The game started with Rovers’ taking up the mantle and commandeering early possession, the combination of Matt Tanton, Nabeel Ghannam and Ashley Sheppard, stringing together some nice incisive moves on the left, but in the final third could not penetrate the host’s defence. South Park’s no11 Jamarie Brissett looked lively on the occasions they pressed, with Brendan Murphy-McVey delivering his customary telling passes, and Ryan Healy patrolling in front of their back four.
After 3min, a quick long throw from Tanton finds Anthony Ogbanufe in the corner, who links up well with Ghannam, turning his man sending over a lovely cross, but keeper Josh Barnett claims. From his throw out, a well anticipated interception from Tanton, gives him a 20yd run on goal, gets a shot away, but without enough venom to worry Barnett.
Out on the right Isy Nzelo and Ogbanufe work well together, combining to feed into Swaby, whose cross wins a corner. From the hugely in-swinging kick, Barnett palms over the bar, but didn’t look comfortable. The resulting corner sailed harmlessly over to the left.
Rovers continue to press on both left and right sides, winning a succession of Swaby corners and Ben Holden throw-ins, but the last touch still evades them. Again, the combination of Nzelo and Ogbanufe create opportunity, forcing Jack tucker to put out for a corner. Swaby delivers, but Mack Reilly was judged to have impeded keeper Barnett.
On the break, South Park were still asking questions. A dangerous ball into our box reaches Brissett, who turns to push out to Joe Bell, his shot blocked by Ghannam, Sam King picking up the loose ball is quick down their left but Nzelo blocks the shot and sees the ball out. From the long throw Murphy-McVey controls the ball on the edge of the box, setting up a shot from Healy, but too easy for Dillon.
At 26mins a fifty-fifty challenge between Brissett and Tanton, earns the Rovers left-back a yellow card.
South Park’s tall centre-back Ethan Kaiser, a player instrumental in breaking down many of Rovers’ attacks, does well to keep possession in front of his own penalty area, and slow the pace down. His pass finds Craig McGee outside Rovers 18yd box with men in support. He passes out wide to Jude Molloy, but the cross drifted over the bar.
On our right side, Ogbanufe’s cross is blocked out by Molloy for yet another corner. One of these has to make some impact at some point. Swaby’s delivery was judged to have taken a deflection off on of our players, as Nzelo lets the ball run out for what he thought was a throw to us. From their throw up the line Brissett bursts into the box, puts the ball out to Aiden Brown, Bertie Lloyd blocks the shot. From the throw-in, a great clearance from Antonio Simeone reaches Ghannam on the break who shrugs off his defender, but his shot is a whisker past the left post.
Just past the half hour, playing out from a goal kick a poor pass from Kaiser is intercepted by Ghannam who squares it to Sheppard. His fierce shot rattled the cross bar, but looped over for a goal kick. A hard tackle on Swaby wins Rovers a free kick at 35yds, Ghannam takes a crack which rebounds off the wall, Nzelo squandering the follow-up.
Another poor clearance from South Park is caught by Sheppard, which gives him room to shoot, which is powerful but not on target. With 1 minute added time South Park break, again Brissett on the right teaming up with Tucker for a give and go, but Tucker’s shot from the return ball was safely caught by Dillon.
Into the break all square, but Rovers must be asking themselves why there has been no return on so many chances
South Park start the half with more promise than the first, immediately winning a corner from a long ball from Kaiser to King, whose cross was deflected out by Lloyd. The corner did not trouble Dillon, but the tempo of South Parks game has risen such that they look confident going forward.
Our response from Holden, Swaby and Ogbanufe working into the box, continue to put pressure on the South Park back line but the keeper has yet to be truly tested. A defensive mistake from Nzelo let South Park in, with King and Murphy-McVey through on goal, and you would have thought with their quality they must score. Somehow it is scrambled away.
Just before the hour Kaiser threads a ball through to Brissett, who side steps Simeone and gets a shot away, Dillon turning it round the post. From the corner Joe Bell heads over. The pressure on Rovers becoming relentless. South Park make their first substitution, Ben Jordan replacing Murphy-McVey.
Although the play had evened out in the second half, you had a sense that something was brewing. 63mins saw a long ball from Healy finding King out wide on the right, whose shot puts Dillon on the wrong foot, and the ball glides past him to open the scoring. Against the run of play from their first half performance, but not from the second. Prior to the restart Rovers’ Aaron Jenkins is brought on for Reilly.
On 66 minutes Tanton picked up a second yellow, and was dismissed, only for the referee to change his mind, rescind the card and allow Tanton to continue – Swaby was booked instead.
Minutes later and following a foul in the middle of the park, Rovers switched off, the Sparks took a quick free kick and King raced clear, rounded Dillon and rolled home for 2-0.
With 20 minutes remaining, and still time enough to peg South Park back, Ghannan is poleaxed by Brissett, given no caution. With Swaby ready to take, the Ref goes over to his linesman for a further consultation. For what we can only guess – the free kick amounting to nothing.
After a South Park charge breaks down, Ghannam picks up the loose ball in his own half, spotting the keeper off his line, delivers an audacious lob just over the bar with Barnett back-peddling frantically– he’ll score one of those at some point, but unfortunately not tonight. On 77mins Ghannam is replaced by Jordan Wilson.
After a Swaby free kick is headed out for a corner, Swaby plays the kick short to Jenkins but his great effort is just wide. An improved period of play from Rovers see the chances returning in their favour. On 82mins, good distribution from Dillon finds Jenkins, whose run down the right is bundled out for a throw-in. Holden takes a long searching throw, with Lloyd challenging in the six-yard box, the full back (we think) Tucker heads in for an own goal.
As the clock ticks down for the end of the game, Healy saw red for South Park. Another hugely disappointing result for the Rovers in a game that promised so much, but delivered so little.