Darren Freeman’s side got off to the best possible start to the season thanks to a 93rd minute strike from James Hammond to beat a spirited Herne Bay side in an entertaining encounter, reports Stuart Fuller.
The Rooks started with a familiar look with the majority of the starting XI having ended last season, although new signing Reece Williams-Bowers started out wide with George Landais making his first competitive start since December 2015 a welcome boost up front. New loan signing from Solihull Moors Shomari Barnwell, last seen scoring a brace for Hastings United at The Pan back in April, starting on the bench. Captain Lloyd Cotton was absent, serving the first of a three match ban following his sending off at Carshalton Athletic last season.
It was an even opening fifteen minutes with both sides looking to use the wide pitch to get behind the full-backs. The Lewes back four looked solid, with 16 year old Harry Reed looking assured at right-back and linking up well with Reece Williams-Bowers. George Landais tucked in nicely behind Jonté Smith and was at the centre of most of the positive play from the Rooks.
Right from the tenth minute it was clear to see who would be the thorn in the side of the Rooks – Herne Bay keeper Ben Hunter, who was making his debut for the home side. Time after time the keeper thwarted the Rooks, making smart saves from virtually every member of the Lewes side, the best of which in the first half was from James Hammond, where he got down low to tip the ball around the post.
At the other end of the pitch Herne Bay’s Junior Efosa Aikhionbare looked dangerous and his shot rattled Winterton’s cross-bar on the 25th minute mark with the Rooks defence for once looking on.
The second half was less than 30 seconds old when Jonté Smith broke free from his marker on the left and floated a ball over to George Landais but his header was tipped over the bar by Hunter. Ronnie Conlon then came close on two occasions within a few minutes, on both occasions seeing Hunter denying him.
On the hour mark new signing Barnwell came on, replacing the impressive George Landais and he came close to breaking the deadlock when he got a flick on a Jamie Brotherton free-kick which Hunter, again, was on hand to tip over.
It looked like it wasn’t going to be The Rooks day and fortunately at the other end Winterton was on the top of his game too, making two excellent saves from the dangerous Aikhionbare.
With just 90 seconds left on the clock Harry Reed came close to a first ever goal for The Rooks, taking the ball down well, beating his man and sending an excellent shot towards the top corner but once again Hunter denied the Rooks.
With two of the three minutes of injury time played Winterton threw the ball out to Matthew George and a neat exchange of passes between Conlon, Sow and Brotherton saw the Rooks reach the edge of the Herne Bay defence. It seemed that the danger had passed as a misjudged pass back to James Hammond put him under pressure, but the young midfielder composed himself and sent an unstoppable shot into the bottom corner, finally beating the outstanding Hunter.
The result, whilst harsh on a spirited home side, was fully deserved based on possession and shots on target and gives the Rooks the best start possible to the new season. Next up is the home game against Guernsey, who beat East Grinstead Town 4-2 today, on Wednesday 16th August at The Pan, kick off 7:45pm.
Herne Bay: Hunter, Mulrooney-Skinner, Brown, Richardson, Steventon, McKinlay, Wisson, Budd, Embery, Aikhionbare, Connor
Subs: Trespaderne, Dukali, Catmull, Schafer, Carey
Booked: Connor, Aikhionbare
Lewes: Winterton, Reed, George, Hammond, Hurley, Malins, Williams-Bowers (MacDevitt – 80 mins), Sow, Smith (Brotherton – 75 mins), Landais (Barnwell – 60 mins), Conlon
Subs not used: Brinkhurst, Bosma