Cardiff City harboured hopes of a smash and grab to extend their title hopes into the final weekend but were swept away at an emotional Dripping Pan.
Mathematically still in the hunt (as Gillingham were going down to Coventry) the visitors from Wales met a Lewes team in mean mood.
Their last six results – WWWDWW – put the Rookettes firmly on top of the form guide. With an eight point gap between themselves and Brighton, Lewes also bagged the bragging rights as the top team in Sussex.
Cardiff didn’t stand a chance. Having announced days earlier that, after twelve remarkable years at the helm, she was to move up to oversee girl’s and women’s development at the club, manager Jacqui Agnew called on her team to focus on the job in hand. After some cagey early exchanges Lewes took a firm grip on the game, Katie ‘Freddie’ Baker commanding the midfield, allowing skipper Kelly Newton to link up with the marauding Bennett and ever-nimble Trafford. On 25 minutes Cardiff got in behind. Kirstie Spice, on the left of an attacking three but covering every blade, timed her challenge to perfection. From Cardiff corner Payne found Trafford who attacked Townsend to win a corner for Lewes. Cardiff struggled to clear as the ball ricocheted around the six yard box before Spice stepped in to hammer past Dando. 1-0.
Lewes upped the anti. Trafford played a delightful overhead into the path of the rampaging Spice, Cousins diving in to clear off her toes. On 35 minutes Baker, picking Cardiff pockets at will, slipped a pinpoint pass to Spice who met it with a cushioned volley over Dando and off the top of the crossbar. Cardiff fashioned a chance but found the ever-reliable Beazley equal to the shot, Green’s follow-up skewed well wide. Just before the break Lewes produced the best move of the match, stringing sharp first-time passes through the Cardiff defence. Nikki Payne raced in to finish but saw her shot flash just the wrong side of the post. HT 1-0.
Cardiff started better in part two, Green wasting a good chance before Beazley dropped like a hawk onto Cousins’ sharp drive. Vicky Elcome tackled back to concede a corner that bounced off the near post and into Beazley’s grateful arms. Agnew called for ‘a little bit more’ and her players responded. Skipper Kelly Newton put in a typically robust challenge, fed Trafford whose clever lay-off set Payne clear, thwarted by another desperate challenge. There was no stopping Charlotte Bennett’s perfect lob moments later, the crowd rising to acclaim the finish. As the ball hit the back of the net she raced thirty yards to embrace her manager. It was the perfect moment for the occasion, one to break Cardiff hearts and melt those in the stands.
Lewes stood firm as the visitors pressed in the last ten minutes. An injury time consolation goal couldn’t dampen the spirits, the home players rushing to the bench at the final whistle. FT 2-1. Agnew gave a typically professional summary in her final post-match before thanking the players for a ‘best ever’ season. Following a Lucozade shower and a Champagne rinse, the Lewes manager left the field under a guard of honour, applause ringing in her ears, smile a mile wide. She left as she arrived twelve years ago, a born winner.
There is now a rather large pair of boots to fill at Lewes Ladies FC.
Lewes: Beazley, McIntyre, Wells, Palmer, Elcome, Newton, Bennett (Carter 85), Baker, Trafford Jones 90), Payne, Spice (Heather 75)
Sub not used: Dawson
Cardiff: Dando, Cousins, Townsend, Daley (S. Williams 64), Hutton, K. Green, Aldridge, M. Green, Lloyd (Atkins 75), C. Williams, Clipston (Mills 84)
Subs not used: Atkins, Pritchard