Loxwood manager Dave Cocoracchio said he was left with a bitter taste after the manner of their Sussex Senior Cup semi-final exit last night.
Ryman League Premier Division side Lewes booked their place at the Amex in the final of the prestigious competition with a 3-0 victory at Culver Road.
But although noting that the Rooks deserved their victory, Cocoracchio rightly believed the game hinged on a controversial moment at the start of the second half.
Lewes, who led through Nicky Wheeler’s 37th-minute volley, added a second through Aaron Hopkinson just 19 seconds into the half when Loxwood had ten men on the pitch.
With the Magpies making a half-time substitution, the referee started the second period before they had replacement Andre Elkana on the pitch.
That killed the game as a contest and Ollie Rowe then glanced home a header to put the result beyond doubt.
Cocoracchio said: “I think the pivotal point of the game, which for a semi-final to be left like this is just awful, is that I have said to the boys at half-time we have a chance of getting back into it and then at the start of the second half we haven’t even got 11 players on the pitch.
“We are trying to make a substitution and we have let the fourth official know, the referee has counted the players on the pitch, the player we are trying to bring on is a left-sided midfield player and with ten seconds of the half they go down where our substitute was going to go and they score.
“That quite frankly, as any manager will tell you goals change games, that has killed us, absolutely killed us.
“From that point forward all your game plan has gone out of the window.
“I think the most disappointing thing is the dishonesty from the officials and I use that word as when you go and try and speak to them, they say come and speak afterwards, but they don’t take responsibility for their actions.
“If we do something wrong on the touchline, when my players do something wrong on the pitch, we pay the penalty for it.
“I didn’t mind losing, I always felt there was a strong possibility that could happen as they are a very good team and well-structured as you would expect being two leagues above us, but I didn’t want to leave with that feeling of controversy and what could have been and should have been.
“Even their players are saying they would have felt the same way. That’s the bitter taste, but I am proud of my players and where we have gone and got to in the competition on behalf of the County League.”
The Magpies boss, however, was pleased with his side’s efforts and acknowledged Lewes had the better of the chances.
He continued: “Our goalkeeper has pulled off four very good saves and we haven’t really asked too much of theirs, so I can’t say I am gutted or aggrieved that we should have won, but I look back to that incident.
“I think we competed when we stood up and were counted which was important against a team two league’s above, but I think we lacked a bit of quality in what we did with the ball in possession.
“The most important thing is that we have done ourselves proud and the club is proud of what we have achieved in this competition.
“If we had said at the start of the season we were going to be in the last four playing Lewes here, we’d have not believed it.
“We have got to make sure we keep our heads high and go into Saturday against Hassocks. Our ambition is to finish in the top six as high as we can and obviously win the RUR Cup final in a couple of weeks.”