LEWES were cruelly denied the chance of a Sussex Senior Cup semi-final berth when they suffered injury time heartache against local rivals Eastbourne Borough on Wednesday night.
The Rooks, in the words of their caretaker manger Simon Wormull, “battered” their Blue Squre South visitors in this quarter final clash, but were ultimately defeated thanks to a stoppage time winner from Ben Watson.
Lewes outplayed their higher division opponents and definitely deserved to win, but missed chances again cost them. Rooks’ transfer-listed forward Michael Malcolm was superb all over the pitch – except in front of goal, where he again saw chance after chance to astray.
Lewes had a great chance to score on five minutes when Ian Draycott just failed to connect with a pull back from a deep Malvin Kamara cross. Christian Nanetti then blasted the loose ball into the side netting.
New Rooks keeper Pawel Szelemej did well in his first call into action for the club when he came out quickly to deny Ollie Rowe on eight minutes.
On 25 minutes, Borough player/captain/manager Ben Austin had to go off the pitch briefly after going down following a challenge. He was replaced by fellow Sports stalwart Matt Smart 10 minutes later.
Malcolm missed a glorious chance on 41 minutes when he aimed a Kamara header straight onto the post when totally marked six yards out, the Boro keeper totally flat-footed.
And two minutes later Malcom saw an effort dribble agonisingly towards the Sports goal after the striker had beaten Clark Masters to the ball on the edge of the 18-yard box. He could only look on in frustration as Borough veteran and club legend raced back to the clear the ball off the line.
Szelemej was less impressive at the start of the second half when hesitation allowed Watson to beat him to the ball six yards out. However, Watson’s dink past the Lewes keeper was cleared off the line by Max Hustwick.
Matt Crabb then opened the scoring on 56 minutes with a beauty – but in a moment when Szelemej showed the best and worst of his fledgling Rooks form. The keeper had done well to collect his own unconvincing clearance punch. But then his attempt to set Nanetti free on the left was scuppered when his throw fell woefully short and was picked up by Crabb 40 yards out.
And the left-footed Sports veteran made no mistake with a lovely lob over the Polish stopper.
Lewes equalised four minutes later when Paul Booth blasted a perfect penalty into the roof of the net when Nanetti was upended by Masters.
Borough could have regained their lead within seconds when Watson’s stinging shot from the right hand side pinged back off the post.
Malcolm came close to scoring again on 66 minutes when Sam Cole blocked his shot from 12 yards after the transfer listed striker had done well to cut inside from a ball over the top.
Sports missed a gilt-edged chance to pull ahead again with 15 minutes to go, but Matt Smart somehow blazed over from six yards when the net was gaping.
But the visitors sealed the tie in dramatic fashion when, following some lovely keep-ball a lá Swansea City in their own half, Eastbourne launched a ball down the ,left where Carl Rook sent an early ball into the box. The otherwise excellent Nic Ciardini should have made sure his clearance from the six-yard line went out of the park... however it went straight to the dangerous Watson, who made no mistake with a driven shot into the far bottom corner.
A disappointed but far from downheartened Wormull said straight after the game: “I just said to the boys that I’m so proud of them because, even in the two weeks I’ve been with them they’ve come on leaps and bounds.
“We absolutely – maybe more the first half – battered a Blue Square South side, and but for us taking our chances we could have been out of sight, to be honest.
See tomorrow’s Sussex Express for more reaction from Wormull