Three rounds, three replays, three victories. The FA Cup campaign went exactly to plan once again at the Dripping Pan on Wednesday night, when Rooks completed an exciting 2-1 win over Kings Langley.
In each round of this season’s competition, Rooks have brought opponents back for a replay and clinically finished the job – 8-1 over Molesey, then a thrilling penalty shoot-out against Farnborough, and now a battle royal against the Kings.
Saturday’s first meeting in Hertfordshire had finished 1-1, and this one proved just as tight. Rooks were never quite at their fluent best, but the commitment of Darren Freeman’s side was terrific, and on a chill night the home supporters warmed to their heroes.
SEE ALSO Speedway: Eagles set for semi-final showdown against Kent | England cricketer in the running for manager's job at Sussex football club? | Keeper Carey the hero as Lewes make it through in FA Cup | Lewes boss Darren Freeman: ‘This league is relentless’
The visitors were quicker out of the blocks, attacking with pace and purpose, and it took a superb save by Lewis Carey, from danger man Steve Ward, to prevent an early Kings lead. Ward, quick as a greyhound and snappy as a terrier, drew yellow cards for James Hammond and Leon Redwood, and there was an unusual edginess about Rooks for much of the first half-hour.
But on 33 minutes Kings keeper Martin Bennett stretched to clutch at a Jonte Smith header but only managed to bring down the nippy Sam Karl. Referee James Simpson - who handled a sparky game intelligently all night – pointed straight to the penalty spot and Smith put Rooks ahead from 12 yards in front of a roaring Philcox Stand.
The buoyant visitors suddenly looked as deflated as an air mattress, and four minutes after half-time they were flattened by a second Lewes goal, Hammond drilling a low direct free-kick just inside the left post. 2-0, and in control – or so we thought.
But just two minutes later the Kings were back in it. Towering defender Callum Adebiyi, up for a right-wing corner, rose majestically to head home. Briefly, but only briefly, Lewes wobbled.
But with Steve Brinkhurst and skipper Frankie Chappell unflinching at centre-back, the visitors could not rediscover the sharpness of their dominant early phase, and if anything, it was Rooks who had the better scoring chances. Jonte Smith, tireless and inventive up front, was thwarted twice by fine goalkeeping and he struck another stylish volley just wide.
The minutes drained away, with Rooks slightly guilty of giving possession away rather than running the game down, but there were no late dramatics and the final whistle brought a roar of triumph – and relief. The reward is a long trip to National South Bath City on October 6th – but keep your diaries free, folks, just in case of another replay….
Lewes: Carey, Dome-Bemwyn, Chappell, Brinkhurst, Redwood; Lawson, Hammond, Darbyshire (Medhurst 86), Cotton; Smith, Karl.
Referee: James Mitchell Att: 364