly pulled a goal back immediately, capitalising on some hesitant defending before working the ball to Grant, who could only shoot wide from close range.
They did halve the deficit with 22 minutes remaining, as an inswinging corner from the left was sliced past Harvey and into his own goal at the near post by Harvey Hughes, setting up a tense final quarter of the game.
The Rooks defended superbly in the closing stages, getting their bodies in the way of everything and continuing to pick the right moments to play out from the back.
The closest Ascot came to equalising saw Oliver McCoy cut in from the left before shooting just over the bar.
If anything, the better chances late on fell to Lewes, who saw Wood just fail to convert a Moore cross at the near post, and both Kieran Murtagh and Archie Tamplin call Sobte in action.
Deshane Dalling enjoyed an impressive cameo late on, seeing a curling strike hit the post and the rebound blasted over by Tamplin at the end of an impressive counter-attack.
The Rooks negotiated nine minutes of injury-time reasonably comfortably to secure an impressive 2-1 win and move into the hat for the FA Cup third qualifying round draw on Monday.
Lewes return to league action with a trip to Chatham Town on Saturday, kick-off at 3pm.
Ascot United: Sobte, Lock, Ajanlekoko (Laflin 85), Tucker, Edwards, McCormack, H. Grant, Matthew, Lahtinen-Kalsi, Lalustani (McCoy 75), Bello-Balogun (Killeen 54).
Unused Subs: Edgecombe, Welch A. Grant, Gater.
Booked: Matthew, Lahtinen-Kalsi.
Lewes: Harvey, Elliott, Hughes, Vint, Penney, Murtagh, Pritchard (Olukoga 55), Whelpdale (Tamplin 75), Moore, Lumbombo-Kalala (Dalling 74), Wood.
Unused Subs: Egan, Panyi, Salmon.
Attendance: 451 (approximately 50 Rooks fans)