For the second home game in a row, some contentious refereeing/assistant decisions cost Rovers dear. A bumper crowd of 381 turned out for a tie where near neighbours and Southern Premier League level Hitchin Town were perhaps favourites and expected to easily overcome lower league Rovers, the officials became the main talking point post-match for the home support. Hitchin were first to show in the 6th minute but Lewis Ferrell’s free-kick from the edge of the Rovers box sailed harmlessly over. Nathan Tshikuna got Rovers into attacking action when, from a feed by Victor Osobu, his curling effort went narrowly over. Rovers’ Dean Dummett found himself in some space on 15 minutes but his flicked effort went wide of the post and he was deemed to be in an offside position. Hitchin’s Ferrell had another free-kick pop at goal but fired straight at Kyle Forster in the Rovers goal who held comfortably. In the 36th minute Rovers captain Garry Jones sent in a dangerous-looking left wing cross that cleared the Hitchin bar by inches. Up to this point a great deal of midfield endeavour but a disappointing lack of anything created by way of clear-cut scoring opportunities on either side. However, that changed radically in the space of two minutes before the half-time whistle. Firstly, on 43 minutes, Rovers Osobu, showing fantastic anticipation, latched on to a Tshikuna through ball and, despite Hitchin’s keeper Charlie Horlock blocking Osubu’s first effort, the ricochet was fired home by the home right-winger and the home crowd jubilant until a referee/assistant consultation resulted in the ‘goaI’ being chalked off for an offside only the two officials saw. Just two minutes later the referee again took centre stage awarding Hitchin the softest of free-kicks when Rovers centre-back John Sonuga was adjudged to have fouled a Hitchin forward who was clearly on his way to the deck BEFORE any contact was made on him by Sonuga. The free-kick was fired low and hard across the Rovers box and a bout of pinball ensued with Hitchin’s Lewis Barker getting the final meaningful touch to open the scoring but not before loud appeals for a Hitchin handball were waved away by the man in the middle. Half-time and Hitchin went in somewhat contentiously a goal to the good.
The second half followed a similar pattern to the first with neither side seeming able to fashion a move worthy of a goal. For Rovers, Tony Williams Jr made himself an opening after 53 minutes but the finish sailed over, likewise did Jerome Jibodu’s effort after 67 minutes. The nearest Hitchin came to scoring was from a defensive mix-up when Rovers defender Jemale McKenzie-Lowe and his keeper Forster got their wires crossed but the ball fortunately rolled out for a Hitchin corner which proved fruitless. In the dying seconds, Rovers centre-forward Connor Vincent got his head to an in-swinging corner but couldn’t quite get the power required to score on his effort and Horlock was able to snuff out the danger. A match that in all honesty warranted Rovers getting another bite at the cherry by way of a replay was therefore decided by a couple of woefully inaccurate decisions by the incumbent officials and instead Hitchin Town progress to the 3rd qualifying round draw on Monday.
Rovers Team: Forster, Griffiths (Jibodu 63), Jones, Dummett, Sonuga, McKenzie-Lowe, Osobu, Gibson (Lukulay 75), Vincent, Williams Jr, Tshikuna.
Rovers MOM: Jemale McKenzie-Lowe