First-half goals from Danny Andrew and Tommy Rowe saw Rovers claim victory over Plymouth Argyle.
Rovers stretched their winning run to four consecutive games and maintained momentum in the play-off push as they retained their five-point advantage over Peterborough United as the race for the top-six heats up.
Derek Adams made one change to his Pilgrims team with Yann Songo’o replacing the injured James Ness and Songo’o seemed keen to let everyone know he was on the pitch scything Mallik Wilks down within four minutes of kick-off and earning himself a place in the referee’s book.
Grant McCann was forced into two changes of his own with John Marquis and Tom Anderson missing out through concussion and ia calf njury respectively. Paul Downing recovered from the illness which had kept him out the weekend before to slot in alongside Andy Butler and Herbie Kane returned to midfield.
The Leeds loanee came close to an immediate impact in his loan striker role. James Coppinger’s floated cross to the back post was met by the head of Wilks whose effort was just the wrong side of the post.
Rovers certainly looked sharper than their opponents, nicking the ball and passing crisply around midfield. The quick movement was affording Rovers lots of room out wide and crosses from Matty Blair and Ali Crawford were both begging to be turned in but instead found the gloves of Matt Macey.
Dogged determination, a little luck, and a fine finish contributed to Tommy Rowe’s opener. A smart cut back from Crawford found Rowe who bullied his way beyond one, skipped beyond two and fired a thunderbolt strike past Argyle’s Macey and give Rovers a deserved lead.
Coppinger did fantastically to fashion an effort, cushioning the ball and firing a half volley goalward but Macey was able to hold the strike with relative ease. However, Macey wasn’t able to hold either of Wilks’ driven shots which were both pushed wide for corners which Rovers put wide first through Danny Andrew and then Butler.
Rovers continued to play the better football and while Argyle were starting to get a grip on the game, the visitors were confined to shots from distance, midfielder David Fox’s thunderbolt strike was taken off target by the head Andy Butler at the expense of a corner while Ruben Lameiras dragged his effort wide of the near post.
Argyle’s best chance of the half came as the visitors broke with numbers straight onto the back four, a clever touch from Lameiras seemed to have set Freddie Ladapo up with an easy finish from close range but a superbly timed last-ditch tackle by Downing ensured Rovers retained their advantage.
The visitors’ pressure bore fruit again as they won a free-kick on the edge of the Rovers’ box. Antoni Sarcevic tried to outwit the wall, firing low and hoping the men in red and white would jump. Rovers had done their homework, the free-kick collided with shin pads, and the danger was cleared.
Rovers were pressing high and most of the game was being played deep in the Argyle half but with both half-backs flying forward to join the attacks, so Butler and Downing had to be on their toes to deal with the ever-present threat of Ladapo which they did comprehensively.
And it would be Rovers who got the next goal, frustration was building within the Argyle ranks as Rovers played the ball around the box and a clumsy challenge saw Rovers win a free-kick around 25-yards out. Andrew made no mistake hitting the ball sweetly, finding the top corner and leaving Macey with no chance to give Rovers a comfortable lead at the break.
There was one change at half time with Songo’o replaced by striker Ryan Taylor which also sparked a change in formation for the visitors who reverted to a 4-4-2, with the second striker also remaining high, Rovers were not able to bomb forward with the same numbers they had in the first half, but were still the team who fashioned the first chance.
Rowe nicked the ball off the toes of the Argyle defender and piece of trickery bought him half a yard in the Pilgrims’ box. His only option was to shoot towards the near post, which he did but he dragged the shot just wide of the mark.
Graham Carey had Plymouth’s first chance of the second half just before the hour mark, Butler, Rowe, Downing and Blair all blocked efforts from close range before Carey smashed his chance high and wide of the goal.
For long periods of the second half, both teams just seemed to trade sloppy passes and with turnovers high, neither team was able to assert any kind of dominance on the game.
The best chance fell to Lameiras whose effort forced a fantastic save from Marko Marosi. Blair cleared the danger into the path of substitute Alfie May who would have sprinted from the field if it had not been for the late challenge from Niall Canavan which earned the defender a place in the referee’s book. The passage of play seemed to inject some life back into the match.
Rovers best chance of the second-half came soon after did fall to May, Kane drove out of defence with the ball and slid a defence-splitting pass into the path of the striker. May chipped the ‘keeper but also the crossbar and at the other end, Downing’s vital block was the only thing keeping Ladapo from tapping into an empty net.
Wilks shot took a good stop from Macey while Andrew’s effort found the side-netting while Lapado was denied yet again, this time by a timely-tackle from Butler, and Fox’s effort was so wide it almost went for a throw-in.
Carey sent another effort flying well-wide of the target and May and Andrew both had efforts blocked late on, but that was to be it for the action as Rovers saw out another important win..