Football can be unbearably cruel. For the second time in as many matches, Lewes conceded a match-changing goal in injury time, denying Darren Freeman’s side a deserved victory, writes Barry Collins.
Lewes were in control of the game from the first minute until the last, but once again concentration wavered in the five minutes of added time. Bradley Fortnam-Tomlinson crept up unnoticed at the back post and swept the ball past an exasperated Chris Winterton, converting three precious points into just one.
That any points were up for grabs at all was something of a miracle, a team of volunteers working to get the pitch into a playable state from early morning. Ronnie Conlon made an early start too, giving the Rooks the lead inside three minutes as he calmly finished a polished passing move. A long ball forward was neatly trapped by Jonte Smith, who laid the ball into the path of James Hammond. The midfielder flicked the ball to Conlon, who stroked the ball into the bottom corner with a degree of composure not often witnessed from 19-year-olds.
He could have doubled his tally midway through the first half, when Hammond charged down a clearance on the edge of the box, and the ball sat up in front of Conlon with an invitation to score scrawled beneath the Joma logo. This time, however, the left-footed strike carried too much muscle, the ball screaming a few inches over the bar.
Grays endured on the sticky pitch, but never really troubled Winterton for the duration of normal time, although only a fantastic recovery tackle from Alex Malins midway through the first half prevented the Rooks keeper from facing a one-on-one that was heavily loaded in the striker’s favour.
Instead, it was Lewes who continued to pose the threat and many thought the decisive second strike had come midway through the second half, when Jonte Smith lobbed the onrushing Grays keeper but the ball held up on the boggy pitch before being hacked clear by Cronin. Smith later had a goal ruled out for offside when the keeper flapped at a ball at the near post and dropped it at the striker’s feet, the linesman ruling that Smith had somehow interfered with play in the build-up. It’s the third time that Smith – who’s already scored four times in his short Lewes career – has had a goal questionably ruled out for offside at the Pan.
The Rooks were once more left looking longingly at the officials, when Alex Malins was grounded by a Grays defender in the box. The referee showed barely a flicker of interest.
Anxiety turned to anguish as Grays made the hosts pay for failing to finish them off. If only football really were a game of 90 minutes.
Lewes: Winterton, Brinkhurst, Malins, Freeman, Redwood, Okojie, Hammond (Cotton, 63), Conlon (Street, 90), Carey ©, Laing (Muggeridge, 86), Smith
Unused subs: McCreadie, El-Mhanni