Late goals in each half saw Rovers see off the spirited challenge of Southern Combination Premier Division runners up Crawley Down Gatwick.
We can debate for months the validity of a high flying Step 5 runner up playing a struggling Step 4 side (although our form for the final three months was anything but that of a struggling side, it was just the mid season that left us where we were), with arguments for relegating four sides automatically (i would agree in a 22 side division, but in a 20 team division thats nigh on a quarter of the teams) or three down, with step 5 runners up playing each other for eight places. However i digress, it is what it is, and so we found ourselves facing off against an in-form Crawley Down side.
Darren Salmon and Sam Morgan made one change from the side that had beaten Ashford on the last day of the regular season, with Shakeel Morris coming in for Max Oldham, who was on holiday; Hermann Tehe and Gabriel Odunaike were on the treatment table, and Antonio Simeone was unavailable.
As expected it was a relatively cagey opening to the game, although the lower ranked visitors were enjoying the better of the possession with Rovers all too frequently playing directly into the hands of Guy Harding and Mark Pelling in the heart of the Crawley Down defence.
Rovers Tyler Cox found his way into the referees book for a mistimed challenge on Ben Chowney, only eight minutes into the contest. Crawley Down were continuing to have the better of things and Chowney linked up with Rhys White and a low cross was turned behind by Liam Holden.
The recalled Morris then set up Rovers first chance, jinking left and right before delivering a low cross to Conan Torpey, but his shot was blocked and cleared.
Crawley Down, with the neat promptings of Sam Clements were still looking the most likely to open the scoring, although it was Rovers who almost struck the first blow midway through the half. Morris found Nabeel Ghannam and the talented midfielder worked an opening but could only drag his shot wide of the right hand post.
Josh Brown whipped in a dangerous free kick from the left, which flew across the face of the Rovers goal with neither defenders or attackers able to make contact.
On the half hour Ghannam, who was becoming more and more influential, bought a tidy save out of Dave Carruthers low down to his left. Brown and Clements then both saw shots blocked by the Rovers backline as neither side could make the all important breakthrough.
Michael Spence fired an effort over the bar, and just as it looked the half would end level, Rovers struck the first blow. Ghannam again did superbly, this time on the left and his low driven cross was turned home from close range by Conan Torpey to give Rovers a vital lead.
The expected second half onslaught from Crawley Down did not materialise, and Rovers were able to settle into the game, with the diminuative pairing of Ghannam and Courtney Swaby controlling the middle of the park.
Rovers were struck a blow on 65 minutes when Torpey felt unwell during the game and made way for Tyrese Sutherland, to give the hosts a different type of attacking threat. It should have been 2-0 on 67 minutes but a Bert Lloyd volley after a Swaby free kick had not been cleared flew high over the crossbar.
Crawley Down were still proving dangerous going forward, but the Rovers backline of Danny Divine, Lloyd, Holden and Matt Tanton were coping with everything thrown at them and James Dillon remained relatively untroubled.
CLements saw a shot deflected behind for a corner and from the delivery the now expected “all hands to the pump” defensive scramble as Rovers defended a corner took place. Most SCR fans have become accustomed to these, and there was a general feeling of “well we will survive this, we normally do”.
Zaid Ouaret Sorr replaced Morris with time running out, and it was an attempted link up between Cox and Sorr that inadvertently led to the second Rovers goal on 87 minutes. Cox saw his through ball blocked and as the ball was launched clear it struck him on the hip and looped high over Carruthers and nestled into the back of the net to secure Rovers survival.
There was still time for both keepers to excel, Dillon doing superbly to prevent an Oli Leslie header from creeping in, and Carruthers foiling Cox when left one-on-one.
Rovers now face a wait to see if they will be in the Isthmian South Central, or if the powers that be decide to move them elsewhere. For visitors Crawley Down, no doubt the hope of going one better next season, and having a great run in the FA Vase.