Just for a moment, little Lewes saw a fairytale unfolding. It happened after 15 minutes, when Wayne Thomas, the Stoke City right-back, attempted a headed back-pass but failed to find his goalkeeper, Gavin Ward. Chris Dicker, the Sussex team's left winger, suddenly had an empty goal at his mercy. He kept his cool but the angle was against him and his rolled shot trickled just the wrong side of the far post.
If there was a turning point, that was probably it. What happened in the first 20 minutes was central to the Lewes game plan but instead of taking an unexpected lead the smallest club left in the FA Cup found themselves a goal behind only three minutes later as Stoke, third in the Second Division and playing in their own stadium, scored the first of two set-piece goals.
Lewes, whose tiny Dripping Pan ground was under water this time last year, now feared a deluge of a different kind but did themselves credit by limiting Stoke to only one more. They had given up home rights to the tie on police advice but the presence of a 7,000 crowd – 50 times their regular home gate – did not intimidate them.
Their goalkeeper Ross Standen gave an outstanding display behind a hard-working defence, pulling off a number of good saves to keep the score to a margin that did not embarrass them. Stoke, who went ahead through Peter Handyside's strike after Jurgen Vandeurzen's corner had been headed back across goal by Siarhei Shtaniuk, extended their advantage 12 minutes into the second half when another Vandeurzen corner was headed home directly by Brynjar Gunnarsson.
Thereafter, the Ryman League Second Division side gave evidence that a little more attacking intent from the start might have given their hosts more to worry about. Lewes' manager Jimmy Quinn had left his leading scorer, Dominic Shepherd, on the bench in the hope of containing Stoke. It was a plan that could hardly be criticised but when Shepherd went on for the last quarter, Stoke's defenders had their busiest spell and almost conceded in the last minute, when Shepherd was unlucky to hit the foot of a post.
"Their players were so big and the pace was so quick," said Lewes centre-back Paul Thomsett. "Their delivery was superb at set-pieces but we defended very well and we felt we did well only to give away two goals." Estimates put the Lewes following at around 1,500, which will help swell the club's coffers by around £40,000, on top of the £46,000 they made by reaching the first round for the first time in their 116-year history.
"It will help the club hugely with developing the ground," their manager, Jimmy Quinn, said. "In time, that will hopefully enable us to move to the next level and a higher league." Stoke face Halifax away in the second round. Lewes return to more sober business tomorrow night, beginning their defence of the Sussex Senior Cup at home to Sidlesham.
Goals: Handyside (18) 0-1, Gunnarsson (57) 0-2.
Lewes (4-4-2): Standen; Cable, Thomsett, Hack, McCallum; C Johnson, Stokes, Harris (Besston 83), Dicker (A Johnson, h-t); Venables (Shepherd 65), Francis. Substitutes not used: Newman, Shepherd, Clark.
Stoke City (4-4-2): Ward; Thomas, Handyside, Shtaniuk, Clarke (Goodfellow 76); Gudjohnsson (Neal 76), Gunnarsson, O'Connor, Vandeurzen; Hoekstra, Iwelumo (Cooke, h-t). Substitutes not used: Cutler (gk), Rowson.
Referee: J Ross (Chingford).
Bookings: Lewes: Thomsett. Stoke: Thomas, Hoekstra.
Man of the match: Standen.Reuse content