There’s defeats and then there are last-minute, defence lapse after you’ve been on top for 89 minutes 55 seconds sort of defeats. Yesterday’s game at Dorking fell firmly into the latter category. There’s only so much preparation you can do prior to games both in terms of analysing the way your opponents play, and adapting your line up and formation accordingly. With almost every member of the first team squad available to train, Darren Freeman’s major problem on the morning of the game was who leave out. We’d seen enough of Dorking, who have topped the Ryman League South longer than any other side this season, to know how they would play and where our opportunities would come from.
The difference between teams at the top of the league and those firmly stuck in mid-table at this time of the season is bravery. Do we go to places like Dorking and set up to grab a point? Or do we go with the full intention of winning the game, concentrating on our strengths and their weaknesses rather than the other way around. Lewes of old would have certainly taken a Craig Levin approach to away trips (Scotland famously played a 4-6-0 formation under his leadership in the Czech Republic once) but today we have a squad of talented individuals whose sum parts are much greater than their individual contribution.
If the players believe in themselves then the fans will follow, just as they did yesterday when over 80 Lewes fans added some noise and verbal encouragement to the afternoon. How much of a difference does that make to the team? An unbelievable difference. Players want to play for teams where the fans care. Opposing team goal keepers certainly cannot ignore the noise and the comments coming from the likes of Cynical Dave standing just a few feet behind them. At our level they simply do not experience that from many sides, especially away support. If every time as a keeper you know that 80 voices are encouraging you to make a mistake, only the strongest characters will be untroubled.
Yesterday we all did our bit. Darren, Ross, Codge and Paul prepared the team. The fourteen players who were involved in the game gave everything. The fans never gave up hope. But sometimes you fall just short, irrespective of the effort of everyone involved. A 2-1 last second defeat in those circumstances is harder to stomach than getting smashed 5-0 to a team below you in the table.
Dorking Wanderers 2 Lewes 1 – Westhumble Sports Ground – Saturday 28th January 2017
We started positively, full of running and stretching the play. Dorking play a similar game to us, which would have led to this being a fantastic match for the neutral, less so for an away fan as the game went into the 90th minute. Our formation saw us use our full-backs as overlapping wingers, trying to get behind their full-backs and pull the ball back for our midfielders running.
Twenty five on the clock. Full-back Matty George cuts inside his man, takes a touch past a second, gets a lucky rebound from a third and is through one-on-one. The ball just runs away from him and he goes down under the challenge from the Dorking keeper. From the referee’s angle behind play it looks a certain penalty, from ours behind the goal it is 50/50. But the referee can only give what he sees and he points to the spot. Protests are pointless, but the Dorking players feel the need to do so anyway. Huk in the Dorking goal is booked. Dixon waits patiently then slots the ball in the corner. 1-0 Lewes.
Our lead lasts four minutes. Dorking at their best, swapping passes at pace, catching the Lewes back four out of position and the prolific McShane smashes home. The heads don’t go down. Brinkhurst to Okoh, to Brinkhust, to Okoh. The ball is fizzled across the six yard line and Jonté Smith taps home. Bermuda’s scoring sensation jumps into the arms of Cynical Dave. Alas the flag is up. We protest, as the unwritten rule book says we should, but the goal is ruled out.
Man of the match Huk in the Dorking goal seems spurred on by the taunting from the Lewes fans, pulling off outstanding saves from Dixon and Okoh. Half-time and players, management and fans alike go to re-hydrate, knowing that we won that half.
The start of the second half is more of the same. Hammond shaves a post, Smith heads just wide whilst at the other end Sole hits the bar. The game could go either way, as both sides are now committed to attack. Full-back Matty George comes off. Lewes try to bring on Dan Perry but he’s having a fight with his shirt. “Go on, go on” shouts Darren as the ball is played to Stephen Okoh. Dan, who still hasn’t got the shirt on, assumes his gaffer is talking to him, so he runs on, still with his shirt only partially on, keen to join the attack. Alas, Darren’s comments were directed to the Lewes winger, Okoh, and not Dan who is promptly booked for illegally entering the field of play.
Five minutes are put up on the fourth officials board. Dorking hit the ball from left to right. Brinky has switched from right to left back to cover for the departed Matty George. He controls the ball on his left, tries to push it onto his favoured right to clear but the impressive Briggs takes it off his toe and smashes it home within half a second. Dorking celebrate wildly, the Lewes side sinks to their knees.
Five additional minutes don’t bring and further chances to a Rooks side who have been sucker-punched. The full-time whistle blows and the response from the Lewes fans is as warm and heart-felt as any victory this season. Every player gave everything and whilst we didn’t take any points home, no fan can bemoan the way we played, the effort, the passion.
As a fan all you can ask is seeing your team give a damn, playing to the best of their ability. Sometimes it will be your day, other times you will suffer that 90th minute defeat, wandering off into that night feeling mortally wounded but knowing that you, like the players and management, will be back, full of optimism in a week’s time.