Lewes started their day like a fairytale as they entered the Amex for their Sussex Senior Cup final with Whitehawk last Saturday, but three quick fire first-half strikes saw the Rooks suffer a five-goal defeat.
The Rooks started the game as underdogs having needed to win their last league game of the season to ensure they avoid relegation from Ryman Premier, whilst Whitehawk just failed to achieve promotion to the Conference Premier after losing to Boreham Wood in the Conference South play-off final.
Unsurprisingly, it was Whitehawk who started the brighter and saw Nick Arnold force a smart save from Rikki Banks after cutting in from the right, before Jordan Rose sent a powerful header from a Scott Neilson cross just wide. Lewes were defending relatively well though, and were not allowing Whitehawk’s dangerous attacking players to get in behind them and create too many clear-cut opportunities.
This changed after 29 minutes however, as Danny Mills gave Whitehawk the lead, reacting quickest after Banks had made a superb save from a looping Jake Robinson header to finish from close range. Whitehawk doubled their lead just six minutes later, as Rose headed an Arnold free-kick from the right past Banks and into the bottom corner.
The impressive contingent of Rooks fans who had made the short journey to Falmer were not happy with the awarding of the free-kick though, as Matt Crabb looked to have won the ball with a strong challenge and Arnold appeared to move the ball in from the touch-line a few yards before taking the set-piece.
Whitehawk were playing some excellent football at this stage and looked like scoring every time they went forward, with Sam Deering being the latest player to force a fine save from Banks at his near post. From the resulting corner, Osei Sankofa added Whitehawk’s third goal with a close-range finish after a goalmouth scramble six minutes before half-time.
Despite being under pressure for much of the first half, Lewes nearly pulled a goal back just before the break, as Nick Wheeler forced Whitehawk goalkeeper Craig Ross into an impressive save with a curling effort after cutting in from the left following an incisive counter-attack.
Whitehawk started the second half brightly and nearly increased their lead within minutes of the restart, as Banks had to be at his best to somehow keep out a Robinson header from point-blank range. The pace of the game was beginning to slow down as both sides made use of their substitutions, although Whitehawk still looked the more likely scorers as David Ijaha saw an effort from a tight angle deflected into the side-netting at the end of another impressive passing move.
Whitehawk did increase their lead with 20 minutes remaining, as Neilson finished well past Banks after exchanging passes with substitute Sam Gargan. Lewes continued to fight to get some reward for their efforts, but the closest the Rooks came saw Henry Muggeridge send an effort straight at Ross after a quick counter-attack.
Whitehawk nearly added a fifth goal in the closing stages, with Gargan sending a volley from a Lee Hills cross against the crossbar. They were able to increase their lead further with just two minutes remaining, as Deering found space in the penalty area to send a strike past Banks and into the far corner.
In the end, Lewes were well-beaten by a side who were a class above anything the Rooks have faced in the Ryman Premier this season. However, the Rooks fans who made the trip to the Amex acknowledged the effort of their players by staying behind at the final whistle to applaud the squad for an excellent cup run that was only ended at the final hurdle by a Whitehawk side who look more than capable of going one better and achieving promotion next season.
Lewes will now be focusing on planning for their own campaign next season, and hopefully ensuring that they can be pushing for more silverware over the next few years.
Lewes: Banks, Rowe, Cole, M. Crabb, Elphick (S. Crabb 65), Breach, Rowe-Hurst (Blewden 62), Conlon (Marshall 74), Romain, Muggeridge, Wheeler.
Unused Subs: Malins, Taylor.
Whitehawk: Ross, Arnold, Hills, Ijaha, Sankofa (Abdulla 62), Rose, Deering, Torres, Robinson (Gargan 62), Mills (Kissock 67), Neilson.
Unused Subs: Makofo, Kujabi.
Referee: John Pike
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