Decisions in nobody’s interest


Last Saturday Lewes looked to record their sixth consecutive league win.  These are heady times for us Rooks fans, with many of us never experiencing the crushing inevitability of snatching defeats from the jaws of victory, but coming into the game against Molesey we were top of the current form table over the last ten games, having won eight and drawn two.  Such form was unheard of but was down to a new spirit within the dressing room and players hitting form.  During that spell we have also scored goals for fun, twenty-three of them in the last ten games prior to Saturday.  Scoring goals, playing entertaining football, winning games – we were living the dream.

fullsizerender_2Saturday’s opponents, Molesey, had lost seven out of their eight away league games, scoring just twice in the defeats.  If I was a betting man then I may have put a pound on a home win.  Confidence has that effect on me – heck I’ve even been known to turn the heating on before the end of November at home.

But what you can never factor in is the weather.

The forecast for Saturday was for a storm to hit the South Coast in the evening, so bad that a yellow weather warning had been issued.  I’d flown in from Florida, landing at Gatwick at 11am with bright blue sunshine.  The pitch looked perfect and we looked forward to seeing some free-flowing football especially with the return of striker Jonté Smith to the Dripping Pan.

Lewes 2 Molesey 2 – The Dripping Pan – Saturday 19th November 2016
Ten minutes in and whilst the rain had started to fall, it was no worse than what we would have expected at this time of year.  Charlie Coppola got the right side (for us) of the full-back and was hauled down.  Penalty.  Jamie Brotherton slotted home 1-0.  The only disappointment was having the golden goal at 9 minutes.

The rain started to get harder but still it wasn’t causing us many issues.  We were able to play the ball around on the floor and always looked like scoring again, the surprise being we had to wait until the 40th minute when Jonté Smith picked the ball up 40 yards out, twisted his marker inside out before slotting in to the far corner of the net.  2-0 at half-time.

img_1915As the teams came out for the second half there was concern in the stands and personally I felt that if the rain did not let up we would soon run into a situation where puddles would start appearing on the pitch and the game would be in doubt.  I’d hate to see the game abandoned, especially as we were on top and currently sitting in 5th place in the league, our highest position all season.

On the hour mark the puddles were very evident and the ball started to stick.  There was no way that the game would finish, with the rain continuing to fall.  Five minutes later Molesey scored, a great solo effort from Ashley Lodge.  The Rooks performance seemed to mirror the state of the playing surface – deteriorating quickly.

Seventy minutes gone and the Molesey bench started making serious noise to the officials that the game was becoming farcical.  I couldn’t agree more.  It was only a matter of time before the pitch got saturated to a point of unplayability.  Five minutes later Molesey equalised when Tom Windsor tapped into an empty net.

After the goal celebrations the referee consulted with his linesmen and called the captains together.  “Here we go” we thought, game off.  But he actually asked whether they wanted to continue to play to the end (discovered post match).  Both captains felt they could win the game, but surely that’s not a decision they should be asked to make.  Neither side would be the loser if it was abandoned – Molesey may have felt aggrieved they would have lost a point but would have probably fancied their chances against us again.

img_1917The rain continued to fall, the puddles started to join together to form a lake. Running with the ball became impossible (as the above picture from the awe-inspiring James Boyes shows), passing the ball became a lottery and trying to make any timely tackles was a recipe for disaster.  Whilst it was amusing to watch, the core elements of the game – skill, passing, movement – become secondary to trying to predict how the ball would move.  We had chances to win it, so did our opponents.

fullsizerenderWith 90 minutes played the referee inexplicably blew for time.  The second half had featured five substitutions, two goals, a caution and a few stoppages for the elements.  To add nothing on seemed quite bizarre but more so was the decision to continue to play it when there was the opportunity for the officials to call it a day.  It may seem a bit like sour grapes, especially as our loss was greater than the Molesey gain but few who watched that game could say the weather didn’t materially affect the match.  We often cry for common sense in the game and in this case I don’t think that principle was applied.

You win some, you lose some and some are simply determined by the elements.

Our Road to Wembley is closed for another season


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.

fullsizerender-6At 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.

fullsizerender-7At 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.

fullsizerender-5Was 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.

It’s all in the interpretation


“It’s all in the interpretation”

That was the final word on the matter.  The referee had spoken.  Case closed.

Back in the summer, along with representatives from 71 other Ryman League clubs, sat through a presentation from former Premier League referee Neale Barry, outlining the significant changes to the laws of the game, introduced by IFAB.  He delivered the presentation as you would expect a referee to do so, not taking any back-chat or listening to reasoned discussion, and threatening to send off the club secretary from Wroxham for wearing the wrong coloured cycling shorts (OK – so that last one may not be strictly true).  But it was our jobs to listen and then feedback the rule changes to our management team, and onto the players.

Now at this stage I want to make a very clear statement.  Referees often have a thankless task, knowing that one lapse in concentration or getting a decision marginally wrong can be costly.  Likewise, any contentious decision, and there will be many of these in a game, will be applauded by one team and derided by another.  We’ve seen some outstanding referees this season and last – in fact last Wednesday in our win at Walton Casuals, where the referee booked five players from each side, I thought he was very good and more importantly, worked very well with his assistants.  When we have referees like that I will always make a habit of telling them they had a great game.  Likewise we’ve had some poor officiating teams (and that’s the difference – it isn’t just one man, but three) and again I have no issue telling them in a calm manner or asking for explanations (as we are entitled to) post match.

But what happens when we understand the rules better than the officials?  Well that just leads to confusion and frustration as we saw yesterday in our game against Cray Wanderers.

fullsizerender-2The Rooks had turned around a half-time 2-1 deficit into a 3-2 lead as we entered the final quarter of the game.  A bouncing ball had Charlie Coppola’s name all over it but a clumsy rather than a violent or malicious high challenge from the Cray full-back Jeysiva Sivapathasundaram saw him given a straight red.  Slightly unfair I’d say.  Charlie was on his haunches holding his side and then the unnecessary pushing and shoving started.  The referee, deciding to focus on the flash point (with his assistant no more than ten yards away staying out of the way) called on our physio to look at Charlie without checking whether he was injured.  Paul runs on and within 30 seconds, whilst the fracas is still being dealt with, Charlie is on his feet.

At that point, according to the new rules (rule 5 subsection 6 I believe) Charlie should now be allowed to remain on the pitch to take the free-kick.  The old rule was very clear that any player treated by the physio had to leave the pitch but it was deemed to be an unfair rule where foul play had taken place.  So the rule was changed to:-

“a player is injured as the result of a physical offence for which the opponent is cautioned or sent off (e.g. reckless or serious foul challenge), if the assessment/treatment is completed quickly” and the explanation for this change was, “It is widely seen as unfair that a player who is injured by a serious foul and the trainer/doctor comes on, the player has to leave the field giving the offending team a numerical benefit”

Our Physio questioned the decision that he had to escort Charlie off the pitch but knew full well he risked a caution himself if he didn’t comply.  I tried to alert the linesman to the fact.  Not even an acknowledgement.  I walked round to the other side of the pitch and asked the other assistant.  He at least responded although his answer of “What do you expect me to do, I am 50 yards away” was perhaps not the right thing to say – they are supposed to be a team and if he sees anything wrong surely he has a duty to tell the referee?

So Charlie has to stay off the pitch, whilst a free-kick in a dangerous position, which more than likely he would have taken, was easily cleared.  Post match according to the referee, Charlie’s injury was not quickly assessed and that is why he left the field, despite the fact he was busy dealing with events elsewhere and thus the game wasn’t held up.  So we are penalised for the fact one of our players was fouled?  Which is exactly why the rule change was brought in.

fullsizerender-3The second incident, in the last few minutes when we led 4-2 saw a Cray player wrestle one of our players to the ground and then strike him.  This happened right in front of the home dug-out.  Darren Freeman naturally ran on to try to protect his players from suffering any further injury or to get further involved.  His involvement then led to a retaliatory action from their bench of also running on.  The Cray player was understandably dismissed but so was Darren for “entering the field of play”.  Fair enough – the rules on that are very clear, but what about their bench?  Does that rule simply become null and void once someone has transgressed?  Does the rule say you only have to punish the first transgression?

Fortunately the 5-2 win was enough to get rid of the annoyance at the officiating but there has to be consistency in how the rules are interpreted.

Who’d be a referee?

The tide has turned


Michelle: What do you prefer? Astroturf or grass?
Rodney: I don’t know, I’ve never smoked AstroTurf

It’s been almost ten years since I started The Ball is Round.  Back in 2006 I was at my Football Tourist peak, dashing off to somewhere new almost every other week.  European football was opening up for us all with the Internet giving us the answers to the important questions about local public transport and ticket buying procedures, whilst budget airlines seemed to be falling over themselves to open up more exotic routes.  It was certainly the golden age to be a fan of football rather than just being a football fan.

Today the mystery and glamour of the Eternal Derby (take your pick between Rome, Belgrade and Sarajevo) has been well and truly debunked thanks to Social Media.  We’ve all stood on the Sud Tribune at the Westfalonstadion in Dortmund, right?  Or been hit by a toilet brush as the Spakenburg derby.  European football no longer holds any surprises.

So in some ways the purpose of The Ball is Round has diminished, or rather our objectives have been achieved.  I hope that we’ve helped a few people discover there is more to life that Sky Sports and the sanitised Premier League.  We’ve all grown a little bit older and when I meet the few bloggers who were still around a decade ago, we no longer talk about daily website hits or #FFs.  Those who are still left write because they love to write not for any commercial gain.

My day to day work has become all-consuming.  My writing has had to take on a more serious tone about intellectual property infringements (with the occasional slant towards football such as this white paper published this year) rather than the slant I have taken before on the beautiful game.  Virtually all of my “golden generation” peers have quit or have severely reduced their output, beaten into submission by the need to cover every Premier League team/player/story from a “new angle”.  The likes of Danny Last, Damon Threadgold, Kenny Legg (3 of the 5 who along with David Hartrick and I put together the 500 Reasons to Love Football website) and Andy Hudson have all given up their writing.  I blame Leicester City – after their achievement last season there is nothing left to write about football.

My role at Lewes FC has also meant I have had to smooth the edges to some of the things I have written about in the past.  Putting anything controversial into a blog could land me with a “bringing the game into disripute” charge by the FA.

So whilst the words may become further spaced out, I haven’t yet fully given up the ghost.  Yesterday, for instance, saw Lewes travel to local rivals Eastbourne Borough, for a Pre-Season Friendly.  One of the perks of being Chairman is you do get access to almost part of the game.  So instead of a predictably mundane match report from our 2-0 defeat on Boro’s new 3G pitch (hence the classic quote at the start from “Go West My Son”, one of the first episodes of Only Fools and Horses), here’s a few “behind the scenes” pictures instead.  If you are really interested in reading my match report then go wild here.

Sealed with a kiss


When we met Brentwood Town for our first ever league meeting back in September, manager Dean Holdsworth led his side to a 5-1 win, probably the lowest point Lewes hit this season to and one that contributed to manager Steve Brown decided to quit a few days later.

Six months later and we would be travelling to Essex still in a desperate position, but with hope in our hearts.  Neither Steve Brown nor Dean Holdsworth would be in the respective dugouts.  Brown has yet to return to management, whilst Holdsworth has swapped his Sugar Hut sponsored bench coat for a leather chair and a spot behind a big wooden desk at The Macron Stadium.

Holdsworth was a business consultant for the Sport Shield Consultancy who finally took control of Bolton Wanderers earlier this month, when he was appointed Chief Executive.  Based on their desperate league position, facing relegation to Football League One and without a manager after the departure of Neil Lennon last week.  Relegation to the Ryman League South may not have been so bad considering the huge task in front of Holdsworth.

FullSizeRender (10)Brentwood Town face a dilemma of their own as to whether they can make the necessary investments in the ground to bring it up to the required standard to remain at this level.  Work needs to be completed by the 31st March, which would include a significant increase in the number of seats at the Brentwood Centre.  Failure to reach the standard could mean relegation back to the Ryman League North.  So currently sitting in the relegation zone, do they invest with the hope they can win their games in hand and reach safety or take the penalty and build again next season both on and off the pitch.

Lewes were without talismanic striker Jonte Smith who was away on international duty with Bermuda in the Caribbean Cup.  We would have to win this one with our youngsters to the top of their game, on a pitch that would make our passing style more difficult than normal.  But when your backs are against the wall you need to come out fighting.

Brentwood Town 0 Lewes 1 – The Brentwood Centre – Saturday 19th March 2016
Coming away from an away game with three points is great, but to win convincingly is always better.  In the grand scheme of things this win may mean nothing for either side, but try telling that to the players, management, the board and of course the fans who saw a great team performance and a fully deserved win.  The key moment was Henry Muggeridge’s 51st minute goal.  Instead of describing the pivotal moment, just follow the action for yourself below.  Until next week I bid you a great weekend.

The slings and arrows of outrageous fortune…again


Enfield Town 2 Lewes 1 – The Queen Elizabeth II Stadium – Saturday 13th February 2016
OK – let’s start with the positives.  We all got a free pint to drink during the first half thanks to a great gesture by Enfield Town, a thank you for our support in their campaign for justice at the end of last season.  Not just your run of the mill fizzy-pop either.  A fine pint of Redemption’s Rock The Kazbek no less.  And boy did we need it in a first half where the pre-match instruction from our management team to “make sure Whitely doesn’t cut inside onto his right foot” lasted approximately 200 seconds when Whitely cut inside onto his right foot and scored.

FullSizeRender (6)The goal came as a bit of a shock to be honest, even though a) Enfield Town had won their last four home games, b) We have the second worst away record in the league, conceding on average 2.3 goals per game and c) We hadn’t gone behind in a game this year.  Could we have another beer voucher?

The scars of last season’s debacle have been forgotten by most at the club, although the initials FA certainly don’t mean the Football Association in these parts.  It’s fair to say that our governing body didn’t come out of the whole affair very well, and even at a meeting before Christmas with the chairman of the Ryman League, looked to deflect blame from their failings.  Fortunately, plans are afoot at our league level to change rule 6.9 which would now mean the Ryman League could handle the situation very differently if it occurred in the future.  How difficult was that?  Well as simple as changing the word “shall” to “may” in terms of how the league penalise clubs.  It took 30 seconds for the votes to be counted back in December’s League Meeting for that to progress.

Anyway, back to the action.  We always looked like we would concede another in the next thirty minutes but somehow we didn’t.  Then we started to remember how we had beaten Dulwich Hamlet, Canvey Island and Merstham.  We started passing the ball, stretching Enfield’s midfield and defence.  We had a great chance for Laing to run in on goal in the last-minute of the half.  However, the ball never reached him as the Enfield Town full-back decided to play basketball with the ball in front of the linesman, who tried to justify the fact he wasn’t looking by pointing to his chest.  The Enfield player walked off at half-time hardly able to contain his laughter.

FullSizeRender (5)We kept pressing in the second half, chipping away at the back four, looking for a way through.  Laing had a great shout for a penalty turned down when he was pushed to the floor.  No penalty, yet no card for “simulation”.  So what was it then ref? Jonte Smith’s far post header was turned around the post by an Enfield leg and with seconds left we could sense something was going to happen.

Laing again bamboozled the defence and his cross struck and outstretched arm.  Referee points to the spot.  Could it be?  Smith stepped up in the most languid of ways and rolled the ball into the corner of the net.  We’d take a point our jumping around on the terraces said.  We’d hardly had time to tweet using the hashtag “unbeatenin2016” before we’d conceded again.

FullSizeRender (4)Back in August we took the lead at home to Harrow Borough with a penalty in the 87th minute.  67 seconds later we conceded after switching off and had to settle for a draw.  Today our point lasted marginally less.  Enfield Town were given a free-kick on the left-hand side, pumped it into the box and someone (later identified as full-back Doyle) headed it in.

It’s hard to smile and share pleasantries post match in the boardroom when you lose like this.  Enfield Town’s hospitality was second to none and whilst the conversation, according to the unwritten boardroom protocol, completely avoided the a) result, b) the last gasp goal, and c) the fact we were still bottom, you couldn’t help thinking what could have been.

The positive was that other scores down at the foot of the table didn’t work against us.  We will pick ourselves up, regroup and refocus on three points next Saturday against Grays Athletic.  Perhaps it was the beer after all?  Yep..*makes note to turn down free beer*

LIfe in the gutter


Hope is a viable strategy for many football clubs – in fact for many it is the only strategy. It’s a motto, held together by duck tape, that underpins the grass-roots of our beautiful game. That’s not to stop the dreamers dreaming. As Oscar (Wilde not the Chelsea midfielder) famously said, “we are all in the gutter but some of us are looking up at the stars”. Today we were most certainly looking up at the stars.

Our day started at 8am discussing the future of the football club surrounded by history and tradition. Our home for the first part of the day was The Royal Oak, just a stone’s throw from Lewes Station,  where back on Wednesday 23rd September 1885 our football club was formed. In an article published in the Sussex Agricultural Express a few days later, it was reported under the headline “Formation of a Football Club” that a meeting the previous Wednesday at The Royal Oak Public House, chaired by Mr J Plummer Chapman had seen the created of Lewes Football Club and that “The Dripping Pan would be available for football matches during the winter months. Over 130 years later and we are still going, with the Pan now being one of the oldest 20 football grounds in the world used continuously by the same club.

FullSizeRender (1)One hundred and thirty years later, our objective was to create a strategy for the next five years for the club. In some ways we had to thank our lucky stars we had made it this far, having come so close to letting unbridled (and some might say unfounded) ambition take the club away from us. Just like any organisation in the commercial world, we need to have a clear vision, a set of objectives and a framework for growth. We may be tiny when compared to Premier League clubs but our ambitions boil down to the same thing – progress. The difference is that we have to grow within our means and in a sustainable manner, with every programme we sell mattering whilst they can just sit back and watch some of that £1bn a year TV money roll in, not even caring today that they have priced out a generation of fans.

Creating a strategic plan that everyone buys into don’t just happen overnight. An initial strategy was created back in 2010 when the football club passed into community ownership under the leadership of the original Rooks125 group. Most of those initial objectives have been met during the last 5 1/2 years with Charlie and Ed the two remaining members on the board from the original six. The new plan would see us through to 2020 as well as providing a framework for growth past that date, where it is hoped we will have more willing individuals invested in the club.

I took on the initial task of drafting the first draft of the new plan. It’s quite daunting to start writing such a document, having to balance the core, day-to-day tasks with trying to find the inspiration, aspiration and perspiration for growth. You look for clues from other clubs but have to be mindful that you don’t want to simply copy something someone else does – one size certainly doesn’t fit all. I’m used to having to write strategies for others in my other life, being a paid outsider looking in on the business models created by others, making recommendations for improvements and hammering home the point that they, not me, have to own the actions. A strategy without owners prepared to make changes and buying into the vision is simply a word document with pretty pictures.

Some fans may question why we need a strategy – we are after all a football club – our only objective games should be to win games. If only that was the truth. Others simply lament for the free spending, couldn’t give a toss about what happens tomorrow, days gone by. The work that goes on behind the scenes will never be enough for them. But for the majority of our 1,200 owners they want to know that the club is in good hands, not just today but years into the future. That’s what today was all about. Assessing whether the ways we did things today were the right ways, and right things as well as looking for other ways to grow the club.  No idea was a bad one (even some of Ed’s ones).  The football club has many moving parts such as our community work, our ownership model, our commercial proposition, our 3G and our Academy as well as our footballing sides.  Each is somewhere intertwined with another, so creating a plan for one, would have a knock-on on another.

1_NeedhamMarket2015-282x400As a group we have differing visions of where we could and should be and what our motivations were for sitting around the table in the first place. We have different backgrounds, different skill sets, different strengths and different temperaments – as the saying goes, you can choose your friends, but you can’t choose your fellow board members in a democratically elected organisation. Or something like that anyway. But we all are gathered in the same place at silly o’clock on a match day to discuss the same thing. What can we do to make the future of this football club better.

Strategising over, and safe in the knowledge that we think we were heading in the right direction it was time for some football.  To turn again to Wilde, Lewes came into this game well and truly in the gutter but recent form had seen us not only looking but in the words of S Club 7, reaching for the stars. Unbeaten in 2016 versus a side who had just one win since mid-November and had slid down the table to sit just above the relegation zone. It made a welcome change that we weren’t looking to the stars for signs of poor weather for what seemed like the first time in weeks. A Rooks win and we’d not quite be breathing down Needham Market’s neck but we’d be sucking on a Fisherman’s Friend in preparation.

Lewes 0 Needham Market 0 – The Dripping Pan – Saturday 6th February 2016
After our enthusiasm at looking into the future, the present was a little more like the weather.  Dreary.  A point and a clean sheet would have been a good result a few months ago.  Today it is a small step up a big mountain.  The frustration was we did enough to win the game, and should have been celebrating another win tonight, especially as the linesman’s flag to deny Jonte Smith’s late effort was proved to be wrong on the edited highlights (in fact it was the only second half highlight).

FullSizeRender (3)The conditions were tricky, but it was the same for both sides.  The visitors started the brighter, with centre-forward Michael Brothers proving a real handful for the Lewes defence, and it was his strength and determination that should have seen Needham go in one-nil up at the break but his cross shot failed to hit the target.  A second half change to an all-energy front four by Darren Freeman tantilised the biggest crowd of the day in the Ryman Leagues but never quite troubled the visitor’s keeper, with Smith’s disallowed goal proving to be the major talking point.

Other results at the foot of the table meant we actually gained points on teams above the relegation zone in the most part, and didn’t fall any further behind.  With a game against Dulwich Hamlet to come on Wednesday the unthinkable could still happen.  Even our strategic plan can’t call that one.