Lewes Men’s 2s, 1 (Lewes win 4-3 on penalties)
Ashford (Kent) Men’s 2s, 1
A goalkeeping master class from Adam Baxter and some nerves of steel from Lewes’ penalty takers saw them reach the semi final of the National 2nd XI trophy in a pulsating contest at the Southdown Club on Sunday.
Having watched the Ladies 1st XI dump local rivals Brighton out of the National Vase earlier on that day, the Men’s 2nd XI took centre stage in a contest that did not disappoint the assembled crowd.
Ashford have been in terrific form in the league this season and made a fast start to this game, looking to catch their hosts out early. Their pace going forwards and their direct style meant that Lewes goalkeeper Adam Baxter, playing his first game in the 2s after being called up from the 5th XI, had to be alert from the first minute. Baxter showed he was capable of the step up and did well on a number of occasions to keep the scores level.
Having weathered the early storm, Lewes began to assert themselves on the game: Angus Donaldson and Ollie Baxter linked up well on a number of occasions to cause the visiting defence problems. Harvey Waller and Matt Hickman too, looked dangerous breaking from midfield. Lewes forced a series of penalty corners but found the Ashford goalkeeper in formidable form.
About half way through the first half, Ashford took the lead. It was against the run of play as the goal came during a period of Lewes dominance. The Kent side broke at pace down the right hand side, hitting the baseline and finding a cross to the back post. This was despatched by the centre forward giving Baxter no chance.
Lewes’ response was almost immediate. Within five minutes of going behind, they forced a penalty corner. Alex Lloyd sent a powerful drag flick fizzing in to the roof of the net, leaving the goalkeeper grasping at air.
With the sides going in at the break level, the game was delicately poised. Ashford’s second half strategy seemed to revolve around soaking up the Lewes pressure and hitting them on the break-a tactic that almost paid off, but for two more fine saves from the home goalkeeper. Lewes were enjoying a lot of possession and territorial advantage but were finding Ashford tough to break down. Almost inevitably, the game carried over to extra time.
The pattern of the game remained the same during both periods of extra time: Waller’s seemingly limitless supply of energy proved vital in the heart of midfield as the young man pushed his team mates on in search of that all important winning goal. Despite the home side’s best efforts, a winner was not forthcoming, so a penalty shoot out was needed to separate the teams.
Ole Callf and Alex Tapping scored Lewes’ first two. Ashford scored one and missed one from their first two. Lewes failed to press home their advantage as Lloyd missed the target too. Ashford levelled the scores again, before Waller and his opposite number traded successful penalties, leaving the score at 3-3.
Then, enter Baxter. The goalkeeper had performed heroically throughout the game, but was not finished yet. He guessed right and made a stunning reflex save from the visitor’s final stroke. This left Pete Thomas the chance to score, and send his side through. With barely a murmur of nerves, the Lewes defender sent the goalkeeper the wrong way, and sent his side into the semi final.
A hard-fought, but well deserved win secured for the Southdown side, who now face Tulse Hill and Dulwich in the semi final in March. Let’s hope for a less nerve-wracking contest.