LEWES’ dreams of christening the new Amex Stadium ended on Wednesday night in a disappointing night for the Rooks at the Dripping Pan.
Brighton & Hove Albion’s reserve side narrowly saw off Lewes in the last eight of a Sussex Senior Cup tie that saw both sides reduced to 10 men – although the hosts had spent a good hour of the match with a man disadvantage before Albion saw their man sent off. Lewes manager Tim O’Shea made several changes to the side that contested Saturday’s disappointing 3-0 loss to Dartford, with Chris Winterton returning in goal after a one-match ban, and Rory Hill and new signing Pat O’Connor also coming into the starting XI.
The Rooks lined up against a side containing former loan signings Grant Hall and George Barker, as well the experienced Gary Hart, as the hosts took a breather from their relegation dogfight at the foot of the Blue Square Bet South table. But O’Shea’s side got off to the worst possible start when Ryan Simmonds crossed from the right wing for the advancing Leon Redwood, who volleyed through the legs of Winterton.
The young visiting side controlled possession well under the gaze of Gus Poyet who was watching from the stands, and managed to prevent Lewes from creating any real penetration into the 18-yard box.
It left the Rooks relying on fashioning chances from set plays, one of which was won by David Wheeler who was tripped just as he looked set to breach the Seagulls backline.
Jermaine Wright whipped in the free kick, and skipper Chris Breach did well to rescue the ball from under his own feet before firing wide of Mitchell Walker’s right-hand post.
The home side were narrowly denied a huge slice of luck when Redwood almost lashed O’Connor’s cross into his own net, but tempers began to boil over just before the break.
O’Connor and Agustin Battipiedi squared up after a challenge and appeared to throw their heads towards each other, before Battipiedi then fell to the ground. The referee left many of the home fans confounded as he chose to send off O’Connor but allow Battipedi to escape with just a booking for his part in the fracas.
Minutes later the Rooks were harshly denied a penalty when Gary Noel looked to have been wrestled down by Hall just inside the box, but a free kick was awarded on the edge of the area, which came to nothing as the half concluded.
Brighton appeared content to stroke the ball around the pitch during the second period, despite their man advantage, and were subjected to jeers from the home support every time the ball found itself back to Walker in the visitors’ goal.
The game opened up in the final 10 minutes after Battipiedi was sent off after receiving a second yellow card after crashing into Wheeler, and the home fans did their best to roar the contest into extra time.
A flurry of corners during five minutes of stoppage time nearly drew a spectacular climax when Winterton came up and almost connected with Andy Pearson’s flick-on, but Brighton held on to progress.
Albion now face Horsham in the semi-final – with that dream incentive of a final appearance at the Seagulls’ brand new stadium at Falmer still alive for its owners.
Meanwhile, Lewes thoughts return to less fanciful – but more important – matters tomorrow (Saturday) when the Rooks host rock-bottom Blue Square South side Maidenhead United in a crunch match as both teams bid to avoid the drop.
O’Shea’s men will by then have heard the outcome of St Albans City’s appeal – scheduled for today – against the 10-point deduction handed down to them by the FA for financial irrgularities.
But regardless of that appeal decision, the Rooks will desperately want to narrow the gap on the teams just above of the BSBS drop zone – Thurrock and Bishop’s Stortford – who currently stand four and five points ahead of the Sussex outfit respectively. The game kicks off at the Dripping Pan at 3pm and a large crowd is anticipated as the Rooks look to take another huge step on the road to a second successive dramatic and heroic escape from relegation.
ROOKS: Winterton, Barness (Green 67), Hamilton, Pearson, Breach, Wheeler, Hill (Welsh 83), Wright (Crellin 61), Noel, O’Connor, Holness. Unused Subs: Hunt, Freeman. Booked: Hill. Sent Off: O’Connor.
SEAGULLS: Walker, Cook, Redwood, Kasim, Hall, Dunk, Battipedi, Cristian, Barker (Agdestein 56), Hart (Smith 79), Simmonds. Booked: Battipedi, Hall. Sent Off: Battipedi. REF: W Atkin. ATT: 540.