Jon Taylor's goal was not enough as Rovers lost out to Sunderland in a keenly-fought final match of 2019.
The forward's strike just before half-time finished of a smart counter-attack from Rovers and cancelled out Lynden Gooch’s early opener, but Chris Maguire's effort sealed the points for the visitors.
Rovers created chances to get back into the game, with Jon McLaughlin saving well from Kieran Sadlier while penalty claims from Taylor and Joe Wright came to nothing.
Darren Moore made just one change to his side that claimed a 3-0 victory against high-flying Peterborough United on Boxing Day with Ben Sheaf replaced by James Coppinger in midfield.
Despite poor recent form, the visitors started the match brightly and took the lead after just six minutes. Gooch was given space at the edge of the Rovers box and curled an effort around Seny Dieng.
The visitors had plenty of chances to double their lead in the following 20 minutes.
Maguire fired over under pressure from Cameron John, Charlie Wykes was denied by the fingertips of Dieng, and Gooch was thwarted by a fine piece of last ditch defending by Brad Halliday.
Rovers had plenty of willing runners going forward but found themselves rebuffed by the assistant referee’s flag time and time again. Rovers did fashion a good early chance. Taylor was given space at the edge of the box and was found smartly by James Coppinger - Taylor’s left footed effort was pulled just wide of the far post.
At the other end, Gooch continued to provide a real threat for the visitors and attempted to curl the ball beyond Dieng for a second time – on this occasion, the keeper was equal to it and Kieran Sadlier mopped up the loose ball.
The tide began to change around the half-hour mark with Rovers slowly starting to play their way in to the game.
Taylor – who was at the heart of Rovers’ best attacking moves - won his side a free-kick out wide after being taken out by Joel Lynch. The Black Cats’ defender picked up a card for his troubles. Taylor fired a superb ball along the six-yard box but – although Wright rose highest and got his head to it – he wasn’t able to steer the ball on target.
Rovers got their equaliser five minutes before half-time through an excellent break. Coppinger’s perfectly weighted pass out to Sadlier allowed the Irish youth international to break beyond Sunderland’s back line – he fired the ball towards the back post and the cross was finished neatly by Taylor.
Sunderland had the final say of the half when Rovers conceded a free-kick around 25 yards from their goal – Maguire struck the ball well and Rovers were relieved to see it ping off the crossbar.
There were no changes for either manager at half-time and Sunderland should have doubled their lead with just two minutes of the second 45 played.
Wyke somehow put the ball over from close range when Alim Ozturk’s flick-on found him at the far post from a Sunderland free-kick.
With that early effort wasted by the visitors and the game opening up, Rovers created more and more chances.
A quickly taken free-kick set Coppinger on his way – he curled an excellent ball across the face of goal and Sadlier was close to turning it in at the back post. Sadlier went close again when his header from Halliday’s cross went just the wrong side of the post. Taylor caused problems with a bursting run from deep which took him into the Black Cats’ box, he was bundled over near the by-line, but the officials weren’t interested in any penalty appeals.
Despite starting the second half the better, Rovers found themselves behind for the second time in the match on the hour mark. Maguire hammered the ball past Dieng after a clever cutback by Gooch found him free on the edge of the box.
Both keepers pulled off excellent saves to keep the score at 2-1 – McLaughlin pulled out an impressive stop at full-length to stop Sadlier’s thunderbolt from 20 yards while Dieng somehow kept out Luke O’Nien’s header from point-blank range
However, the best save of the game could be attributed to Sunderland centre back Osturk. Rovers looked to break with a chipped ball over the top to Niall Ennis and Coppinger but the 6”3 defender had other ideas. Osturk jumped up with his arms at full stretch above his head to tip the ball off its course in a move that would have looked more at home on a rugby pitch than a football one. The officials gave him a yellow when the majority of fans in the stadium were calling for a red.
Rovers continued to press for an equaliser and an injury to John late in the game saw an attacking formation change demonstrate the home side’s attacking intent as they sacrificed a defender for a second striker (Kwame Thomas). With just injury time to play, they brought on a third striker with Max Watters joining the attack.
A through ball by Whiteman found the Wright running through into the Sunderland box – he went down under a clumsy challenge by Osturk but for the second time in the game, the officials had no interest in any penalty claims.