Down but certainly not out

Lewes suffered relegation to Ryman South, despite a spirited performance that saw the Rooks score a last-minute equaliser at play-off chasing Kingstonian reports Tom Harper.

Darren Freeman made one change to the side that had drawn 2-2 at Merstham in their previous game, with Ronnie Conlon returning to the side in place of Dee Okojie.

Kingstonian made a bright start after beating title-chasing local rivals Hampton & Richmond Borough last week, with Pelayo Pico Gomez volleying over from inside the area after Joe Turner had seen a shot blocked, before forcing Chris Winterton into a smart save with a low shot from the edge of the area.

The Rooks were beginning to see more of the ball in midfield as the half progressed, but were being caught in possession by the hosts, who looked dangerous every time they broke forward.  They had a great chance to take the lead after just over 20 minutes, as Andre McCollin rounded Winterton but then tried to back-heel the ball into the back of the net only for it to be scrambled clear.

Lewes were unable to make the most of this let-off and fell behind barely a minute later, as Winterton did well to keep out a low McCollin effort, but was unable to prevent Dan Bennett finishing the rebound into the roof of the net.

The Rooks were level with their first real chance of the game after 34 minutes, as Jonte Smith capitalised on a poor defensive header to send an instinctive effort past Rob Tolfrey and into the bottom corner.  The Lewes goal led a charmed life for the remainder of the half, with Winterton forced into action to deny Turner and Pico Gomez.

The final chance of the half fell to the Rooks though, as Smith was only able to guide a close-range header from a Leon Redwood corner over the bar.

After a first-half that saw several goalscoring opportunities and plenty of attacking intent from both sides, there were few chances of note during the opening stages of the second half, with the game threatening to become bogged down in midfield.  Kingstonian regained their lead with the first real opportunity of the half just before the hour, as Turner got free down the left and cut the ball back for substitute Mitch Pinnock to finish into the roof of the net at the far post.

Despite the best efforts of the players, the Rooks were struggling to test a well-organised Kingstonian back four, with Alex Laing sending a 25-yard effort over as Lewes looked to find the two goals that would take their fight for Ryman Premier survival into another week.

The hosts had an excellent chance to seal the points in the final ten minutes, as McCollin latched onto a long ball forward but dragged his effort wide of the far post with only Winterton to beat.

The introduction of centre-back Jordan Badger as an emergency centre-forward with three minutes remaining gave the Rooks more of a presence up front and seemed to panic the host’s previously solid back four.  Badger very nearly equalised after just two minutes on the pitch, as he saw his close-range volley well saved by Tolfrey.

Kingstonian were unable to clear their lines though, and after a Conlon shot from the edge of the area hit a defender and looped towards goal, Badger sent an excellent header over Tolfrey and into the back of the net to level the scores in the final minute of normal time.

The Rooks pushed for a winner during stoppage time, but were unable to find one and despite securing what would normally be a pleasing point away from home against a side pushing for the play-offs, had relegation to the Ryman South mathematically confirmed.

The players were deservedly applauded off the pitch at full-time, with the impressive contingent of travelling supporters recognising that performances and results since the start of 2016 have been a big improvement on the first half of the season and that this form replicated over the entire campaign would have seen the club finish above the relegation zone.

The Rooks will hope to continue their recent good run and finish the season positively when they host Staines Town at the Pan next Saturday, kick-off at 3pm.

Kingstonian: Tolfrey, Goode, Wells, Smith, Hogg (Bonnett-Johnson 80), Inns, Bennett, O’Leary, Pico Gomez (Pinnock 46), McCollin (Beckles 83), Turner.
Unused Subs: Dean, Newman.
Booked: Tolfrey.

Lewes: Winterton, Brinkhurst, Redwood, Carey (Badger 87), Freeman, Malins, Muggeridge (Okojie 55), Hammond, Smith, Laing (Coppola 68), Conlon.
Unused Subs: Dramis, Stroomberg.
Booked: None.

Referee: Leigh Doughty

Attendance: 251

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Author: stuartnoel

Nearly prize winning author of Passport to Football, Budget Airline Football and European Football - A Fans Guide.