Arriving later than one of Southern Railway’s finest, Hornchurch nicked a scarcely deserved point to ruin the Rooks’ perfect start to the season.
Four minutes deep into injury time, a long throw into our box caused chaos. The ball boinged around in the air a couple of times before landing at the feet of Liam Nash to smash home his second strike of the afternoon. Yes, on the face of it, another goal conceded from a set-piece – our defensive kryptonite, no matter who the personnel involved – but that’s an unfair reflection. We defended bloody well for the vast majority of this game.
Man of the Match was Arthur Penney – which, coincidentally, is the men’s playing budget next season once the Mercury 13 takeover goes through. He was terrific: mopping up, winning crucial interceptions, strong in the air, and distributing calmly from the back. He played with a maturity well beyond his years. Hell, it was well beyond my years, and I’m old enough to be his dad.
The Rooks played in a similar style to Premier League-topping West Ham (yes, I am taking a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity to write that sentence). We defended deep, soaking up the aerial threat of the visitors, before hitting them on the break. And for the first hour, the plan was executed brilliantly.
The visitors did have the best chance of the opening skirmishes. A delightful whipped cross from the ever-dangerous winger Leahy found the unmarked bonce of striker Ade Yusuff, but he planted it over from close range.
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Instead, it was the Rooks who took the lead midway through part one. Deon Moore – unusually playing wide right in place of Ryan Gondoh – ran on to lovely low pass from Chris Whelpdale and bore down on the visitor’s box. It looked like the chance had passed as he slowed down and struggled to get the ball out from under his feet, but he was just toying with us, planting a fierce low shot into the side netting to put the Rooks one up.
One became two ten minutes later when commentator’s nightmare, Kalvin Lumbombo-Kalala (KLK), smashed home a splendid second. Tommy Wood broke down the right and fed the ball inside to the gangly winger. His first shot ricocheted back off a Hornchurch defender, affording him a second attempt that he lashed past the keeper from the edge of the box.
Two to the good, and no more than the Rooks deserved for a game that they had well under control well into the second half. And then Sam Higgins happened.
The Hornchurch striker has caused us countless problems down the years, although when he waddled onto the pitch as a replacement for the ineffective Yusuff, the only thing it looked like he’d troubled recently was a 3am queue for the kebab shop.
But it was Higgins who helped Hornchurch get back into the game on the hour. He diverted a long ball forward into the path of Liam Nash, who exchanged passes with Tommy Wraight, before driving a low shot past Nathan Harvey.
It was a goal out of nothing and it entirely reinvigorated the visitors, who spent the next 15 minutes knocking loudly at our door. A superb low save from Harvey prevented Nash from equalising within minutes, but it began to feel like a mere delay to the inevitable.
Tony Russell smelled the danger – to be fair, they were getting a waft of it in Newhaven by this point – but he reacted smartly. The ever-energetic Tamplin replaced the tiring Egan, and Ryan Gondoh came on for KLK.
The changes steadied the ship, with Gondoh spreading panic among the Hornchurch back line with his teasing runs and one fierce shot that cleared the crossbar by less than the width of an atom.
But of course, it wasn’t to be. Hornchurch’s last throw of the dice was a double six and the Rooks were left with a point, not the three that their strong performance against big-spending division favourites deserved.
Lewes: Harvey, Elliott, Hughes, Vint, Penney, Egan, Murtagh, Wood, Moore, Whelpdale, Lumbombo-Kalala
Subs: Salmon, Tamplin, Pritchard, Dalling, Gondhoh
Supporters Club man of the match: As mentioned, Arthur Penney, who was a class above in the back line.
Video highlights from Your Instant Replay (and who’s that linguistic genius on the commentary? He should be on Match of the Day, if you’re reading talent scouts. Available for weddings, jumble sales etc):
Boyesy’s brilliant photos: