Rovers bowed out of the Emirates FA Cup at the hands of fellow Sky Bet League One side Gillingham.
Goals from Mark Byrne and Oliver Lee within 15 minutes of kick-off put the visitors into a comfortable lead while Brandon Hanlan’s second half goal extinguished any hope of a comeback.
Darren Moore made two changes to the side that faced Wycombe Wanderers on the previous weekend. With Tom Anderson serving a three-match ban, Cameron John came straight into the starting line-up following his return from injury and slotted alongside Joe Wright for the first time this season. Kieran Sadlier also returned to the starting XI in place of Jon Taylor.
Rovers were put under immediate pressure by a confident Gillingham side with Oliver Lee lining up his first warning shot within seconds of the start.
Brad Halliday and Hanlan tangled in the Rovers’ box with both hitting the deck and as referee Darren Handley waved away the penalty appeals from the home team, O’Connor fired wide from close range. Soon after, Mikael Mandron headed wide from a corner.
The home side’s pressure came to fruition after 10 minutes in when Byrne’s right-footed effort from close range put home side ahead from close range.
Lee doubled the Gills lead just four minutes later when he beat the offside trap and dinked the ball over Seny Dieng. The QPR-loanee did get a hand to it but he was not able to tip it over the bar.
Rovers fashioned their first effort of the match from kick-off with Ben Whiteman’s through-ball finding the run of Sadlier. The Irishman’s shot was deflected wide for a Rovers’ corner.
With Gillingham commanding a good lead, they conceded a little more possession to Rovers who showed flashes of the passing football they are capable of. However, Jack Bonham was commanding his area well and seemed to be on the end of any crosses into the box.
Despite Rovers seeing a little more of the ball, they were lucky not to go three behind just after the half-hour mark. The ball fell to O’Connor who was unmarked. The Gillingham no.24 somehow blazed wide from the edge of the six-yard box.
O’Connor had another attempt soon after, his shot was well-blocked by Wright and - while looped it into the path of Hanlan - the assistant referee’s flag was up against the Gills striker.
Rovers fashioned another good chance as Connor Ogilvie conceded a foul against Rakish Bingham. Some clever play between Whiteman and James Coppinger gave the no.26 an opportunity to put the ball into the box – Bingham met the effort with his head but could only put it wide.
Rovers probably should have done better when a clearance from a Gills corner set Madger Gomes, Sadlier and Bingham away on a three-on-one. Bingham looked to find Sadlier – who was completely alone in the Gillingham box – but a heavy touch from the no.11 gave Gills skipper Max Ehmer chance to mop-up the danger.
The home side had another chance right on half-time. O’Connor swung a dangerous looking free kick across the face of Dieng’s goal. Mandron met it with his head but guided it over the bar.
No changes for either side at the break – though there was a change of officials. Referee Darren Handley picked up an injury and swapped with fourth official Steven Hughes for the second 45 minutes causing a delay to the restart.
The second half began much like the first. Hanlan had an early opportunity as he drove past Ben Sheaf and along the by line – he tried to sneak the ball inside the near post but Dieng was able to get down and make the save. A flurry of corners followed but the home side didn’t find the target.
At the other end, Coppinger registered Rovers first shot on target as he danced through the Gills defence and attempted to curl one beyond Bonham – the shot-stopper was alert to it and made the stop.
Halliday picked up the first yellow card of the match on the 65th minute and the break in play gave Moore an opportunity to make his first changes of the game. Alfie May and Kwame Thomas came on in place of Sadlier and Gomes.
Ogilvie was lucky not to join Halliday in the book for a carbon copy of Halliday’s challenge moments later – but the official was more lenient on this occasion.
Gillingham put the game to bed with around 20 minutes left on the clock when Hanlan broke beyond Wright and calmly slotted the ball past Dieng.
Rovers did push for a consolation goal and should have hit back immediately when the cross fell to Bingham in the Gills six-yard box. He swung at it with his left leg but was not able to connect. A good ball Thomas headed over from Reece James’ cross and Whiteman’s shot from the edge of the box was down the throat of the Gills keeper.
Hanlan probably should have doubled his tally for the afternoon when he bullied his way beyond Wright but with only the keeper to beat, he smashed his effort way over the crossbar from close range.
Rovers fashioned a few half-chances. Whiteman’s left-footed effort from the edge of the box was off target and crosses by Halliday and May were towards Thomas but he was unable to get on the end of either.