Lewes 2 (R Carter 17; Rutherford 35)
Cardiff City 0
Lewes proved to be Cardiff City’s bogey team once again as the Premier League club ended the high-flying Welsh side’s 13-match winning run and dumped them out of the FA Cup.
John Donoghue’s team denied Cardiff victory for the second time this season, having drawn with them at the start of the campaign, and once again, this was no fluke as they progressed to the third round.
In a performance full of commitment and discipline, they took two of their precious few chances and never looked like surrendering that lead against a side who remain unbeaten in the league, where they average more than three goals a game.
Their disappointed manager, Gary Green, said they were outfought – something his sides can rarely be accused of – but Lewes’s victory was as much about their team ethic, where each player carried out their role and resisted the temptation to go for glory against a side that, with Hope Suominen setting a feisty example, never know when they’re beaten.
Led by the outstanding Leeta Rutherford, pushed forward into midfield, ably supported by captain Katie McIntyre, and aided by some clinical finishing, they chased and harried and posed the visitors’ defence no end of problems with their astute balls over the top.
And at the other end, Rutherford – who has been a revelation as one of the side’s back three in recent months – was hardly missed as Claire Capon, Hayley West, Rachel Palmer and Tammy Waine in particular adapted to the change of formation with a disciplined performance against Cardiff’s sharpshooters.
The opening exchanges were pretty even as the home side earned an early corner and Waine twice came to the rescue as Cardiff threatened.
The first chance fell to the visitors, when, on 10 minutes, Hannah Miles threw herself at Chloe Chivers’ inviting cross, but her timing was out and her headed effort ballooned into the air and was cleared.
Moments later, Rutherford won a 50-50 ball in midfield and brilliantly sent Rebecca Carter away, but her cross was comfortably dealt with, with barely a Lewes shirt in sight.
Carter’s clever movement and Georgia Bridges’ imaginative pass almost set Danni Lane free inside the Cardiff box, but the ball was just cut out as alarm bells started sounding in the Welsh side’s defence.
At the other end, Suominen’s shot was easily held by Lauren Dolbear, and then Bridges’ tenacity saved Lewes when she tracked back to deny Miles after an excellent pass from Emily Allen.
It was an even opening quarter of an hour, but the game turned critically on 60 seconds of contrasting fortunes in the 17th minute.
Chivers, Cardiff’s leading goalscorer, squandered a gilt-edged chance after seizing on a poor kick by Dolbear, blasting wildly over with the goalkeeper struggling to get back.
Almost immediately, Lewes countered, and Carter latched on to a through-ball, finishing calmly beyond the exposed Laura O’Sullivan.
Cardiff immediately hit back, earning their first corner, which was superbly delivered by Gemma Evans, causing chaos in the Lewes area before Dolbear claimed the ball.
Rutherford was blossoming in midfield, winning another tricky challenge after being sold short, and then Bridges again halted Miles with a terrific tackle as the midfielder threatened to get away down the right.
Green’s side were still very much in the game, notching up corner after corner, but Lewes’ defence was proving hard to breach.
At the other end, McIntyre sent Cardiff a warning on 28 minutes with a first-time shot from 25 yards which flew wide.
Three minutes later, another Lewes shot failed to find the target as Sian Heather fired narrowly wide after a neat lay-off from Bridges.
Cardiff again squandered a terrific chance, the normally clinical Chivers screwing her shot wide after being put through by Abbie Britton.
And again they paid a heavy price. With 35 minutes gone, the industrious McIntyre matched Britton’s through-ball with a visionary first-time pass to Rutherford, who made the most of a lack of challenges to finish neatly past O’Sullivan.
Still Cardiff racked up the corner count, but they were unable to make anything of some superb deliveries from Evans and Britton.
In the 39th minute, hesitation on both sides caused some panic in the Lewes penalty area, but Rutherford, inevitably, was there to clear up.
Two minutes before half-time, Chivers was presented with her third opportunity, and this time, she was on target. But Dolbear was equal to her effort and pushed her shot over the bar for another corner.
Lewes survived to half-time with no more scares for a deserved lead at the break. They knew they were unlikely to be let off so lightly in the second half.
Half-time: Lewes 2-0 Cardiff City
It took less than 60 seconds for Lewes to realise they were facing a vastly different Cardiff after the break – not in terms of personnel but in terms of approach.
Led by the indefatigable Suominen, the visitors were now first to the loose balls and finally putting their opponents under a level of pressure they had barely faced in the first 45 minutes.
They won a corner inside the first minute of the half after Allen, Suominen and Chivers strung together Cardiff’s best move of the match, and it took a brilliant headed clearance by Palmer from Allen’s corner to prevent an almost instant response from the rejuvenated Welsh side.
Moments later, they should have made that breakthrough, but Bartlett headed another corner over from almost underneath the bar.
Cardiff were now dominating, but Lewes’s impressive defence was standing firm, with Waine again mopping up in the face of the Welsh onslaught.
But Cardiff’s own defence still had a job to do, and it took an excellent tackle from Evans to halt Carter’s break after another fine through-ball from McIntyre.
And in the 55th minute, the home side almost scored a third when O’Sullivan touched McIntyre’s superb inswinging corner on to the bar.
For all Cardiff’s renewed endeavour and vigour, they were struggling to carve out clear-cut chances, and in the 58th minute Bartlett failed to get a decent connection on Cori Williams’ pass, and the ball trickled through to Dolbear.
Still the visitors piled on the pressure.
Bartlett, who was one of those figuring far more prominently in the second half, was given far too much time to turn in the box, earning yet another corner, to which Dolbear just got enough of a touch to prevent another penalty-area panic.
A quick break on the hour between Carter and Danni Lane forced Cardiff momentarily on to the back foot, Lewes initially winning a throw-in near the Cardiff goal-line and then a corner.
McIntyre’s superb delivery found Waine in space, but she failed to direct her header on goal.
Cardiff squandered another inviting chance in the 63rd minute when Capon was penalised for hand-ball after a shot from point-blank range struck her.
But Britton blasted the kick, on the edge of the D, well over, and with it, Cardiff’s hopes of an FA Cup run for another season.
Yes, Cardiff were dominant, with Suominen continuing to lead by example, but they rarely looked like breaching the Lewes back line, exemplified on 70 minutes by a rather flat-footed Cori Williams’ failure to reach a cross from Shaunna Jenkins that on another occasion she might well have.
Three minutes later, Dolbear came to the rescue, beating out Miles’ fierce effort from best part of 30 yards, and on 76 minutes Cardiff were again unable to capitalise after a scramble in the Lewes box led to a shot from Allen which struck Sian Heather in the face.
Again the Lewes goal survived when Cori Williams cleverly headed on Miles’ shot, only for Suominen to hook over as she and Dolbear collided.
Lewes manager John Donoghue had ordered Heather back into defence from her wide midfield position, and he shored up the back line still further on 87 minutes, replacing the hard-working Bridges with Rebecca Thompson, who immediately slotted into the back row.
As the game headed for injury time, Suominen summoned up one last effort from 25 yards, but again Dolbear gathered as comfortably as her team won the match.
This, in my view, ranks alongside any of Lewes’s victories in recent seasons. They were facing a formidable Cardiff side who remain one of the favourites for the Premier League title, having dropped just two points this season – in their opening fixture… against Lewes.
Donoghue’s side were not exactly spectacular on a sticky pitch in what has been a stop-start season – their last league game was eight weeks ago.
But they were well-drilled, patient and extremely disciplined, with Rutherford justifying the manager’s change of formation with an immaculate performance in midfield.
Cardiff were disjointed in the first half but threatening in the second, but a combination of profligacy by players who normally score goals for fun and some excellent, spirited, defending meant they drew a blank and bowed out of the cup to the better side on the day.
John Donoghue (Lewes): “Hopefully, we can play week after week now”
“Cardiff’s form has been fantastic, and they haven’t lost a game in the league. I know the cup is different, but it’s a good team out in front of you, so I was really pleased with the players.”
[Referring to Lewes’s lack of league games before Christmas – a period dominated by cup matches, mostly against lower-ranked teams…]
“You’re playing at a level, or a tempo, that is slower than you need to play at for your league games, and this cup game would be considered at that level. So we made sure we got a friendly in (against Gillingham) on Tuesday, and we rotated all the players around, so they got 60 minutes, playing as hard as they could, under their belt.
“We trained twice a week over the Christmas period. I think it helped… But it doesn’t replace matches. And I still think our fluidity, even today, still wasn’t there.
“Our work rate, our determination, how we tried to set up to play, was great. But I still don’t think our rhythm’s there.”
[Referring to Leeta Rutherford’s move into midfield and the switch to a back four…]
“Historically, she’s been a midfielder. She’s only played in defence in the last few seasons for Portsmouth. We had a go at that on Tuesday. The thinking was to really try to control the midfield…
“What you sometimes lose when you bring a player out of defence is exactly that, but that’s the gamble you take. I think the defence, to concede no goals, did very well.
“It’s another win – that’s the fifth game we’ve played since maybe the end of November, and it’s four wins and a draw. [Cardiff] are a good team, but we want to get that consistency ourselves. Hopefully, we can play a game week after week now.
“This is the first time we’ve played one game after another, but we had to manage that ourselves by getting a friendly.”
Gary Green (Cardiff City): “Hopefully, it’s a wake-up call”
“I think there are ways to lose, and I’m disappointed in our girls today inasmuch as we were outfought, really.
“We got what we deserved, in my world. Did we do enough to win the game?? Definitely not.
“We weren’t tight enough at the back [in the first half]. There were too many through-balls going through, and I don’t know why. We’re not generally like that.
“We’re generally quite tight at the back, which is obviously why we’ve been unbeaten, and we’ve always been quite clinical up front. But today neither end was good enough.
“We’ve got just one or two out with injuries, chest infections, and stuff, but I’m happy with the starting XI. Just, did we do enough? I don’t think so.
“Fair play to Lewes. They’ve kept at it and they deserved to win the game. I know John [Donoghue] of old and he set himself up to give us a game, as it always is here. I knew it wouldn’t be easy. We drew up here at the beginning of the season and obviously lost today…
“The positives out of [being knocked out of the cup] are that it is a wake-up call. We’ve had one or two games – Crystal Palace at home, for example (when Cardiff won 3-2) when arguably, we shouldn’t have won that game, and we scored in the last minute.
“Hopefully this is that wake-up call. I think all clubs at this stage of the season have got to bring one or two [new players] in to freshen it up, which is what I’m trying to do.
“So hopefully, with those coming in, and what we’ve got here now… well, we’ll see.”
[Regarding Cardiff’s ineligibility to play in the FAW Super League if they win the Premier League and subsequent play-off…]
“Each month there are meetings going on. I think eventually it will get overturned. It’s just trying to find our way through it all.”
Sent Her Forward player of the match: Leeta Rutherford (Lewes)
An absolutely outstanding display by a player who is as comfortable in midfield as she is in defence. The former Millwall player never put a foot wrong, breaking up attacks and launching Lewes’s own – she even bagged her second goal for the club with a goalscorer’s finish.
Rutherford is one of the finest players I have seen in a Lewes shirt.
Katie McIntyre, captain in the absence of the injured Kelly Newton, was the perfect foil for Rutherford. Her performance was full of the dynamism, tenacity and guile Lewes fans have come to expect from her, and her set-piece delivery is consistently good. She bagged another assist with the pass for Rutherford’s goal.
Another experienced head helped shore things up again. Tammy Waine has enjoyed an outstanding season for Lewes, whether in a back three or conventional four, and her nous and composure were vital assets once again today.
Rachel Palmer also shone at the back, as she usually does, and Claire Capon was magnificent in the second half, particularly in the last 20 minutes, when the Lewes goal came under severe pressure.
Georgia Bridges also deserves great credit for a fine, disciplined display in which she forsook the creativity that a wide midfield role normally demands for one of back-tracking, tackling and closing down space. She did it effectively, without complaint.
It was not Cardiff’s day, but Hope Suominen led by example, chasing every ball and throwing herself into challenges like a dervish after the break, following a lacklustre first half for all the team.
Gemma Evans also impressed, and belatedly, Kerry Bartlett caused big problems for the Lewes defence.
Sent Her Forward match rating: 7/10 It may not have been full of free-flowing football, but it was a well-contested cup tie in which the tactical battle was won hands-down by John Donoghue and his players.