The Rookettes were left to think on what might have been as Charlton took the spoils in a breathless encounter at Thamesmead.
Lewes, welcoming Charlotte Bennett back from long-term injury but missing defenders Vicky Elcome and Lel Smith, opened the match on the front foot. Charlton struggled to cope with the marauding Sian Heather as Clare Trafford, Catherine O’Hagan and Nikki Payne fed her a series of tempting through-balls.
O’Hagan almost opened the scoring on 12 minutes, her 18 yard strike beating Lynch only to cannon off the cross-bar. Three minutes later Harrison cut loose, rounding Beazley to pull her shot wide with a lone defender on the line. Kelly Newton covered every blade of grass as she drove her side forward, yet Charlton matched the work-rate. On 21 minutes Kit Graham turned her marker, twisting inside to fire low and wide from the edge of the box. Moments later Trafford found Newton on the right, the Lewes skipper’s perfectly weighted strike tipped over by the back-peddling Lynch.
Katie Baker, Newton and O’Hagan fought hard in midfield. McCullock had a shot blocked, Wells released Heather, certain to score until Simmons poked it past her own post. Charlton looked increasingly dangerous on the break. On 33 minutes Simmons sent a free kick high into the six yard area. Graham rose to head past the out-rushing Beazley, following up a goal line clearance with a brave finish in off the right post: 1-0.
Lewes raised the tempo, Heather’s low finish beating Lynch but also the post. Heather latched onto a Simmons back-pass and again beat Lynch, this time with a chip that fell just wide. Charlton continued to create chances, Sam Pittuck heading over on the stroke of half-time.
Charlton came out for part two with the wind at their backs and their tails up. Agnew called for more effort and her team responded, yet Charlton pressed, Graham fizzing in a shot that squirmed under Beazley, the Lewes keeper clawing the ball back off her line.
The game became a mirror of the first half, Charlton looking long, Lewes to counter. On 53 minutes Cath O’Hagan cut inside Rosie Paye on the goal-line. Her cross picked out Heather who’s sliced shot across Lynch was met by Kelly Newton on the charge, sliding the ball home from four yards. 1-1.
Both sides pressed for the lead. O’Hagan played in Heather who was fouled. McIntyre’s free kick dropped for Newton as Lynch pounced. Charlton’s back four stepped up, catching Heather and O’Hagan offside. On 68 minutes the home side regained the lead with a goal worthy of winning any match. Sam Pittuck’s vicious, dipping volley, struck on the run from Paye’s ball over the top, scorched past Beazley, drawing a collective gasp from the crowd. The angle wasn’t as tight but the strike was every bit as clean as Van Basten’s finish v Russia in ‘88.
Lewes continued to play on the break, McCullock and O’Hagan seeking out the tireless Heather, but the offside trap was well-set. As Heather made way for Spice, the visitors’ quest for a leveller inevitably left gaps. On 76 minutes Harrison chased down a long Lynch clearance, her first-time cross leaving Pittuck a far simpler finish. 3-1. With ten minutes to go Payne made way for Bennett before Spice clipped a smart shot over Lynch and onto the roof of the net. The referee capped his performance with a series of harsh hand-ball decisions. First Newton then McIntyre (booked for vocalising her incredulity) were penalised when struck on the arm from close-range. On the stroke of 90 minutes, to the disgust of the locals, he awarded a penalty against the unfortunate Paye for handball as Newton looked to meet McIntyre’s free kick. Up stepped O’Hagan to wrong-foot Lynch. 3-2.
Alas, it proved too little too late and the match ended seconds after the restart.
Afterwards Jacquie Agnew and Dave Cole agreed that a failure to convert early chances had cost the side what would have been a deserved point from an excellent contest.
MvP: Kelly Newton
Lewes: Beazley, McIntyre, Palmer, Wells, Baker, Newton, McCullock, Payne (Bennett 80), Trafford, O’Hagan, Heather (Spice 72)
Charlton: Lynch, Houlihan (Hardaker 69), Simmons, Paye, Flack, Coombs (Singyard 63), Clifford, Hyland, Harrison (Ibrahim 84), Graham, Pittuck.
Report by @Rookmeister