Lewes boosted their hopes of avoiding relegation from Blue Square Bet South with a welcome if uninspiring victory over fellow strugglers Maidenhead United.
In a hard-fought but scrappy affair at the Dripping Pan, the hosts earned themselves a vital three points thanks to a penalty scored deep into first half injury time by Gary Noel, after debutant (a 19-year-old deadline day loan signing from Lincoln) Andy Hutchinson was brought down by Mark Nisbet in the box.
Both sides tried hard to create chances but struggled to create any genuine goalscoring opportunities.
The Rooks’ first attempt came midway through the first half but David Wheeler’s header went straight at former Lewes keeper Steve Williams.
Another former Rook, Jefferson Louis, could have opened the scoring for the Magpies when he held off central defender Joe Dolan to shoot but his effort went over the bar, before Anthony Thomas struck wide for the visitors.
But it was the hosts who finished the stronger, culminating in the spot kick that would eventually separate the teams.
The second half was as disjointed as the first, with few moments in front of either goal. Louis again went close for Maidenhead while 21-year-old Nelson, another deadline day loan signing from Bournemouth, came close from a free kick.
Yet another deadline day loanee, Danny Buckle, in from Walton Casuals, spurned a final chance to score for Lewes, but the all-important points were Tim O’Shea’s men at the final whistle.
Josh Wills was O’Shea’s fourth signing on deadline day. The Sidley United man will provide cover for goalkeeper Chris Winterton.
Saturday’s win ensures Lewes are still very much in touch with the teams just above them in the league. The Rooks (currently filling the final relegation place at 20th in the table) are now on 31 points from 37 games, while Bishop’s Stortford, one place higher just out of the drop zone, are on 33 points from 36 games after losing 2-0 at Dover Athletic on Saturday. Thurrock opened up some space for themselves in 18th with a 3-0 home win over Weston-super-Mare. Maidenhead, meanhile, now lie five points behind Lewes, although they have two games in hand on the Rooks. St Albans City now look doomed after their failed April Fools’ Day appeal against their 10-point deduction for financial irregularities sees them rock bottom on 20 points.
Lewes travel to Dorchester on Saturday to take on the other team in Blue Square Bet South with Magpies as their nickname. The Dorset side are only four places above the Rooks in the league, but their last-gasp equaliser away to the faltering league leaders, Braintree Town, on Saturday sees them a relatively comfortable seven points clear of the drop zone with six games to play.
Lewes’ four remaining games after that are against 13th-placed Weston-super-Mare, away on Saturday April 16, ninth-placed Havant & Waterlooville on Saturday, April 23, a potentially crucial home game with Bishop’s Stortford on Easter Monday (April 25) and finally away to 17th-placed Boreham Wood in Saturday April 30.