Rovers Ladies bowed out of the Women’s FA Cup for the second time after their rearranged fourth round tie away to Brighton ended in a 5-2 defeat.
Gemma Donnelly’s side lost the initial fixture 2-1 last month, but after Brighton were found to have breached competition rules, the game was ordered to be replayed.
Rovers made the perfect start, opening the scoring inside the opening two minutes. Natasha Fenton forced the game’s first corner and it was from her delivery that Ainsley Strickland headed home.
However, three goals in a devastating nine-minute spell turned the game in the hosts’ favour. On four minutes, Lily Agg headed home at the back post, before Lucy Somes fired home Brighton’s second after Danielle Hill had made the initial save.
Then, on 13 minutes, the home side were awarded an extremely soft penalty and Sophie Perry made no mistake from the spot.
On the half-hour mark, Lynda Shepherd had a header cleared off the line from Jess Holbrook’s corner, before Brighton went close with a curling effort from the edge of the area 10 minutes before the break.
Shepherd again went close from a Holbrook corner at the start of the second half, before a tactical change had the desired effect.
On 53 minutes, Emily Hockenhull replaced Fenton and within seconds, Rovers reduced the arrears. Strickland put the Brighton keeper under pressure and after robbing her of the ball, she lobbed home her second of the game from 18 yards out.
As Rovers pushed for an equaliser, Brighton looked to hit on the break. Just before the hour mark, Alex Taylor headed a corner clear off her own line, then moments later, the hosts hit the post and the rebound was fired wide.
On 70 minutes, Brighton’s fourth goal did arrive when Kate Natkiel fired home from 18 yards out.
The chances continued as the game entered injury time, as Brighton rattled the crossbar on the counter-attack, before adding a fifth through substitute Lisa Fulgence as Rovers pushed more bodies forward.
Strickland came close to completing her hat-trick right at the death, as she too rattled the woodwork, before Saffon Jordan headed the rebound over the bar.
“I will be gracious in defeat, despite the unwelcoming return we received when we got down to Brighton, and on the day, they were the better team.
“We made a dream start, with Ainsley heading home inside the opening three minutes, but that kicked Brighton into action and they then scored three goals in nine minutes and put us on the back foot for the majority of the first half.
“The second half was a far more even contest and when we scored just after we made a change to take it to 3-2, we were dominating play. But as time went on, Brighton got back into it and as we pushed for an equaliser, play became more stretched and at 4-2, we just had to go for it.
“The final scoreline flatters them and suggests we were well beaten, which wasn’t the case. Credit to the girls, they gave it everything they had and it was a long way to travel to come away with nothing from the game.”
ROVERS: Hill, Taylor, Kinvig, Flynn, Cook, Shepherd, Holbrook, Fleming, Jordan, Fenton (Hockenhull 53), Strickland.
Subs not used: Bickett.