As seasons go 2011/12 has been a mixed bag for Lewes, beginning and ending well but with a slump in the middle. The final game of the season, with a playoff place still possible if results elsewhere went their way, brought with it a bumper crowd and an atmosphere to match. There was even, dare we say it, a party feel to proceedings – and a recap of this season’s events reminds us why Rooks fans had reason to be cheerful either way.
Having begun the season with high hopes of an immediate return to the Conference South after relegation, the pressure was on and expectations were high. A lot of work had gone into rebuilding the squad under the returning Steve King and it appeared the work had paid off with a fine run of form before Christmas which saw Lewes in contention at the top of the table.
Then came the slump – having beaten Hastings United 1-0 on Boxing Day, Lewes didn’t win a single game at all in either January and February. By then, King was gone with his suspension from duties (for reasons rumoured but unconfirmed) followed by the old “mutual consent”.
With the manager’s departure, several first team players followed King out of the Dripping Pan, and new manager Simon Wormull was forced to rebuild. With the slump ended by a 1-0 victory against Carshalton Athletic on March 10th, a run of 7 wins, 2 draws and 1 defeat bring Lewes into their final game against Harrow Borough with at least a chance of a playoff place.
Tearing up the script
With a much changed lineup from when I last saw the Rooks (against Horsham on January 2nd), the match began on a blustery, drizzly afternoon in somewhat comedic fashion. The traditional kick-off diagonal hoof saw Harrow’s left back challenging for the ball straight away, only to exit said challenge with his shorts around his ankles, much to the delight of the home faithful in the South Stand.
Any embarrassment however was short lived – with the ball moving rapidly up the other end, the ball fell to JJ Bates in the area and he slotted the ball inside the far post to the delight of the small travelling support. 1-0 to Borough and a hasty re-draft of the script was in order.
The Rooks were knocked out of their stride by the set-back – or rather, were unable to get into it in the first place – and Boro dominated the opening 20 minutes. Indeed, they should have doubled their advantage – a one-on-one with Lewes ‘keeper Matt Ingram, on loan from Wycombe, resulted only in a corner.
Later, from another corner, Ingram had a more comfortable save to make from a header, but Lewes had themselves hardly threatened. That changed in the 26th minute when, having forced a corner on the left, a near-post flick-on found its way to veteran striker Paul Booth and his header found the back of the net.
Rooks take charge
Suddenly the pattern of the game was changed, and Lewes struck again from a corner in the 35th minute, Chris Breach this time powering home a header. Half time then, and with news that Wealdstone were being held by Concord, it was all to play for.
Almost straight away in the 2nd half, it was three. Another header, this time from open play, saw Nathan Crabb add to his tally since joining in February. Now comfortably on top, shortly after the hour Booth added his 2nd from the spot – Boro’s ‘keeper Jamie Jackson shown only a yellow after a foul in the area, a decision met with noisy disagreement from the stands.
However, the atmosphere was by now celebratory and the enthusiasm barely dampened at news from elsewhere which meant they knew this would be the final match of the season. An announced crowd of 1,013 was the highest of the season at the Pan*.
Harrow kept fighting and pulled one back in the last half hour, but the game wound down to a rapturous reception for a Lewes side which had finished the season so strongly – and following a similar reception at half time for the ladies team which had won its league unbeaten along with the league cup to boot.
As a club which prides itself on its community model and on overcoming the adversity of near-financial oblivion at the hands of the previous owners, there is much at Lewes which is worthy of praise. Whilst events surrounding King’s tenure caused a rethink at board level and a dent in the progress made, the Rooks can look forward to next season with Wormull confirmed in his role.
A statement released on the Friday confirmed this, and perhaps hinted at some of the discord which existed under his predecessor:
We are absolutely delighted that Simon’s appointment as First Team Manager can now be confirmed. He came in at a difficult time and has impressed everybody with his combination of professionalism, diligence and approachability.
This is a Manager who completely gets what this community club is about and is willing to work his socks off as a ‘team player’.
Whatever the truth behind the winter of discontent, the Rooks finish the season on a high despite missing out on the playoffs, and provided an excellent afternoon’s entertainment (in which Harrow played their part) amid the Sussex gloom.