The road to Wembley is a long one for non-league clubs but Ilkeston saved themselves too much effort by getting off at the first stop.
A largely poor performance against a side from the division below who had lost their manager the day before means there will be no FA Cup run for the Robins this season, nor the revenue to go with it, and again highlighted major deficiencies within the Ilkeston setup.
Too many of their young players aren’t good enough, too many others aren’t playing as a team. A good start was once again not built on as the Robins paid the price for missing good chances early in the game.
A horrendous own goal was the difference in the end but Ilkeston made life hard for themselves on too many occasions. Changes may well be needed now to address numerous issues on the playing front, not least the inexperience which is proving costly now that Ilkeston are five games without a win.
And while an element of bad luck has also been prevalent so far in this campaign, it is defeats such as this which will leave supporters asking plenty of questions as to precisely how the Robins plan to match their lofty ambitions with a team full of novices.
Things began well and it took just 90 seconds for the Robins to take the lead. JJ Blake’s through ball sent Lee Ndlovu clear and as keeper Niall Cooper came out to meet him, Ndlovu nicked the ball past him from 40 yards out and the ball rolled slowly into the net.
Blake forced Cooper into a fine save low down moments later and then Matt Baker headed Charlie Coulson’s cross from a short corner onto the roof of the net.
Ndlovu nearly netted again after hesitancy in the Rugby defence, his effort deflected wide for a corner, a Jonathan Edwards shot suffering a simlar fate on 22 minutes.
Marcus Harness was just wide moments later as the hosts continued to have the better chances, but it would be an Ilkeston error that would see Rugby level the scores on 34 minutes.
Blake was caught napping in the final third of the pitch and after David Kolodynksi crossed for Steve Towers, the Rugby skipper’s shot took a wicked deflection off Baker and rolled into the corner.
Kolodynski found the arms of Evandro Rachoni as Rugby broke well in search of a second, but the teams would go in level at the break.
Chances were few in the early stages of the second-half and it was with the first key one that Rugby took the lead on 64. Callum Powell threaded a ball through to Kolodynski and he delicately finished past Rachoni to spark wild celebrations amongst the visiting support.
Joe Burgess headed a free-kick straight at Cooper on 70 minutes, but the equaliser came seven minutes later when Joe Doyle found Harness out wide and he put in a fabulous cross which Mike Williams hammered home from close range.
The game had been crying out for quality width and crosses from the hosts and when it finally came it proved fruitful.
What wasn’t called for was the method with which Rugby’s winner came eight minutes from time.
Cooper’s long goal kick landed on the head of unattended defender Doyle just outside the penalty area, and his attempted header back to Rachoni sailed over the Brazilian keeper and into the net. The goal probably asked more questions of Rachoni than it did of Doyle, but either way it was a catastrophic and costly moment.
And that was that. Ilkeston couldn’t muster another opening of note despite some late pressure and the visitors held out to earn a victory they deserved for their efforts in the face of adversity.
Robins head coach Gavin Strachan said: “We’ve again been punished for not turning a good start into a win. In the first half-hour we should have been five or six up.
“It’s hugely disappointing to be out of the FA Cup so early. We are learning a lot about these young players in the opening few games and some big decisions might have to be made. I’m not afraid to bring experience in and if it means we have some lads only training part-time then so be it.
“We’ve had some bad luck along the way with some harsh red cards, own goals and also losing a key player like Lee Hughes, even if that was always a possibility, but I’m well aware of the problems and we have to address them and get better.”
Ilkeston: 1 Evandro Rachoni, 2 Joe Doyle, 3 Olly Luto, 4 JJ Blake, 5 Joe Burgess (c), 6 Matt Baker, 7 Marcus Harness, 8 Mike Willliams, 9 Lee Ndlovu (Danny Gordon 64), 10 Jonathan Edwards (Dan Udoh 77), 11 Charlie Coulson (Curtis Burrows 64)
Subs not used: Liam Marshall, Jordan Wheatley, Jahquil Hill, Aiden Print
Rugby: 1 Niall Cooper, 2 Ryan Walker, 3 Craig Kelly, 4 Steve Towers (c), 5 Tom Ryan, 6 Mason Rowley, 7 Danny Clifton, 8 Rob Parker, 9 David Kolodynski, 10 Callum Powell (Charlie Whiteside 88), 11 Sam Warburton
Subs not used: Melanius Mullarkey, Harry Holloway, Trovarn Thompson,Tom Glasscoe
Ref: A Dallison
Star Robin: Mike Williams