Lewes Men’s first team reached their first ever National Cup final with a dramatic semi final win over Banbury on Sunday.
The semi final had drawn these two sides together, both from the South Premier Division 2, and Banbury had been the form side in the second half of the season climbing from a relegation position up to fourth place. The early exchanges showed why. Banbury were quicker and sharper and within two minutes a static Lewes defence had allowed a hit into the circle to be deflected in for the first goal and after five minutes it was 2-0 as an aerial ball caught the Lewes defence square and goalkeeper Rory Jervis was adjudged to have fouled the oncoming forward as he tried to go round him with the resulting penalty stroke calmly dispatched.
The game looked all over to the celebrating home supporters but Lewes are made of sterner stuff these days and this cup run had taken them to Truro and Jersey already and they did not want to waste this opportunity to get to their first final.
Led by skipper Matt Clark they regrouped and got back into the game winning the midfield battles and putting pressure on the home defence. A Lewes penalty corner resulted in shouts for a penalty stroke for a block tackle turned down by the umpire and three more penalty corners were cleared as Lewes strived to get back into the match. The umpires were harsh on any mistimed tackles by both sides and Lewes were down to ten men at one stage in the first half.
Lewes needed to score the next goal to have any chance of progressing and ten minutes into the second half they deservedly got it.
Michael Newman in midfield was increasingly influencing Lewes’ attacks and a move down the left wing saw Dave Roberts’ cross deftly deflected into goal by young Ollie Baxter.
Banbury were soon down to 10 men as Lewes encamped in their half, but it took a brave goalline clearance at the other end by Jack Fox after a Banbury breakaway to prevent them stretching their lead.
Midway through the half, Alex Warner converted a penalty corner for Lewes with a drag flick high into the net to equalise. Lewes then let frustration get the better of them with another mistimed tackle and dissent seeing in them briefly down to nine men.
Banbury made them pay by converting a penalty corner to lead 3-2 with 10 minutes left and, as Lewes pushed players forward in the final minutes, they were indebted to goalkeeper Rory Jervis who made successive instinctive saves.
With just two minutes remaining Clark released Oli Callf down the right and his pinpoint cross was converted by Roberts to take the match into golden goal extra time.
This saw both sides push for the crucial goal and, with five minutes gone, Lewes got it when defender Tom Stratford found himself at the top of the circle – and his first time shot into the bottom of the goal sparked scenes of celebration for a Lewes side who had even surprised themselves with their comeback.
The Banbury manager awarded Clark the man of the match award and Lewes will now play in the showpiece Senior Men’s Finals day on Saturday May 4, travelling this time to Wakefield Hockey Club to play Guernsey.
The final will be before the main National Cup final involving two Premier League sides, so it is an opportunity for Lewes to show, in front of a large crowd, just how far the club has come in recent years.
Before that – with the fixture pile-up caused by the bad weather – they travel to Marlow in a rearranged final league game tonight (Fri) before playing the semi final of the Sussex Cup at home to Brighton on Saturday, 1.30pm.
With two matches in less than 24 hours, Lewes’ squad will be put to the test – especially against Brighton who are celebrating promotion to the National League. Lewes start as underdogs and know they cannot afford to concede early against a strong Brighton side if they want to reach the final for a third straight year.
Above: front row (l to r): Matt Rickson, Alex Warner, Dave Roberts, Tom Stratford, Matt Clark, Ollie Baxter. Back row: Chris Spruce, Mike Newman, Tom Newman, Jack Fox, Matt Needle, Harry Heitman, Oli Callf, Rory Jervis. Coach: Mo Rahman.