LEWES boss Tim O’Shea urged Rooks fans to show up in force to get behind their side this weekend, saying the crunch double-header of matches “doesn’t get any bigger than this”.
The Sussex outfit’s fate could well be sealed following a trip to Hampshire to take on Havant & Waterlooville tomorrow (Saturday) and then a potentially massive relegation face-off against Bishop’s Stortford at the Dripping Pan on Easter Monday.
And O’Shea said: “It probably doesn’t come any bigger than this weekend. These games could well define our very future.
“We need to get a result on Saturday to at least match those of Thurrock and Bishop’s Stortford if we are to continue to be in with the chance of getting across the line.
“But if Bishop’s Stortford win on Saturday and we don’t then Monday’s game becomes even more massive.
“Our supporters have been absolutely brilliant this season; they’ve really kept us going – and we need them more than ever this weekend.
“If you’re thinking of travelling to Havant on Saturday or taking a trip down to the Pan on Easter Monday then please do. The weather forcast looks superb all weekend; let’s hope the results are for us too.”
A 1-1 draw with Weston-super-Mare at the Dripping Pan on Saturday saw Lewes close the gap on a couple their relegation rivals – although Maidenhead’s continued sensational revival in form increasingly makes it look like a battle between three teams to avoid the two remaining relegation places in Blue Square Bet South.
Thurrock’s 2-1 home defeat – against Maidenhead – and Bishop’s Stortford’s 2-0 away loss at Woking meant the Rooks moved a point closer to both of them (two and three points behind respectively). But having taken the lead midway through the second half against Weston, Tim O’Shea’s men may well see this as two points dropped when points are at a premium nearing the season’s climax.
And the Magpies’ remarkable run of four wins and a draw in their five games since losing 1-0 at the Dripping Pan on April 2 sees them move a comfortable six points above Lewes, with the Sussex side only able to pick up a maximum of nine more points.
Not surprisingly, the relegation-haunted Rooks were the hungrier side against a comfortably mid-table Weston outfit and were a tad unlucky not to take the lead in what was a scrappy first half.
The hosts were unlucky not to have been awarded a first half penalty when Andy Hutchinson was brought down by Martin Slowcombe inside the area, while David Wheeler, Gary Noel and Chris Breach all threatened the visitors’ goal.
Lewes went ahead on 57 minutes following a good spell of possession from the Rooks. A move down the right led to a Gary Noel header being cleared – but only as far as Rory Hill whose speculative shot took a deflection and nestled in the back of the Weston net. Lewes could have doubled their lead three minutes later but Noel’s shot flashed just the wrong side of the post after good build up play between him and Hutchinson.
And moments later the Rooks were made to pay when the Seagulls levelled when a game of head tennis around the Lewes box finally led to Kane Ingram nodding in at the far post.
O’Shea made a full complement of substitutions in the hope of finding a winning goal, with Ishmael Welsh, Ben Hunt and Danny Buckle coming on for Hutchinson, Noel and Hill respectively. And the home support amongst the 656-strong crowd must have thought Buckle had pulled off a super-sub special when he forced the ball home with only a minute of the 90 to play. But the referee had already blown up for an apparent infringement by Joe Dolan, leaving those home fans both dismayed and mystified. It could have got even worse moments later when Weston’s Nat Pepperrell somehow sliced wide when it looked easier to score.
The Rooks travel to Havant & Waterlooville tomorrow (Saturday) before the big Easter Monday clash at the Dripping Pan against fellow strugglers Bishop’s Stortford (kick off 3pm). Before that, Stortford have a chance to pull further ahead of Lewes when they host already relegated St Albans on Saturday. Thurrock, meanwhile, travel to Welling today (Good Friday) before entertaining Ebbsfleet United on Monday.
Lewes boss O’Shea has essentially a full squad to choose from.
LEWES: Winterton, Nelson, Hamilton, Wright, Breach, Dolan, Wheeler, Holness, Hutchinson (Welsh 73), Noel (Hunt 83), Hill (Buckle 83). Unused subs: Barness, Crellin. Booked: Dolan.
REF: C Lymer. ATT: 656.