Lewes (0) 2 (Bergin 48; Moloney 50)
Crystal Palace (1) 1 (Watling 24)
Two moments of magic from Shannon Moloney changed the course of the game as Lewes bounced back from a shaky first half to defeat Crystal Palace and become early joint-leaders of the FAW Championship.
But if the midfielder was at the centre of the goals that clinched the points, it was another piece of magic – from full-back Vicky Carleton – that arguably had the biggest impact on the result.
A minute into the second half, with Palace looking to build on their deserved half-time lead, they won their third corner of the game.
Goalscorer Ciara Watling’s short corner was intercepted by the tenacious Carleton, who suddenly accelerated away from her opponents and found herself in previously uncharted territory – in the Londoners’ half with possession and momentum.
With the help of referee Kirsty Dowle, who overruled her assistant, just feet away from the action, Carleton earned Lewes a corner of their own, and in that moment the complexion of the game was transformed.
Katie McIntyre spotted the diminutive Moloney unmarked on the edge of the box and fed her a pinpoint cross, which the midfielder volleyed expertly towards goal.
Goalkeeper Megen Lynch pushed her shot on to the bar, but after the ball bounced close to the line, Avilla Bergin poked it home, just to be sure.
It was just what Lewes needed after being outplayed and, unusually, outfought during the first half, even though the narrow half-time margin meant they were always still in the game.
Two minutes later, Lewes won another corner on that same right-hand side. Incredibly, Moloney, lurking in exactly the same spot, was not picked up again, and when McIntyre’s cross was knocked down to her, the former Spurs playmaker superbly hooked a shot from the edge of the box into the roof of Lynch’s net.
A game that had been slipping away from them was suddenly there for the taking, and apart from a renewed spell of Palace pressure towards the end of the contest, the hosts rarely looked like giving it up, running out deserved winners in the end.
It could – and perhaps should – have been so different.
Palace, who had by all accounts done themselves justice in their 4-0 defeat against Chelsea on Sunday, had come out of the blocks as though on a mission – as they usually do when they face Lewes under the Dripping Pan lights.
They were first to every ball, pressuring Lewes’s shaky back four into hurried clearances and punishing them every time they dwelt on the ball.
Hope Nash was excellent on the left flank, becoming involved in virtually every spiky confrontation, either with her combative challenges (which fell either side of what the referee felt was permissible) or drawing equally robust challenges and finger-wagging from her opponents.
And up front, while Ashlee Hincks is always a threat, her strike partner, Chloe Burr, was giving Lewes real problems with her pace, tenacity and clever movement.
She was denied on 11 minutes when, exploiting space vacated by the marauding Natasha Wells, she bore down on goal, but Faye Baker rushed from her area to block with her feet and her defenders completed the clearing-up.
And then, after Nash had halted Carleton when in full flow with a brilliant challenge and Lewes had put together their one positive move of note in the first half, with excellent work by McIntyre and Bergin, the visitors grabbed the goal they had been threatening.
Rosie Paye failed to get enough power behind her header back to Baker and Andrea Georgiou took advantage, bearing down on goal before unselfishly squaring for Watling to tap home on 24 minutes.
Even in that first half, where Lewes were second-best to almost everything, that McIntyre-Moloney combination had provided Palace with a warning of what was to come, the former finding the latter with their only corner of the half but her header relatively easily cleared.
Sarah Kempson replaced the injured Paye at the interval, and she immediately added a new dimension to the midfield, which McIntyre vacated to take Paye’s place in defence.
But even Kempson could not have expected the rapid about-turn caused by Moloney’s impact in the Palace box and ignited by Carleton’s moment of magic.
After the early goals, Lewes were buzzing. There was a spring in their step and a bite to their play, forcing a string of corners, all of which – thanks to McIntyre’s metronomic accuracy and Moloney’s menace – constituted a genuine threat to the Palace goal.
And Carleton, who was enjoying herself down the right flank, was at the centre of most of it.
She made way for Charley Boswell on 79 minutes and left the field to appreciative applause from the 304-strong crowd.
The tempo fell – not that you would have noticed from the substitute’s continued forays down the wing where Carleton had enjoyed so much success.
But Palace had lost that first-half fight and verve that had threatened to overwhelm their hosts.
And after another substitute, Rebecca Carter, had been denied by Lynch’s legs following Lewes’s best move of the match, involving Leeta Rutherford and Bergin, the referee brought the game to an end, leaving the Sussex side, temporarily at least, in top spot – a position they share with Tottenham Hotspur after two league wins apiece.
Palace boss Dean Davenport was still locked in the away dressing room with his players as the lights began to go down at the Dripping Pan, so I’m unable to report his views on the transformation in fortunes. Suffice to say, he will have spotted areas to work on before Sunday’s derby at Millwall.
He did later give an inkling of his feelings in a tweet.
Words can’t describe how im feeling after that 2nd half performance!! I won’t hide and we will work hard to put it right….Cant thank the travelling fans enough special as always👏 i know you will stick with us 🔴🔵
— Dean Davenport (@DeanDavenport7) September 19, 2018
John Donoghue, however, could look forward to Lewes’s third home game in a week, against Leicester City, with a fully fit – and increasingly confident – squad after they bounced back not only from a half-time deficit but a 9-0 Continental Cup mauling by Arsenal on Sunday.
He told Sent Her Forward: “Rosie (Paye) had an injury, so I had to take her off. But [they were] contrasting halves. [Lewes were] a bit static; a lack of movement; they didn’t track the runners for the first half.
“And then we got the bit between our teeth that historically, Lewes teams have, and we started to press higher, get after them and actually get some balls in behind so that we could use that pace that we’ve got.”
He acknowledged that Crystal Palace had the better of the first half. “They got to us really quickly. Any balls that dropped, they got after us. We just needed to be a little bit calmer.”
Sent Her Forward player of the match: Vicky Carleton (Lewes)
Like most of her team-mates, she didn’t enjoy much quality ball in the first half, when Chloe Burr, Hope Nash and Andrea Georgiou dominated.
But her marvellous interception and run that ultimately earned Lewes that crucial corner so soon after half-time seemed to have a big effect on the game, and she went on to become her side’s most dangerous player.
Until then, only Danni Lane and Avilla Bergin had had much of an impact for Lewes, but Sarah Kempson, who was introduced at half-time, helped turn the game Lewes’s way – as did Shannon Moloney – while whether in the centre of midfield or the centre of defence, Katie McIntyre is always at the centre of something.
Credit, too, to goalkeeper Faye Baker, who again made some vital saves – usually with her legs or feet – but more significantly, appears to have rediscovered her confidence, which is having a positive effect on the defenders in front of her.
Sent Her Forward match rating: 6/10