Last week I was criticised by a few people for not being happy enough after our fantastic win against Cray Wanderers, instead focusing on the erratic (and incorrect) decisions of the officials. This week I’m full of pride for our performance despite a defeat and the end of our national cup campaigns. The 2-1 score line doesn’t tell anything like the real story of the game, or more to the point, the build up to kick off.
Ten days ago we beat a very strong Walton Casuals side but at a significant cost. James Hammond picked up a facial injury that required surgery that very same night, whilst two other central midfielders, Jack Dixon and Lloyd Harrington picked up their fifth bookings of the season. All three would miss this FA Trophy game at Kingstonian.
At Three Bridges on Tuesday night after another impressive performance we lost another centre-midfielder, and temporary centre-back Lloyd Cotton through injury. Then twenty-four hours ago we lost two of our most impressive young midfielders, Charlie Coppola and Ronnie Conlon due to illness. Six midfielders down, it was going to be a struggle to find eleven fit players, yet alone four who could play in midfield.
Darren’s fear was that all of our recent work and progress would be undone if we lost heavily to a Ryman Premier League side who have the likes of Ryan Moss, Joe Turner, Youssef Bamba and of course Pelayo Pico Gomez even if things weren’t good for them at the moment. In fact the match report post their defeat against Worthing on Monday read like this:-
“Ks aren’t that good at the moment. It’s difficult to tell how bad they are though. Even over the course of these four defeats they’ve played half decent football, but there’s a few too many, ‘are we too good to go down’ conversations for anyone’s liking”
Mindgames? Perhaps but we had other things on our mind as we headed to Kingsmeadow on Sunday morning. Things like can we find 11 fit players and how can we fit them into eleven different positions. Each week we may joke that we will have our boots when we talk to Darren 24 hours before the game, “just in case”, but I felt that this week it was more of a rhetorical question than a joke. Even as I sat watching Brechin City v Livingston yesterday I was on the look out for anyone I could sneak back in my hand luggage.
At 1.30pm Darren had chosen his team. At 1.35pm he had changed his team and then again at 1.45pm as the coach arrived at Kingsmeadow. I met Baz in the tunnel and even then the starting XI wasn’t finalised. When it was there was one player making his debut, young Jack Whitmore in central midfield, whilst Gus Sow came in for his first start for Lewes, playing his first game after a hand operation on an injury sustained on his debut at Faversham Town. We had a right-back playing at centre-back, a left-back playing at right-back, a left-midfielder at left-back, a centre-forward in left-midfield, two left-midfielders in the centre and on the right respectively. We did have a goal keeper in goal and a centre-forward up front so it all wasn’t bad, whilst on the bench we needed a nanny due to their age to protect them from Darren and Ross’s adult language. What could possibly go wrong?
Kingstonian 2 Lewes 1 – Kingsmeadow – Sunday 30th October 2016
Twenty minutes into this game and Stacey Freeman towered above the K’s defenders to send a powerful header goalward. With the slightest of flicks, Jonté Smith turned the ball into the net to give The Rooks the lead. The announcer gave the goal to Stacey but try taking that one off Jonté. The goal was no less than Lewes deserved. There was no regard for reputation or league status – we simply looked the better team, with better shape and better desire to win. The players drafted in, or playing out of position didn’t look incumbered at all.
Was the performance a surprise? Or was it the product of a squad playing with confidence backed by the support of the fans? About 20/80 I’d say. I certainly thought we would struggle but we settled quickly, moved the ball well and looked positive. We should have had a second when Brotherton headed over from close range and the Rooks certainly went in at the break in a better place than the hosts.
On Tuesday night at Three Bridges we conceded twice in just a few minutes after half-time but came back from 2-1 down to win 5-3. Last Saturday we came from 2-1 down to win 5-2. After 55 minutes in this game we needed to do it for a third time in a row.
Two defensive mistakes led to two Ryan Moss goals in the 53rd and 57th minute. I’m not going to dwell on the goals – players make mistakes but few will beat themselves up over it. I know that in this case the player at fault will be beating himself up now, hours after the game. Games change in a fraction of a second and when Moss won possession from the defender in the area and scored his second, we knew we faced an uphill battle.
But battle we did. Brotherton and Culley came close, a linesman’s flag denied young substitute Robinson as he was through on goal. But ultimately we couldn’t find a way through. We were out but there was certainly no shame, just disappointment that we didn’t come away with anything.
The tired old line of “concentrating on the league” comes to mind, although we came into the game in some of the best league form we’ve shown in over five years (six wins, one draw from eight games). The test comes when we line up against Ramsgate in a week’s time as to whether we put all of the frustrations into that performance. By then we will welcome back some of the missing players absent today.
One final word on our hosts. Whilst their fans publicly lamented our relegation at the end of last season as they would be missing “their favourite away game of the season”, visiting today also reminded us of how hospitable they are as a club to guests. Let’s hope our separation is only temporary.