At the Golden Goal bucket before the game, gallows humour is rife. Everyone looks at their ticket immediately, desperate to see which minute they’ve drawn for the first goal.
Anyone who pulls a ticket for the second half immediately writes off their jackpot chances. Many buy a second ticket or a third, desperate to get an early number. I don’t know how much we took on Golden Goal this afternoon, but if we could play Man Utd every week, the club would have a new bar and changing rooms within the month, and I’d be writing this from The Supporters Club away day in The Bahamas.
And, yes, we concede an early goal. An unfortunate eighth minute own goal that deflects in off Rhian Cleverly’s shin. But, bloody hell, we gave Man Utd a game. A proper contest against the best goalkeeper in the world, England Euros winners and a squad that costs substantially more to put together than a century’s worth of Golden Goal takings. Nobody likes losing, but this didn’t feel like a defeat. It felt like a coming of age.
From the fanzone in the car park, to the food outlets in every corner, to the souvenir programmes, to the bundles of merch and flags and banners and hats, it felt like going to a professional ground. Because that’s what it is. Maggie Murphy and her team deserve enormous credit for getting everything organised so brilliantly in such a short space of time. Not to mention all the volunteers who helped it to run smoothly.
The players more than did their bit, too. Indeed, even though United landed the early goal, it could easily have been Lewes taking the lead. Just a minute before United’s opener, an Amelia Hazard shot from the edge of the box fizzed just past the far post, with Mary Earps scrambling across her goal to get it. I was standing close enough to hear the rollicking she gave her defenders for letting Hazard get the shot away. Pro tip: don’t upset Mary Earps.
It took until well past the hour for United to double their lead. They’d come out firing for the second half, with Martha Thomas drawing two excellent saves from MVP Sophie Whitehouse right at the start of the second half. But we weren’t getting battered. United had to work hard for everything, and even when they nudged two ahead with a brilliant headed goal from Boa Risa we didn’t crumble. Far from it.
Because five minutes later came the goal of the game. Ellie Mason, sent forward after starting the game in defence, won the ball back in the box and it bounced out to Emily Kraft. She trapped it like a bag of sand and belted it goalwards, looping over the FIFA goalkeeper of the year and into the back of the net. Hello.
Now the game opened up. Paula Howells was plucked from the bench to bring her creative spark in midfield, with Kenzie Weir replacing Captain Cleverly to add height to set pieces.
Sophie Whitehouse kept us in it with a cracking one-on-one save, while at the other end, Howells tried her luck from distance but didn’t have the Kraft Precision Predators on.
Nikita Parris was plucked from the United bench, and she immediately gave us problems, going clean through with Whitehouse before shooting wide. Alas, it was merely a sighter. With only a minute of normal time remaining, she danced past a challenge on the left-hand edge of the box, bore down on goal and slipped a low shot past Whitehouse.
So, it wasn’t to be, but none of the 2,801 inside The Pan had cause for complaint. It was a fine effort all round. Proud? Just a bit.
Lewes: Whitehouse, Stobbs, Cleverly, Barton, McKenna, Hazard, Wardlaw, Palmer, Johnson, Mason, Kraft
Subs: Thompson, Howells, Rita, Copus-Brown, Longhurst, Dalton, Mushtaq, Weir, Moore
Supporters Club player of the match: Couldn’t disagree with the sponsor’s choice, Sophie Whitehouse, who pulled off at least three terrific saves. Honourable mentions for the tenacious Amber-Keegan Stobbs and wondergoal Krafty too.
Boyesy’s brilliant photos: