Rovers suffered 2-0 defeat away at AFC Wimbledon with goals from Steven Seddon and Shane McLoughlin sealing the points for the home side.
A red card for John Marquis early in the second half gave Rovers an uphill battle against a resolute Wimbledon side.
Manager Grant McCann made just one change from the side who drew with Charlton Athletic on the previous weekend. Matty Blair – who made a significant impact when he came off the bench in that match – earned himself a place in the starting line-up. Ali Crawford dropped to the bench.
AFC Wimbledon manager, Wally Downes, opted to name an unchanged team after his side earned a 0-0 draw at Shrewsbury Town in their previous match.
Since Downes took over in December 2018, AFC Wimbledon have picked up a reputation of being resolute and difficult to break down and while Rovers could certainly claim to have dominated possession in the opening exchanges, they weren’t able to really cause the Dons keeper Ramsdale any problems and it was Dons who would get the first real chance of the match as Rovers failed to clear a corner-kick. Marko Marosi could only watch as the ball was headed just wide the Dons’ striker.
James Coppinger was at the heart of both Rovers early chances. His first involvement was to float a fantastic ball into the path of Mallik Wilks who was unable to guide his headed-effort goalward. Moments later, Wilks returned the favour with a pin-point accurate pass to Coppinger at the back post. The 38-year-old used his first touch to knock the ball back across the face of goal, but it was cleared by the Wimbledon defence.
On twenty minutes, both sides registered their best chances of the half.
Toby Sibbick’s pace took him beyond Danny Andrew, he sent an effort goalward, but Marko Marosi made an excellent save at full stretch. Quick thinking from Andy Butler set John Marquis and Wilks on their way, Marquis found the run of Wilks, but the loanee’s attempt at a return pass was cut out preventing Marquis from tapping the ball into an empty net.
Rovers then cause their own problems with an under-hit back-pass putting Marosi under pressure with Dons Michael Folivi bearing down on him.
The keeper did well to sidestep the challenge and was brought down by the striker. This incident sparked a change in momentum and overlapping runs by the Dons wingbacks began to cause Rovers some real problems. The best chance of the period fell to Sibbick who received the ball in acres of space, but his effort was well wide of the target.
As Rovers began to regain some dominance in the match, Marquis found himself fouled more than he was tackled. The No.9 was clearly frustrated and seemed to give him another gear as a well-timed forward run would almost certainly have resulted in a goal if not for an excellent piece of defending from Paul Kalambayi.
Marquis went close again moments later after another foul on him earned Rovers free-kick in a dangerous position. Coppinger’s ball in found Butler at the far post. The centre-back nodded back across goal, Marquis attacked the header but the effort came off the bar.
Another foul on Marquis followed, this time by Dons Scott Wagstaff, earned both players a place in the referee’s book just before the break.
McCann opted for a change at the break. Ali Crawford replaced Aaron Lewis and Matty Blair dropped into the right-back position. The change seemed to have done Rovers some good, Matty Blair’s pace allowed him to get beyond Crawford and cross the ball.
Rovers’ first chance of the second half came from exactly that scenario with Blair able to get beyond the Dons back three and hit a good cross which Rovers’ couldn’t capitalise on.
Ben Whiteman went close moments later. His effort from outside the box forced an excellent save from Ramsdale and earned a corner for Rovers. The Dons keeper was called upon to make a save from the resulting corner but just as Rovers seemed to be gaining
momentum, there came the game’s real turning point.
Marquis was shown a second yellow card despite appearing to be bought down by the home keeper and, with 40 minutes left on the clock, Rovers faced an uphill battle taking on a tough AFC Wimbledon side with 10 men.
Wimbledon looked to take advantage of their extra man with efforts from Anthony
Wordsworth and Steven Seddon going close. Soon after, Marko Marosi made a big save to deny Joe Piggot from close range but the ‘keeper could do nothing moments later when a cutting pass found Steven Seddon through one-on-one.
It took a smart finish from the wing-back to send the ball beyond Marosi and put the home side ahead.
Rovers kept pushing, but Wimbledon had developed a bit of swagger about their play and Seddon and Wordsworth continued to look dangerous and Michael Folivi would almost certainly have capitalised on a good bit of passing play by the home side it not for some good keeping by Marosi.
McCann opted to add a bit of pace upfront with the introduction of Tyler Smith and Alfie May in the place of Mallik Wilks and Herbie Kane. Rovers looked to hit the ball over the top of the defensive line and to their credit, the forward players were working hard to win corners and free-kicks. Rovers couldn’t turn the set pieces into goals. Ramsdale collected a number of crosses with ease and Butler saw two headed efforts go over the bar.
James Coppinger had Rovers best opportunity of the second half, the ball finding him unmarked just inside the Dons box. He fired an effort towards the far post but Ramsdale was there to get a hand in the way, the ball deflected into the path of Smith but the Sheffield United loanee couldn’t get enough on the ball to turn it into the net.
Rovers continued to press for the equaliser and Smith, Coppinger, and May all saw efforts saved but it would be Wimbledon who would get the all-important goal. With Rovers pushing higher and higher up the pitch a clearing ball from the Dons defence gave the home side a chance to break in numbers.
Marosi made a good save from the first effort but the ball fell into the path of substitute Shane McLoughlin who sealed Rovers fate.