A spirited performance was not enough to help Lewes into the third round of the Sussex Senior Cup, as an injury-time goal from Josh Kerr saw Brighton & Hove Albion U23s record a narrow 1-0 win in a hard-fought game at the Pan, reports Tom Harper.
Darren Freeman made two changes to the side that lost 1-0 at home to Haringey Borough in their previous game, with Tom Day and Harry Reed replacing Frankie Chappell and Luke Blewden in the starting line-up.
The visitors had won the Sussex Senior Cup in each of the last two seasons and seemed keen to make the best possible start to retaining their trophy early on, as Lewis Carey was forced into a smart save to keep out a Stefan Ljubicic header, before the powerful striker saw a superb long-range effort come back off the post just minutes later.
Brighton were dominating possession and came close to taking the lead in bizarre circumstances through Joe Tomlinson, whose mis-hit cross from the right hit the top of the bar with Carey beaten.
They continued to control the game as the half progressed, and saw Ryan Longman narrowly miss the target twice in quick succession as they looked to make their dominance count on the scoreboard.
Having been under pressure for long periods of the first half, Lewes enjoyed a good spell just before the break, with Kieron Pamment shooting wide from just inside the area after a Harry Reed cross from the right had only been half-cleared.
The Rooks started the second half in the same way they had finished the first, pressing high up the pitch to try and force errors from the Brighton defenders as they looked to play out from the back.
They came close to taking the lead not long after the restart, as James Hammond saw a goal-bound effort cleared by Joe Tomlinson but only as far as Jonte Smith, whose strike from the edge of the area flew over the bar.
Lewes continued to press, with Omarr Lawson seeing a deflected effort comfortably gathered by Billy Collings in the Brighton goal.
The visitors were attacking far less in the second half but continued to pose a threat whenever they went forward, as Carey had to be alert to deny Jordan Davies at the end of a swift counter-attack.
Both sides seemed keen to win the game without the need for extra-time and possibly even penalties during the final ten-minutes as Lawson just missed the target from the edge of the area, before Carey raced off his line to save from Archie Davies just minutes later at the other end.
Just when it seemed as though the game would be heading to extra-time, Lewes hearts were broken in stoppage time by Josh Kerr, who found the bottom corner from the edge of a crowded penalty area after the Rooks had been unable to clear a corner from the left.
Lewes were unable to create a chance of note in the final few minutes, and were left to reflect on a disappointing result but an encouraging performance that could easily have yielded a better result on another night.
After the game Darren Freeman was in an upbeat mood when he spoke to Barry Collins.
Lewes will hope to build on these positives when they welcome National League South side Hemel Hempstead Town to the Pan in the FA Trophy on Saturday, kick-off at 3pm.
Lewes: Carey, Brinkhurst, Wilder, Dome-Bemwin (Karl 63), Day, Freeman, Pamment, Hammond, Smith (Elliott 68), Lawson, Reed (Blewden 82).
Unused Subs: Gifford, Chappell.
Brighton & Hove Albion U23s: Collings, Tomlinson, Cochrane, Roberts, O’Hora, Kerr, Longman (Carre 46), A. Davies, Ljubicic, J. Davies, Tilley (Packham 60).
Unused Subs: Shihab, Spong, Rees.
Referee: Adrian Harris