For 88 minutes it seemed that the Rooks would be thwarted in their attempt to return to winning ways at Sittingbourne, then Billy Medlock stepped up to decide the game with just two minutes remaining, reports Stuart Fuller.
After a week of injury woes, Darren Freeman’s festive shopping saw three old faces return to the Lewes squad – Leon Redwood perhaps more familiar to the fans than Omar Lawson and Liam Wilson who had only appeared on the bench previously. All three were given a start by Freeman with Bouwe Bosma, Lloyd Cotton and Matt George all out injured, whilst Jonte Smith was preferred to Billy Medlock in the starting XI.
The Rooks started strongly, with Lawson in the thick of the action straight away. Both Conlon and Coppola looked to have the early beating of their full-backs whilst Jonte Smith caused the Sittingbourne centre-back pairing a few headaches, none more so when he was put clean through by Lawson in the fifth minute but fired straight at the keeper Brooks. Frankie Chappell almost broke his Lewes duck with a powerful header from a Gus Sow corner that scraped the top of the bar.
The pattern for the game was set by the middle of the half, with The Rooks trying to play their passing game whilst the home side were penalised on numerous occasions by the officials. Lawson looked very comfortable in the central midfield role, driving the play forward whilst Jonte Smith was relishing his role, holding the ball up very well. However, the first half ended scoreless despite The Rooks dominance.
The second half was barely a few minutes old before Lewes had a golden chance to take the lead as a long ball from Brinkhurst found its way to an unmarked Charlie Coppola in the area but his powerful shot hit the side netting. Within a minute, Sittingbourne wasted a golden chance themselves when a tame clearance found it’s way to Kane Phillip but his shot was too high to worry Chris Winterton.
Lawson, Smith and Chappell all went close for Lewes but the best chance of the half fell to James Hammond when he toe poked wide through a crowded six-yard box after Frankie Chappell effort hit the post. Freeman brought on Jamie Brotherton for Coppola and the mercurial wide-man almost produced the magic straight away but was the latest in a long line of Lewes players to be brought down around the area. From the free-kick the ball was mis-hit backwards and into the path of Jonte Smith on the six-yard line but his powerful effort cannoned off the bar. It was Smith’s last action as he made way for Billy Medlock.
Five minutes later a Lawson through-ball saw Jamie Brotherton in on goal but his effort was pulled wide and it seemed like it wasn’t going to be Lewes’s afternoon. Just as the Rooks fans were preparing to be knocked off top spot for Christmas, Billy Medlock chased a loose ball down near the right-hand touchline. He ghosted past the two centre-backs, cut inside the full-back and as Brooks advanced, he slotted it home to score his first goal in six games and his 19th of the season (for the Rooks).
There was still time for The Rooks to look for a second with Jamie Brotherton almost beating the last man as he tried to go down the middle of the pitch, whilst at the other end, both Chappell and Wilson made strong, well-timed tackles when Sittingbourne looked in positions of danger. However, The Rooks rode out the last few minutes of injury time to take all three points on a crucial afternoon of games at the top of the table.
After the game, a Manflu-suffering Darren Freeman spoke with Barry Collins about the tough week and the performance today.
Next up for the Rooks is the small matter of the East Sussex derby with Hastings United at The Pan on Boxing Day, kick off 3pm.
Sittingbourne: Brooks, Webber, Kitisu, Okimeji, Gorham, Allan, Phillip (Smith – 68mins), Davisson (Guthrie – 45mins), Rowland, Cornwell, Dawodu
Subs not used: Davis, Ball, Carey
Booked: Kisitu, Davisson, Cornwell, Phillip
Lewes: Winterton, Brinkhurst, Redwood, Hammond, Chappell, Wilson, Lawson, Sow, Smith (Medlock – 77mins), Conlon, Coppola (Brotherton – 67mins)
Subs not used: Landais, Reed
Attendance: 158 (31 Rooks)