Rooks earn battling point away to Dorset Magpies

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A battling Lewes performance saw the Rooks earn a potentially vital point away at Dorchester as the fight to avoid the drop from Blue Square Bet South enters its final, desperate stretch.

In a scrappy but entertaining affair at the Magpies’ impressive Avenue Stadium, Lewes boss Tim O’Shea named the same starting line-up in successive games for the first time this season.

A sunny Dorset day inspired both teams into a bright start, with both goalmouths seeing plenty of action. Rooks forward Rory Hill went close when denied by Dorchester keeper Dan Thomas, while at the other end Steve Devlin fired over the crossbar and Ryan Moss headed wide from a Devlin corner.

Thomas then saved a Chris Breach header, before Andy Hutchinson, missed a great chance on 18 minutes, breaking clear of the defence but shooting wide with just the keeper to beat.

The ball by this stage began to spend more time in the air than on the turf as both teams adopted a long ball strategy. But that didn’t impact on the goalmouth opportunities.

The hosts came mightily close just past the half hour when Reece Connelly first saw an effort come back off the post, then watched as his shot from the rebound blocked by Lewes keeper Chris Winterton.

The Rooks custodian was on call again moments when he was forced to palm away an effort from James Coutts, with Breach then clearing away Coutts’ second, goal-bound, attempt.

But despite these near-misses for the hosts, the best chance of the first half fell to the visitors two minutes before the break. Forward Gary Noel’s shot was stopped by Thomas but the Magpies keeper could only deflect the ball into the patch of Hutchinson; however, the 19-year-old loanee from Lincoln spurned his second great chance of the game when he headed over from all of six yards, with the travelling fans poised to celebrate.

And despite a number of chances the other side of the break, neither side could break the deadock in the second period.

For the home side, Coutts and substitute Jamie Symes shot over the bar, before Winterton saved from Moss, while at the other end Thomas blocked Noel’s shot and David Wheeler hit wide having done well to create the chance for himself.

With less than 10 minutes to go, Lewes defender Mitchell Nelson was caught napping by Moss but again the Magpies man put his opportunity wide of the post. Before time was up, Dorchester’s Pat O’Connor’s shot and Lewes’ Wheeler’s both managed to put further chances wide. Only time will tell how wide of the survival mark this away point will leave strugglers Lewes.

The battle to avoid the two remaining relegation spots – with rock-bottom St Albans City now doomed following their failed bid to overturn their 10 points penalty on April Fools’Day – looks now to be fought between a miminum of four teams. Lewes (32 from 38 of 42 games) and Maidenhead United (30 points from 37 games) are the two currently occupying the two drop zone places, while the two teams most vulnerable above the dreaded line are Thurrock, in 19th place (35 points from 38 games) and 18th placed Bishop’s Stortford (36 points from 38 games).

Fifteenth-placed Hampton & Richmond (39 from 37 games; Hampton play their game in hand away at Havant & Waterlooville tonight, Monday April 11, 7.45pm), 16th Dorchester Town (39 from 38 games) and 17th Boreham Wood (38 from 38 games) could still mathematically be drawn into a relegation battle but would necessitate Lewes to pick up at least seven or eight points from their remaining four games. Lewes fans will hope that is the case.

MAGPIES: Thomas, Critchell, Martin, Jermyn, Walker, Bergqvist (Symes 52), Bowles, Connolly, Moss, Coutts (Flood 72 (Smeeton 90), Devlin. Unused: Frampton, Coward

ROOKS: Winterton, Nelson, Hamilton, Wright, Breach, Dolan, Wheeler, O’Connor, Hutchinson (Hunt 64), Noel, Hill (Holness 87). Unused: Barness, Welsh, Buckle.

REF: A Hopkins. ATT: 438.