A below-par first-half display saw Lewes suffer a disappointing defeat at Grays Athletic ahead of games against the top two sides in the league reports Tom Harper.
Garry Wilson made two changes to the side that had won 5-1 at Cray Wanderers in their previous game, with Jay Lovett and Sam Gore replacing Ben Austin and the injured Matt Crabb in the starting line-up.
Despite not seeing much of the ball early on, it was Lewes who had the first chance of the game when Luke Blewden latched onto a Jack Dixon through-ball but put his effort just wide of the post when under pressure from a Grays defender. The hosts strikers Joel Nouble and Leroy Griffiths were causing the Rooks defence plenty of problems with their movement, and Rikki Banks was forced into smart saves to deny both of them in the opening stages.
Banks was powerless to prevent Lewes falling behind after 21 minutes though, as an inch-perfect cross from the right by Craig Pope was headed into the bottom corner by Danny Bunce. Grays could have doubled their lead moments later, as Banks had to be alert to deny Alex Cruickshank from close range after an impressive passing move.
Lewes should have equalised just after the half-hour, as Blewden beat the offside trap and rounded Lloyd Anderson in the hosts goal only to see his effort from a difficult angle hit the side-netting. Two minutes later, Grays punished the Rooks for this missed chance by doubling their lead. Nouble was the scorer, as he was given too much time and space on the edge of the penalty area to place an effort into the bottom corner.
The Rooks very nearly got back into the game right on the stroke of half-time, as Nick Wheeler cut inside from the left and saw his effort parried by Anderson into the path of Blewden, who saw his attempt blocked by a superb last-ditch challenge.
The second half could not have got off to a worse start for Lewes, as they fell further behind just five minutes after the break. The goal was scored by Ruddock Yala, who sent a free header from a Lee Flynn free-kick across Banks and into the far corner to give the Rooks a real mountain to climb.
Three minutes later however, the travelling Lewes fans had something to cheer as Blewden latched onto a Fraser Logan through-ball and lifted the ball over the onrushing Anderson to convert arguably the toughest of his chances. Just two minutes after letting Lewes back into the game, Grays restored their three-goal advantage as Nouble outpaced the Rooks defence to a ball over the top, rounded Banks and passed the ball into the empty net.
Once again though, Lewes found a route back into the game. Dixon was the scorer, drilling the ball across Anderson and into the bottom corner after finding space in the penalty area with 29 minutes remaining. Just minutes later, the Rooks very nearly moved to within one goal of Grays as substitute Jack Maloney found himself clean through on goal after a scuffed clearance, but saw his tame effort comfortably saved by Anderson.
Lewes continued to enjoy the better of the play in the closing stages without really testing a resolute home defence, although Anderson had to be alert to keep out a free-kick from Ross Treleaven and another close-range effort from Blewden.
Ultimately, it was a poor first-half display that cost Lewes this game, as they arguably created enough chances to get a point over the course of the 90 minutes. There can be few complaints about the result though, as Grays were more clinical in front of goal and stayed organised defensively during the Rooks best spells of the game.
Next up for Lewes is a game against top-of-the-table Dulwich Hamlet at the Pan on Saturday, kick-off at 3pm.
Grays Athletic: Anderson, Pope, Flynn, Kirby, Yala, Cruickshank (Mtyanda 64), Bunce (Small 75), Beaney, Nouble, Griffiths (Moses 88), Carlos.
Unused Subs: Greene, Maxwell.
Booked: Yala, Beaney, Griffiths.
Lewes: Banks, S. Crabb (Treleaven 80), Gore, Pearson (Austin 63), Lovett, Walder, Wheeler, Dixon, Blewden, N. Crabb, Logan (Maloney 68).
Unused Subs: Murrell-Williamson, Badger.
Referee: Ian Fissenden