Lewes FC Ladies delivered a master-class in team defending and clinical finishing as they strode into the 3rd round of the SSE Womens FA Cup.
Cardiff were on a 13 match unbeaten run, the only league points dropped on this same ground on the opening day of the season.
Lewes manager John Donoghue set his team up to blend defensive steel with attacking guile and tenacity. Any ideas the visitors had about an easy ride were gone by half-time. Cool finishes from Rebecca Carter and Leeta Rutherford, after good work from the superb Katie McIntyre, saw the home side 2-0 up at the break.
Cardiff were gifted a gilt-edged chance to take the lead in the 17th minute. Lewes ‘keeper Lauren Dolbear cleared the ball to the unmarked Chloe Chivers. Despite Hayley West’s best efforts to cover, Chivers raced into the area only to skew her shot wide. Lewes counter-attacked with speed and precision, Carter racing onto a smart pass from Rutherford to slot home past Laura O’Sullivan. 1-0.
Cardiff struggled to find their rhythm, as McIntyre and Rutherford ran the midfield. Lewes defended from the front, Carter closing down across the pitch, Bridges working her socks off to disrupt her opponents with Dani Lane and Sian Heather backing up. One crunching Bridges tackle on Hannah Miles will live long in the memory.
With half an hour gone Chivers was played in by the industrious Abbie Britton. Again her early effort span wide of Dolbear’s goal. As Cardiff built from the back McIntyre stepped in to steal the ball, picking out an inch-perfect pass for Rutherford who charged into the area to finished calmly past O’Sullivan. 2-0.
Cardiff won a series of corners but failed to penetrate. Two minutes from the break Chivers found herself free on the left. She put her laces through the ball, on target, only to find Dolbear well set to save at her near post. HT 2-0.
The Bluebirds emerged for the second half with renewed purpose. They found a yard of pace and an accuracy of pass that had Lewes on their heels for the opening few minutes.
But Lewes were prepared. With McIntyre and Rutherford winning the midfield battles, Dolbear and her back four stood firm. Led by the commanding Tammy Waine, Hayley West, Rachel Palmer and Claire Capon repelled all borders. As Cardiff increased their work-rate, adding neat, close passing around the box, so Lewes matched them.
It wasn’t all one-way traffic. Carter continued to work well with Bridges, Lane and Sian Heather, to keep the visitors occupied in defence. Carter ran down every ball. With Bridges tearing into the Cardiff defenders, the Bluebirds looked long, seeking out Chivers, Suominen and Cori Williams. They found Waine and Palmer ready and waiting.
When Cardiff did make headway, Dolbear came into her own with a fine performance, taking a number of dangerous crosses, saving well from Miles and making a brave intervention on Suominen, forcing the Cardiff striker to hook her shot over the bar. FT 2-0.
Lewes manager John Donoghue was full of praise for his team.
‘We’ve struggled to get a run of fixtures. The season has been stop-start for us, so it’s credit to the players that they have managed a performance like this.
Cardiff’s form has been fantastic, they haven’t lost a game in the league. It’s a good team in front of you so I was really pleased.’
Cardiff boss Gary Green appeared at a loss to explain his side’s inability to match their opponent.
‘Fair play to Lewes. They kept at it and they deserved to win the game. Did we do enough to win the game? Definitely not. We were outfought today, which is not something I’ve often said about this team.’
MvP: Lewes ‘keeper Lauren Dolbear. Recovered well after an early scare to give her best performance of the season.
Special mention for Leeta Rutherford, head and shoulders the best outfield player on the park.
Lewes: Lauren Dolbear, Claire Capon, Rachel Palmer, Katie McIntyre, Tammy Waine, Hayley West, Sian Heather, Leeta Rutherford, Rebecca Carter, Dani Lane, Georgia Bridges
Subs: Charlie Carter, Paige Walder, Rebecca Thompson, Kim Stenning
Cardiff: Laura O’Sullivan, Shaunna Jenkins, Gemma Evans, Abbie Britton, Hannah Miles, Michelle Green, Emikly Allen, Chloe Chivers, Kerry Bartlett, Hope Suominen, Cori Williams
Subs: Laura Williams, Ella Powell, Ffion Llewellyn