Lewes FC in Europe: Rooks off to Italy after Fenix Trophy triumph

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Lewes manager Tony Russell hopes his side’s commanding 4-0 Fenix Trophy win over KSK Beveren can be a ‘turning point’ in a season that will now finish in Italian sunshine.

The Rooks were in full flow at the Dripping Pan against their Belgian visitors to secure the top spot in the Fenix Trophy’s Group D and with it a place in the competition’s finals in Italy in May.

In truth, they only had one Beveren chance to survive in the game and were otherwise in full control against a young and physically inferior Belgian sixth-tier outfit.

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With six changes from their win at Horsham the previous weekend, Russell’s starting XI included returns for Tommy Wood (injury), Ronnie Vint (suspension) and Luke Dreher (re-signed on loan from Wealdstone), while Jack Leahy made his first start out wide.

Lewes and KSK Beveren fans enjoy the action | Picture: James BoyesLewes and KSK Beveren fans enjoy the action | Picture: James Boyes
Lewes and KSK Beveren fans enjoy the action | Picture: James Boyes

None of these alterations seemed to upset the Rooks’ rhythm, however, when they seized momentum from the outset.

After Marcus Sablier and Ola Ogunwamide fired early shots wide, in the fourth minute the opener arrived courtesy of Arthur Penney, who scrambled in on the line after Beveren goalkeeping coach – and stand-in starter – Ruben Smet fumbled.

Ogunwamide was a constant danger from the right in the early stages and could’ve made it 2-0 as a brilliant cross made it to the far post in the 12th minute, only to poke wide.

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In a high-octane opening period, Beveren responded with an excellent chance of their own for Jim Van Ossselaer, who was unlucky to come up against a razor-sharp Nathan Harvey as he met Jari Cockheijt’s cross but was foiled at point-blank range.

With Lewes seizing control again, Ogunwamide went close with another close-range chance after a brilliant chop inside and also set up Wood for a stab wide.

The first half slowed after the midway point, however, and an Ogunwamide blaze over the bar represented the best chance of the remaining minutes as Beveren also lost striker Pedro Da Silva to injury.

In a pre-meditated move, Lewes withdrew Dreher after the interval as Jake Elliott came on and Penney shifted into midfield, and this added solidity encouraged others to push on.

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The previously quiet Kieran Murtagh was a big beneficiary and had the first chance of the half as he curled in a low free-kick and forced Smet to tip wide.

Penney headed against the post from the resulting corner, while Lewes kept up the pressure as Vint – of all players – found himself in a great position to shoot from Sablier’s incisive pass but directed the ball wide.

In the 57th minute, the hosts’ second goal finally arrived through Ogunwamide, who found a yard of space in a busy box after another set-piece and blasted at goal, with his strike taking a deflection to loop over Smet.

The Rooks were not done there, and Wood fired at goal a minute later to draw a save before Penney headed another chance wide.

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Beveren’s youthful side were powerless to resist this onslaught as their lightweight attack were constantly muscled off the ball, but their fans would not stop encouraging them.

As the attendance was announced as just under 1,000, there was to be more to cheer for those of a Lewes persuasion as Sablier took aim and fired past a prone Smet in the Beveren goal for the Rooks’ third goal after 77 minutes.

With Smet taken off as a result, his replacement Mauro De Vylder had the tough task of resisting an endless Lewes charge in the late stages but did well to deny Ayo Olukuga after the Lewes man was slipped through by neat Murtagh footwork.

In the 84th minute, however, substitute Ryan Gondoh added a fourth Lewes goal as he was played in by a lovely through ball and turned a Beveren defender inside-out before caressing a finish into the bottom left corner.

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The result was very much sorted at this stage, but a tasty interchange between Penney and Gondoh almost brought about a fifth goal before cries of ‘ole’ rang out for every Lewes pass in added time.

Lewes could reflect on a fine night’s work upon full-time as they went unassailably top of the Fenix Trophy’s Group D with nine points and just a trip to FC Oslo on 20 March to come before the Finals in Italy.

Speaking after the match, boss Russell said: “I’m delighted. It was a tricky game as we made a few changes. In the first half in general, I thought we were a little bit lethargic in what we did. We still controlled it and were deservedly in front, but at half-time, we spoke about upping the tempo and moving the ball quicker, and once we did that we ran away with the game.”

Though a young Beveren side, who compete in the First Provincial League of East Flanders, was outclassed by a physically superior outfit, it was a night where both teams could be proud. The Beveren fans chanted tirelessly and were in fine spirits after a second half spent mixing with Lewes supporters, creating an atmosphere that exemplified the best of the Fenix Trophy.

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On his side’s involvement this season, Russell said: “Initially, it was a distraction from the league, an unknown and [a bit of] ‘let’s have a go’. Going away to Belgium in December really helped our season. It bonded us.

“It’s an opportunity to do something different. I’ve never been to Oslo. In early May, we’re going to Italy. We’ve now got two games in Italy [in the Finals].”

Though their ticket is punched to go to an as-yet-unannounced Italian location in May, Lewes have more pressing concerns this weekend.

Fifteenth-placed Canvey Island are the visitors this Saturday (March 2) for a huge game, which the Rooks go into just four points outside the play-off places.

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“We’re hoping that this is a turning point of our season to set up a really exciting end,” said Russell. “We’re back in on Thursday with plenty of work to do. [Canvey] play a different shape to normal so we need a bit of work to round that off.

“It’s great [this win] – enjoy it – but we’ve got a massive game on Saturday and we’ve got to get three points and keep moving up the table. It’s an exciting eight weeks towards the end of the season and going into this competition’s finals.”

Lewes FC: Harvey; Olukoga, Vint, Penney, Oguntayo; Murtagh, Dreher (Elliott, 46’); Ogunwamide, Sablier, Leahy (Gondoh, 76’); Wood

Unused: Ming, Pritchard, Lumbumbo-Kalala

KSK Beveren: R. Smet (De Vylder, 79’); De Pauw, Van Lockeren, Van Vooren, Huygens; Van Osselaer (Dhooge, 66’), Schelfhout, Van Roeyen; Cockheijt, Da Silva (N. Smet, 45+1’), Van Der Reysen (Van Den Broecke, 76’). Unused: Balogun

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