Horsham YMCA failed to repeat their Sussex Senior Cup heroics of last season, as a 92nd-minute Lewes winner sent them crashing out in the third round of the competition at Gorings Mead last night.
YM beat the Rooks 4-1 at the same stage of the cup last campaign, and they will be disappointed not to have conquered their Ryman Premier League superiors again, following an impressive display that was undeserving of defeat.
Lewes squandered the better chances of a fruitless first half, but the hosts found their feet after the break as winger Dave Brown hit the post and then had a sharp strike parried by Rooks’ goalkeeper Rikki Banks.
But with the tie seemingly headed for extra time, the visitors broke YM hearts when striker Leroy Griffiths netted the game’s only goal two minutes into added time.
YM manager Peter Buckland commented: “I am very proud of the players tonight. I think that we were the much better side in the second half and that’s not just me being biased. I think it was clear for all to see.
“It just confirms my belief that we play better against better sides. It suits us better when a team tries to play football instead of the blood and thunder, flying tackles and long balls of the Sussex County League. The sooner we can get up in and amongst the Ryman League boys the better.”
Impressive Lewes full-back Sam Crabb made the most of the greasy Gorings Mead surface as he raced free down the right before firing the ball across the box for former YM front man Elliott Romain, who poked wide on the quarter hour mark.
A dangerous Brown cross was well claimed by Lewes stopper Banks shortly after and YM midfielder Liam Hunter then saw a tame effort routinely saved, after which Rooks’ full back Crabb again beat his man down the right before squaring for Romain, whose first time strike this time clipped the outside of the post from close range.
Lewes defender Crabb, who often found himself the furthest Rooks player forward, almost opened the scoring when he benefited from a poor Dan Evans back pass, before Nicky Wheeler’s swerving 25-yard strike dipped just the wrong side of the far post shortly before half time.
The opening 45 minutes may have been littered with wasted Lewes half chances, but the second half certainly belonged to the hosts. Buckland’s side improved after the break and will feel aggrieved not to have been rewarded for their efforts.
A superb Luke Gedling through ball slid Brown in down the left and his first time shot came back off the far post, before Hibbert freed the YM wide man again seven minutes from time, but after beating two defenders, his stinging strike was parried by Banks in the Lewes goal.
The Rooks then silenced the home crowd and exacted revenge for last season’s embarrassing defeat two minutes into injury time. Wheeler capitalised on a wasted YM throw-in and after squaring across a crowded six yard box, the ball fell kindly for Griffiths who simply couldn’t miss from close range.
YM boss Buckland concluded: “We played our way into the game, starting with five across the midfield, and then as the second half progressed we went a bit more adventurous with two up top and we should have scored.
“It was a brilliant performance all round. I’ve said to the players that they should be disappointed that they’ve lost to a 92nd minute goal against a Ryman Premier League side, but that they can also hold their heads up high because not a single person will leave this ground tonight without some admiration for YMCA.
“We can now totally focus on the league. We’ve got Pagham away on Saturday and then Hassocks down here a week tonight, so I’ll be looking to get six points out of those games. If we can take tonight’s form into Saturday, then there’s no reason why we can’t go down to Pagham and get all three points.”