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Given that Lewes have finished in the top four of the South East Combination for the last three seasons, you could be forgiven for thinking that this time round they just squeezed a couple of extra wins to land the title.
There's much more to it than that though - whilst closest rivals Enfield Town and Norwich City have maintained their form from last season, Lewes have shot ahead and in truth won the league with ease. 19 wins, one draw, 108 goals scored and 14 conceded saw them secure the title with three games to spare.
Rewind to June last year when manager Jacquie Agnew made a not-altogether popular decision to start pre-season a bit earlier than normal! The squad spent summer evenings sprinting up and down the steps on Brighton sea front before playing no fewer than four pre-season friendlies including a good showing against Premier League West Ham.
There was no arguing with the results at the start of the season however as during August, Lewes chalked up 25 goals in three games, conceding just one and sending out a message to the rest of the league by thrashing title contenders Norwich 8-1.
As well as reaping the benefits of a tougher pre-season, Lewes also simply had a bigger and better squad than before. Players taking summer holidays in August and September had no impact on the results and manager Agnew was forced to loan out some players in order to give them games. Sometimes there wasn't even room on the bench for players who last season would have been in with a shout for a starting place.
Thankfully the task of keeping such a large and competitive group of players happy didn't solely fall to Agnew as the management team was bolstered by Head of Development Dave Cole, coach Thomas Fawdry and goalkeeping coach Tom Betts. New signing Tammy Waine also put her coaching skills into practice and Steve Cameron took care of fitness. Training was never boring!
The Lewes juggernaut sped on through September and October, winning every game and only once failing to score more than three goals. Summer signings Holly Grogan, Jo Gardiner and Andreia Veiga all featured prominently in attack alongside the free-scoring Tammy Waine and Clare Trafford. With Charlotte Bennett in typically good form too Agnew suddenly had several quality options out wide, something lacking from previous Lewes teams.
England Under-23 international Naomi Cole also signed and immediately formed a formidable central midfield partnership with captain Kelly Newton. Cole brought a new goal scoring threat from midfield and scored a spectacular 35-yard volley against Ebbsfleet. Stacy Baker slotted in alongside the ever-consistent Lel Smith at centre back and brought some, at times, game-saving pace to the Lewes defence. Agnew had quality options at full back as well where she has been able to rotate Steph O'Reilly, Emma Wood and Holly Hinshelwood to good effect, while behind them Trish Gower has delivered the goods when covering for regular keeper Layla Young.
The strong Autumn run culminated in two crucial victories as November arrived, firstly a 3-0 win away to closest rivals Enfield and then, with a side depleted by injuries, a hard fought victory by the same margin against tricky Crystal Palace in which call ups Stacy Arrowsmith and Kirstie Spice both scored.
November brought a glut of cup fixtures for the Rookettes, firstly easing past Portsmouth University 4-1 in the 3rd round of FA Cup qualifying, then thumping Seahaven 19-0 in the County Cup before bowing out of the League Cup with a 2-1 defeat to Enfield who executed two perfect counter attacks to snatch a late victory. There was also time to make it through the first round proper of the FA Cup before Christmas with a 3-0 win against C & K Basildon, a tough match notable for left back Steph O'Reilly's fantastic 40-yard lob which sent her side on the way to victory.
Frozen pitches then ensured an extended Christmas break and their first match back a 2-0 defeat to Oxford United put an end to Lewes' FA Cup run. Not a nice feeling at the time but looking back Dave Cole admits it did no harm to the league campaign.
Lewes used the transfer window to bring in reinforcements in the form of midfielder Katie Baker and defender Katie McNamara who both hit the ground running. Five away fixtures in a row saw the Rooks collect maximum points at difficult Cambridge, Crystal Palace and crucially Norwich City, and make short work of Eastbourne Town to reach the Sussex Challenge Cup Final. Lewes' unbeaten league run almost came to an unlikely end in atrocious conditions at MK Dons but Cole's equalising header in the dying minutes rescued her side, and days later the Rookettes beat Enfield 2-1 to reach the final of the Ryman Cup in a thrilling semi final.
Sussex Challenge Cup holders Lewes then couldn't repeat their heroics of the 2008-09 Final when they overcame Brighton on penalties, this time going down 3-1 to the Premier League side. There was considerable consolation however as Enfield lost to Crystal Palace to hand the title to Lewes, who then underlined their superiority by handing Enfield another defeat before beating Cambridge 3-1 with 16-year-old Georgia Bridges grabbing her first goal for the club.
Manager Jacquie Agnew and Club Director Ron Moore have now won seven trophies since the 2002-03 season which includes two league titles. In this time frame Lewes have gone from being 300th to becoming a top 30 side and insist their remarkable progression is far from over. Agnew said: "I believe if you create the right environment for players and have the right team chemistry they will express themselves fully when they play, everyone buys into the culture we have and professionalism with a smile on your face is a big part of that."
The stage is now set for an historic first season in the Women's Premier League and a good first term and build from there.
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