Eastbourne Borough were edged out of the Sussex Senior Cup 2-1 at Lewes on Tuesday night, losing to an extra-time goal after centre-back Marvin Hamilton had been sent off.
With five former Sports players in the home line-up, as well as an entire Lewes coaching team with a Priory Lane background, the Ex-Factor was always going to play a part. A misfiring Borough was often on the back foot, against a committed Lewes side masterminded by Garry Wilson and superbly led on the field by former Borough favourite Matt Crabb.
On a bitingly cold night, and a playable but unreliable Dripping Pan pitch, saw Borough fail to put their passing game together with any consistency, and the home side’s direct and expansive play caused persistent problems.
Elliott Romain gave the Rooks a 14th minute lead, finishing off a smart move between Tom Davis and Henry Muggeridge.
Frankie Raymond levelled from the penalty spot after Sam Crabb had brought down Darren Lok.
Lewes had more of the play after that, but there were few clear chances and extra time began to loom large.
In a stop-start game, referee Dean Treleaven awarded an astonishing fifty free-kicks, almost all for niggling or spoiling fouls rather than for anything ugly.
But crucially Treleaven also dished out five cautions to Borough – against just one for Lewes – and the last of those saw Hamilton’s departure for a second yellow, leaving the Sports a man short for some 45 minutes in total.
Just two minutes into extra time Wheeler – a handful all night – rounded the defence on the left and fired in a low shot that cruelly deflected past a helpless Lewis Carey.
Borough threw on substitute strikers Richard Pacquette and Nat Pinney, but the buoyant home side were in no mood to let the game slip, and with canny Matt Crabb pulling the strings to the very end, Lewes had fully earned their place in the Senior Cup semi-finals.