LEWES returned from a foggy and freezing Dover having found themselves on the wrong end of a 4-0 beating on Tuesday.
Tim O’Shea’s men more than matched their Crabble hosts in terms of passing and possession but simply lacked the necessary penetration in front of goal to trouble Martin Hayes’ outfit. And much like a boxer with good technical skills but lacking in a knockout blow, the Rooks were simply worn down by a team superior in putting the ball into the back of the net.
The Whites’ duo of Harry Baker and particularly Adam Birchall (who bagged a brace apiece) were a cut above anyone else on the pitch – although the Rooks newest centre half pairing of Tom Hutchinson and debutant John Scarborough more than held their own for large swathes of the game and didn’t deserve to have a four-goal defecit registered against them.
And O’Shea certainly wasn’t helped by having two other centre halves – in Chris Breach and Andy Pearson – in the centre of midfield, although the pair competed well despite lacking a creative edge.
O’Shea also wasn’t helped by seeing his side concede before the first minute was out – when Whites top scorer Birchall played in Baker and the attacking winger drilled in a shot from the right that seared past goalkeeper Chris Winterton.
Despite the disastrous start, Lewes recovered well and indeed dominated proceeding for the next few minutes and looked to get the ball in behind their opponents on both flanks, to David Wheeler and Sonny Cobbs on the right and left respectively. George Porter, meanwhile, was looking to cause Dover trouble in a more central attacking position – but for all their individual industry, nothing of real note was created to trouble former Eastbourne Borough keeper Lee Hook (deputising for the Whites regular No.1 Ross Flitney).
Dover, meanwhile, always looked dangerous on the break and should have doubled their lead on 23 minutes when Baker’s defence splitting pass found Birchall, whose shot was saved by the legs of Winterton.
They did double their lead five minutes before the break though. Birchall and Baker (who seemed to be involved in evertything positive Dover did) had both seen further shots blocked when Birchall stormed down the left and crossed to the edge of the box, where Baker belted in a shot that flashed past Winterton before he could react. The Rooks keeper may question whether he could have got his hands up quicker to block the shot, which entered the goal in a very central position but, to use cricketing parlance, he was probably beaten for pace.
Baker still had a chance to secure a hat-trick before half time, while Lewes came close to pulling one back when Porter his the base of the post from a tight angle, but it remained 2-0 at the interval.
As the match progressed in the second half, Lewes’ hopes of avoiding defeat looked increasing dependent on the freezing fog descending causing an abandonment.
The visitors were fortunate not to see a penalty given for a heavy challenge through the back of Donovan Simmonds in the box just before the hour mark.
But not long after that the points were secured (notwithstanding any interference from the weather) when Baker crossed for Birchall who swivelled from seven yards before smashing the ball into the roof of the net. It was Birchall’s 23rd goal of the season and once again both he and Baker were involved in its creation.
The morale of the Lewes players was to take another beating just before the end when, with three minutes to go, referee Mr Lee Venamore gave a soft-looking penalty for a Pearson challenge on Birchall in the area. Even from the penalty spot, Birchall and Baker somehow managed to combine to score – as they had for the other three goals. Baker – with a chance to seal a hat-trick – saw his shot from 12 yards saved well by Winterton. But the ball pinged back to you-know-who, and Birchall coolly slotted the rebound into the back of the net.
The result meant Dover – who had not kept a clean sheet in the league since August – moved into fourth spot in the Blue Square Bet South, while Lewes had to endure the ignomony of dropping back into the relegation places because their goal difference was now worse than Thurrock, who did not play. Lewes won’t have been helped by the inactivity of not playing a competitive fixture since November, coincidentally against Thurrock, although Dover themselves hadn’t played since December 11, a 2-2 draw against Maidenhead United. O’Shea will be hoping this run out will have helped when Lewes take on Ebbsfleet United away in another tough-looking fixture on New Year’s Day.
Dover: Hook, Fish, Wynter, Wallis (Cutler 49), Schulz, Gillman, Baker, I’Anson, Simmonds (Hunt 85), Birchall, Cogan (Long 70).
Lewes: Winterton, Barness (Green 45), Hamilton (Murphy), Breach (Olima 58), Hutchinson, Scarborough, Wheeler, Pearson, Porter, Godfrey, Cobbs.
REF: Mr Lee Venamore. ATT: 1,018.