Lewes 2 (Carter 2; Rutherford 25)
Crystal Palace 2 (Shakes 19; Maple 58)
Lewes’s tenacious 10 clung on for a gritty draw against Premier League newcomers Crystal Palace, leaving the visitors’ manager frustrated at his own depleted side’s lack of killer instinct.
Having twice fought back from a goal behind, Palace were scenting all three points after Tammy Waine was shown a red card 20 minutes from the end for denying striker Roschelle Shakes a goalscoring opportunity.
But instead, Lewes reshaped and hung on to earn a valuable point and confidence booster in their stop-start season.
In a game low on technical skills and free-flowing football, but high on energy and commitment, Lewes took an early lead after probably their best move of the game.
It was fitting that the first three goals were all set-pieces.
But Palace’s second equaliser provided a touch of symmetry to the game, stemming from their own best move, at the peak of their performance – yet they could not make their superior numbers tell in the final quarter of the match, failing to kill off their feisty hosts.
It had all started so well for Lewes, playing only their second match in five weeks.
They were ahead within two minutes when Rebecca Carter slammed home after goalkeeper Chanelle Yardley had failed to hold a header from Katie McIntyre’s pinpoint corner kick, which had been earned by a glorious flowing passing move.
Kirsty Barton played an astute diagonal ball from midfield towards Sian Heather on the right. Carter herself, with the most delicate of touches continued the ball into the path of Sian Heather, whose cross was blocked by Sarah Jones to concede the corner.
Lewes won their second corner moments later, McIntyre this time electing to take a short one, but Palace cleared their lines.
After such a bright start, the game became bogged down, with neither team able to hold on to the ball – a pattern that was to become a recurring theme throughout the game.
Palace, without a number of key players, looked rather more assured in the early stages, feeding their dangerous strikers, Shakes and Megan Goss, with some tempting through-balls.
And they had an opportunity to strike back on 14 minutes when they won a free-kick in a dangerous area on the right flank.
Instead, the kick was cleared at the second attempt, leading straight to an opportunity at the other end.
Rebecca Carter broke quickly and directly, and was heading for the Palace box when she was brought down by Alma Donohoe.
Referee Peter Lindsey presumably felt there was defensive cover as he showed the Palace player a yellow, rather than red, card.
Barton struck the resulting free-kick straight at Yardley.
Shakes was keeping Lewes’s back three fully occupied with her strong running and ability to hold the ball well, and on 17 minutes she teed up Pamela McRoberts, only for the midfielder to hit her weak shot straight at Lewes ‘keeper Lauren Dolbear.
Within two minutes, though, Palace were level. Charlotte Young gave away a free-kick after Waine was dispossessed, and McRoberts’ brilliantly flighted kick was cleared only as far as Shakes, who sent a looping header over Dolbear for the equaliser.
Despite the two early goals, the game was bitty, and Palace won yet another free-kick deep in Lewes territory – but with a far less effective outcome, and was easily cleared.
The home side won their third corner in the 22nd minute, and McIntyre again delivered another pinpoint cross, only for Young to glance her header wide.
Moments later, Lewes had Hayley West to thank when her intervention denied Shakes another shooting chance after she was played in by her co-striker Goss.
And in the 25th minute, it got worse for the visitors when Lewes retook the lead from another outstanding McIntyre corner, this time from the left.
Her kick caused havoc at the near post and fell to Leeta Rutherford, just a couple of yards out, who joyfully blasted the ball into the roof of the net to make it 2-1.
Dolbear was called into action to preserve Lewes’s lead when she pushed Goss’s low shot around the post.
Rutherford and Waine were being given a good workout by Shakes and Goss, with honours about even. And after making yet another strong tackle, Rutherford set Lewes on the counter-attack with a superb ball to McIntyre, but nobody was able too get on the end of her cross.
And back in defence, the former Portsmouth and Millwall player managed to put enough pressure on Goss, her former Millwall team-mate, to force her to fire over from just six yards.
Rutherford was again involved in the final moment of note in the first half when she sent a great ball down the line into the path of Carter, who had made a brilliant run across the defence, but her cross did not match the quality of the build-up.
Half-time: Lewes 2-1 Crystal Palace
Palace, without top scorer Gemma Bryan and midfielder Ciara Sherwood (among others), earned two early free-kicks around the Lewes box in the opening minutes of the second half, but neither came to anything.
Moments later, their injury list lengthened still further when Ellie Bailes suffered what appeared to be shoulder damage and was replaced by Fran Ali.
There was no quarter asked or given as the two mid-table Premier League sides sought the three points that could consolidate their positions as the season nears its halfway mark.
Rutherford’s double 50-50 challenges that helped her surge into the Crystal Palace half typified the nature of the game – and her performance in particular.
But with 58 minutes gone, the visitors were level again, courtesy of a tremendous passing move, and after McRoberts collected Shakes’ pass, she set up a simple chance for Lilli Maple, who blasted home from close range.
Lewes had a chance for almost instant revenge when Ali played Tia Foreman into trouble, and as she tried to clear, the ball ricocheted to Georgia Bridges, who tried in vain to direct her header over the alert Yardley.
With Ali bringing a new dimension to midfield, and Palace now full of confidence, they were looking the likelier winner, forcing Lewes on to the back foot and pinning them largely inside their own half.
There was the odd respite for the home side, who won a free-kick and corner within a matter of seconds. But neither came to anything.
Then Carter did well to reach a long ball from Rutherford, causing havoc among Palace’s makeshift defence before the ball was eventually scrambled clear.
And when, in the 68th minute, Bridges’ shot was deflected for another corner after Barton had won the ball inside the Palace half, it looked as though the tide might be turning again.
McIntyre’s immaculate delivery was met by Waine’s head, but it flew agonisingly wide.
It was to be the last positive contribution by Waine, whose battle with Shakes had been one of the highlights of the game.
In the 69th minute, she was caught out by Leesa Haydock’s superb volley over the Lewes defence, and when Shakes latched on to it with just the goalkeeper to beat, Waine brought her down, winning Palace a free-kick on the edge of the box and earning the Lewes defender a red card.
It condemned her team to a daunting final 20 minutes a player down, but in truth, it might well have saved her side two points, as Palace struggled to find a way through Lewes’s depleted, but not defeated, 10 ranks.
Ali’s free-kick went straight into the wall, and while Palace were to continue to enjoy the lion’s share of possession, clear-cut chances were still few and far between.
Manager John Donoghue brought on defender Clare Capon for striker Bridges, and she moved to right-back as Lewes switched to a back four, with midfielder Charlotte Young moving into central defence, alongside Rutherford, and West switching to left-back.
Palace did win a rare corner, but Jones, unmarked 15 yards out, volleyed McRoberts’ corner kick over the bar.
With Danni Lane moved into midfield, leaving Carter as the lone striker, it looked as though Lewes were prepared to cut their losses and settle for a draw.
But it was not a negative display, no better illustrated than when Heather broke into the Palace half before finding West in space down the left flank with an imaginative pass.
On 79 minutes, they won another corner, and from another accurate McIntyre kick, Barton volleyed over from just outside the box.
Moments later, the temperature rose again. Many of Lewes’s noisy fans, still smarting from Waine’s dismissal when Donohoe had survived a similar challenge in the first half, were angered by a lunge by Ali on the already injured McIntyre, for which the referee again showed yellow rather than red.
The home fans in a crowd of 132 had something more positive to shout about when Dolbear raced out of her goal to brilliantly foil the on-rushing McRoberts and Shakes.
McIntyre became the third player to be shown a yellow card, for something she said to the referee as the game became increasingly fraught.
There was a lucky escape for the hosts on 86 minutes when Maple robbed Barton and shot just wide from 20 yards.
Another timely tackle from Rutherford thwarted another Palace offensive.
Then Lewes managed another raid into enemy territory. Barton found the willing Lane down the left, and the attacking midfielder did well to get away from her marker before appearing to be brought down on the edge of the Palace area.
But the referee was unmoved, and play moved back to the other end, where Dolbear made probably the pick of her many saves, denying Shakes in a one-on-one.
Five minutes of additional time, added on for the six substitutions, sending-off and several injuries, increased the tension still more, but had no effect on the final outcome.
Palace have made a big impact in their first season in the top tier of the Premier League, but sorely missed the likes of Ciara Sherwood, Gemma Bryan and Leanne Bell as they lacked the power and wit to cause too much damage to the admirable Lewes back three.
New personnel in their miserly defence also produced uncharacteristic lapses as Lewes became only the fourth team to score more than once against them this season.
But Lewes, too, still without captain Kelly Newton and also missing Rachel Palmer to a training injury, looked a bit rusty as they played only their second game since October 9 following a number of postponements.
It led to a game short on quality but with immense commitment on both sides – and probably a fair result.
John Donoghue (Lewes): “If you don’t send the girl off in the first half, you don’t send Tammy off”
“You saw in the performance – that strong, determined, aggressive game, [we] worked hard, [and were] fit, but we didn’t have a lot of rhythm because of the fact that we are playing – miss two weeks – play a week – miss two weeks – play a week – the game gets called off.
“We’ve trained a lot, and in terms of the shape, how we defend, we’re quite solid, we’re quite good as a unit. But on the bits where you’d like a bit more of a rhythm as a player, get on the ball more, combinations with someone you’ve been playing next to for three or four weeks… we’ve not had that.
“[The players] have kept themselves in a tremendously fit state. You keep coaching, even on Sundays, so you get a little bit more shape work in, and they did it well.”
“I think if you don’t send the girl off in the first half for a very similar [challenge], then you don’t send Tammy off. [Roschelle Shakes] didn’t have it under control. They caught legs. Free-kick, booking, same as first half because I don’t think she was under enough control of the ball.
“If you send the girl off in the first half, you send Tammy off. [If] you don’t send her off, then you don’t send Tammy off.”
Dean Davenport (Crystal Palace: “Their mindset changed”
“We’ve got five injuries – key players. Obviously, Gemma [Bryan], Ciara [Sherwood]… the normal centre-half has been out for eight weeks now… there are two others to come back into the fray, as well.
“We’ve got good strength in depth… but saying that, [in] the first 20 minutes of the game, we weren’t anywhere near our normal standard, and it showed. You could see that there were players playing out of position.
“The girls did well to come back to get a draw. I thought we could have gone on to win it, but we still didn’t play to our maximum today, which is a bit hard to swallow, to be honest.
“The [sending off] was definitely a red. Shakes is through on goal. She’s been pulled down, so I think the girl’s got to go.
“At the end of the day, it’s down to the ref. There’s not much we can do whether he sends her off or keeps her on. You can have a little argument, but at the end of the day it’s solely his decision. I think the second one is much clearer than the first one, but it’s the way it goes. Sometimes you get them, sometimes you don’t. They even themselves out.
“[After the sending-off] we went the other way to what we were doing. We got the [second] goal; then we were on the front foot. We started to knock the ball about a little bit better; we started to find players.
“Then all of a sudden they get a player sent off and [the Crystal Palace players’] mindset changed. They became more rushed, like they deserved to go on and win the game when you’ve got to stay at what you’ve been doing, which we never did – it’s very disappointing.
“I think we’ve found our place. I’ve said many times that the girls deserve to be where they are in the league at the moment, and our results at present show that.”
Sent Her Forward player of the match: Leeta Rutherford (Lewes)
She was magnificent. From minute one to minute 90+5, she hardly put a foot wrong, despite being up against a decent attacking pair, with pace, physical power and a fair bit of skill.
But Rutherford matched them all the way, winning tackles, headers and interceptions as well as setting her own side on to the attack with some excellent, measured balls out of defence.
Signing Rutherford was a massive coup for Lewes, and she has brought a marked stability to the Lewes defence since her arrival in October.
Rebecca Carter worked exceptionally hard up front, offering outlets for her hard-pressed midfield and defence, proving she has learned quickly since her elevation from regional football.
Katie McIntyre‘s dead-ball delivery was again exceptional, leading to both Lewes’s goals (not for the first time this season), while Sian Heather worked hard down the right flank.
But it was in defence where Lewes shone the brightest. Alongside Rutherford, Tammy Waine gave another accomplished performance. The former striker might not have been quite as elegant or effective as on previous occasions when I have seen her star for Lewes, but her reading of the game is second to none, and she gave as good as she got against Roschelle Shakes until that 69th-minute red card.
Hayley West also showed her adaptability, starting on the right of a back three and finishing at left-back, and acquitting herself well in both positions.
But a special mention for Lewes’s match saviour – goalkeeper Lauren Dolbear, whose handling skills were not tested as much as they might have been but who proved that goalkeeping is about a lot more than shot-stopping.
Twice in the closing minutes she timed her dashes from goal to perfection, bravely diving at the feet of the physical Shakes and Pamela McRoberts.
For Crystal Palace, Shakes provided that Lewes defence with a tough 95 minutes, while Megan Goss, Lilli Maple and Fran Ali also impressed.
Palace’s goalkeeper, Chanelle Yardley, had a poor start, her poor handling contributing to Lewes’s opener. But thereafter she barely put a foot wrong, and like her opposite number, her speed out of goal to thwart attackers was particularly impressive.
Sent Her Forward match rating: 6/10 It improved in the second half after a scrappy first 45 minutes, becoming a hard-fought, even contest between two committed teams.