MATCH REPORT: Rovers have a Hill to climb

Rovers exit the FA Cup in an Extra Preliminary Round replay, to a very impressive Burgess Hill Town

Burgess Hill really is a picturesque ground, with a great atmosphere nestled amongst a leafy tree-lined amphitheatre. But we’re not here for the scenery, we’re here to win a place in the next round of the FA Cup.

Two changes to the line-up from the home game, Conan Torpey and Siao Blackwood both start, with Aaron Jenkins and Ben Holden joining Gideon Acheampong, Noah Africa, Gabriel Odunaike and Louie Eritokristos on the bench. Liam Holden and Isy Nzelo both unavailable.

From the outset it was clear that Burgess Hill were quicker to the ball than Rovers. Every loose ball or wayward pass, Rovers’ were a yard off the pace, giving the Hill the space to be creative and dominate in midfield. It wasn’t that we lacked the will, just the energy to do it justice.

In an early warning, Hill’s Josh Spinks pushes the ball out wide on their left to Martyn Box, who curls his cross to the edge of the D finding Kieron Pammant, his shot narrowly over the bar. Pammant would continue to cause Rovers problems for the rest of his involvement in the game. With continued pressure on Rovers’ back line, Lewis Finney shakes off Siao Blackwood, and plays in Rob O’Toole, his cross is not dealt with and Tyrese Mthunzi fires a shot from a tight angle, which Bertie Lloyd blocks.

Rovers were having their moments, though. The enterprising combination of Courtney Swaby and Max Oldham linking up well in the middle of the park. Swaby cuts inside playing Oldham in giving him space, but his shot was just wide of the left post.

On 22 minutes Burgess Hill put together a string of intricate passes, carving open our defence. Box chips the ball down to O’Toole, who passes inside Reece Mallard. Mallard’s return pass finds Box again deep in our penalty area, the cross met by Pammant whose touch evades both Matt Tanton and James Dillon, and finds the back of the net, with Dillon colliding into his left-hand post. Burgess Hill open their account.

With Rovers hoping for an immediate reply, a high ball from Lloyd from the centre of the park is headed down by Conan Torpey into the path of Swaby. Dropping a shoulder, and gliding out to the left, his shot hits the side netting. Moments later a great ball from Oldham, splits the Burgess defence, giving Danny Divine space to run on to, his cross deflected out to Swaby. Taking a step-over or two, Swaby’s shot was turned round the post by keeper Taylor Seymour.

Rovers survive further sieges into their half, Dillon saving a long range shot from Pammant, who had again made room for himself. A clever free kick from Box, down to Finney on their left, who puts in a dangerous cross, Divine heading away and Lloyd clearing Spinks’ follow through.

Just prior to half-time, a free kick to Rovers from about 30yds out, sees Oldham chip the ball out to the left but Antonio Simeone’s header was just wide. To their credit, though, Rovers did create some chances and did well to keep the deficit to one. But going into the break, we knew something had to change.

After waiting for what seemed to be a long time for the officials to make an appearance, the start of the second half saw the introduction of Ben Holden and Aaron Jenkins, for Siao Blackwood and Nabeel Ghannam. The change immediately lifted our game, as our formation appeared more cohesive. A mis-timed clearance from Burgess Hill is directed straight to Swaby, who crosses deep into their penalty area finding Torpey, whose diving header was wide, but the urgency that was lacking in the first half was now becoming apparent.

On 54mins, good build up play from Charlie Martin and Torpey provides Oldham with space for a smart pass into the centre 10yds outside the Burgess Hill box, finding Aaron Jenkins. His perfect first touch tees up a right foot shot low inside the left post, leaving the keeper rooted. Just the breakthrough we needed.

Jenkins again sets off on a run from the half way line skipping past his marker, drawing a foul from Spinks, who is cautioned. Burgess Hill set a high defensive line for the free-kick, taken by Swaby. Pammant clears the danger, the ball falling to Nic D’Arienzo, but his progess is well intercepted by Ben Holden.

Rovers continued to press, forcing a corner on the right. In a packed 6yd box Lloyd gets head and shoulders above his marker onto the Swaby cross, but the ball drops onto the crossbar and out for a goal-kick. Marcel Powell, who had come on for Lewis Finney, then found space on their right crossing the ball to O’Toole who forced a point blank save from Dillon.

At 74mins, from a Hill throw, Pammant floats a ball in behind our defence, Mallard has the slightest of touches and somehow the ball dips under Dillon, which has him diving backward toward his line. To be fair, the goal had a suspicion of offside about it, and conjecture as to whether it actually crossed the line, but Mallard was quick to wheel way and celebrate, to no great appeal from Rovers.

Rovers didn’t let their heads drop, though, as they easily could have done. Another superb ball from Swaby threaded through the Burgess defence found Jenkins advancing to the left post. One on one with the keeper, but with Taylors outstretched leg, Jenkins shot was deflected away.

Around 75mins and Torpey is replaced by Noah Africa, and an immediate involvement sees Africa slip the ball through the Burgess defence with Jenkins running on to it, clean through but was flagged offside,

Another great touch, turn and pass from Africa to Oldham, who carves himself out a chance with a spirited run goalward, but his shot rifled over the bar.

After 6mins added time, and with seconds to spare a long throw from B.Holden finds Lloyd, who heads down to Martin, his shot is deflected out as far as Oldham, who pulls it just wide of the post. The last kick of the game

For the second season in a row, Rovers bow out of the FA Cup in a hard fought replay of their opening round. Our first half was poor, but there were some positives to be taken from the second. We didn’t give up, we stayed strong until the end and we made the opposition fight to keep their lead. Next up, Met Police.

Full images can be found on Flickr