It was a game of two halves for Rovers in Morecambe as they fell to a 4-3 defeat at the Mazuma Stadium.
Gary McSheffrey’s side got off to the perfect start with Aidan Barlow giving them the lead after seven minutes, while goals from Dan Gardner and Joseph Olowu put Rovers 3-0 to the good inside 30 minutes.
But the second half spelled disaster for Rovers. Cole Stockton got one back for Morecambe within eight minutes and from that point the attacking intent from the home side was unyielding. Stockton got a second with 15 minutes remaining before Jonathan Obika drew the game level in the 83rd minute. Barely two minutes later, Toumani Diagouraga's sensational strike from 30 yards had sealed the points for the home side.
McSheffrey made a number of changes after the defeat to Sunderland last time out with Ethan Galbraith returning to the starting XI after being out through illness. Gardner and Barlow also started while Ro-Shaun Williams returned to the bench for the first time since picking up an injury in early November.
It initially appeared to be an inspired team selection from the new permanent manager with both Barlow and Gardner helping to add tenacity and work rate while Galbraith’s return added a touch of class in the middle of the park.
Barlow started extremely brightly and had an effort saved by Kyle Letheren before opening the scoring in the seventh minute.
Branden Horton’s left-footed corner kick was dropped right on top of the keeper and what ensued was chaos. The ball ricocheted between bodies inside the six-yard box for what seemed like forever until it fell to Barlow who hammered the ball into the roof of the net to give Rovers a deserved lead.
Morecambe registered a couple of half-chances around the 15-minute mark. Jonah Ayunga headed wide from a corner and Stockton’s attempted overhead kick from the edge of Jones’ box didn’t trouble the keeper.
Two goals in three minutes then put Rovers firmly in the ascendancy.
A smart turn in midfield by Galbraith seemed to take most of the home side’s midfield out of the play, and Rovers were able to work the ball down the left to Horton. The Academy graduate drove to the by-line and crossed to Gardner who fired on target and the ball bobbled through Letheren’s legs.
Minutes later, Rovers were awarded a corner which was played short, and Smith got to the by-line and chipped a ball across the goal for Olowu to head in at the back post.
McSheffrey was forced into a first half substitution when Bogle picked up an injury – Joe Dodoo came on in his place.
Morecambe finished the half well and Jones was forced in to his first save of the afternoon just before half-time. Arthur Gnahoua tried his luck from distance, but it was comfortable enough for the young shot-stopper down to his left. His second intervention came a few minutes later when he collected a looping Greg Leigh header on his goal line.
Half-time brought changes for both teams. Liam Ravenhill was brough on in place of Gardner while Robinson introduced Aaron Wildig.
The home side’s substitute had a near immediate impact. A ball long to the back post was kept alive by Wildig. He picked out Stockton and the centre forward couldn’t miss from six yards and gave his side a lifeline early in the second half.
Morecambe kept coming in waves. Rowe, Kyle Knoyle, Horton, and Olowu all made important blocks before a good claim by Jones allowed Rovers to take the sting out of a particularly relentless run of attacking play from the Shrimps.
Tiago Cukur was introduced on the hour as Barlow picked up an injury and Hiwula was booked shortly after as the endless pressure from the home side began to tell.
Chances continued to fall the home side’s way as they put ball after ball into the Rovers box. Stockton headed narrowly wide of the far post from a fierce free-kick delivery, Leigh headed over and Ryan McLaughin lifted a ball over from distance.
The best chance of the period fell to Stockton who forced an excellent save from Jones at his near post after getting the better of Rowe.
With just over 15 minutes remaining Stockton got his and Morecambe’s second. Hiwula’s slip in the middle of the park proved costly with the home side able to break quickly in numbers. Shane McLoughlin got down the right and picked out the No.9 who finished smartly.
McSheffrey’s side were unable to make things stick upfront and Rovers’ defence were continually being tested with dominant football from the home side giving the nearly 4,000 Morecambe fans a huge lift.
Despite being up against it, Rovers probably should have doubled their lead with just over 10 minutes remaining. A smart pass by Smith found Dodoo who showed power and persistence to get beyond his defender – he tried to pick out Cukur, who was unmarked in the box, but he pulled the ball behind the Watford loanee and it was cleared by the Morecambe defence.
Morecambe drew level in the 83rd minute. Substitute Jonathan Obika tapped in from two yards with his first touch since being introduced after a deflected effort from distance. Two minutes later Diagouraga turned the match completely on his head when he fired an unstoppable effort from 30 yards to give Morecambe the three points.