Rovers got back to winning ways in style with goals from Kieran Sadlier and Jon Taylor ensuring a comprehensive 2-0 victory over fourth placed Bristol Rovers.
The Gas headed into the game full of confidence having not tasted defeat since August and could have taken the lead when the referee pointed to the spot half-way through the first half. Seny Dieng saved the shot and kick-started a dominant display by Rovers in which they scored twice, hit the woodwork, and tested keeper Anssi Jaakkalo throughout.
Darren Moore made one change to his side that started against Oxford United. Niall Ennis making his first start since picking up an injury against Coventry City. This meant Sadlier could revert to his favoured position on the wing while Kwame Thomas dropped to the bench.
Bristol made two changes. Jaakkola and skipper Ollie Clarke coming into the starting XI. The visitors were understandably full of confidence and while the first chance went Rovers' way, a Tom Anderson header from a Sadlier cross looping up over Jaakkola’s crossbar, the biggest cheer in the opening exchanges came as a good challenge on Ennis by Alfie Kilgour saw the Wolves loanee stumble into the assistant referee and sent both tumbling unceremoniously to the ground.
Taylor’s pace set Rovers on their first really effective move of the afternoon. He brushed passed the Gas midfield and played a throughball into the path of James Coppinger – Coppinger’s cut back was neat enough but the visitors defended in numbers. Soon after, Taylor was involved again – pace driving him through the centre of the park – the move eventually found Sheaf with space to shoot at the edge of the box, but his effort was blocked en route.
Ben Whiteman was next to have an effort blocked – this time wide for a corner. The corner seemed to miss everyone from both teams and after some good possession play between Sheaf and Coppinger, Whiteman was able to find the space to curl one towards goal. He couldn’t get the pace, however, and Jaakkola was able to make a comfortable save.
Bristol hit back with venom when they won the ball high up the pitch. A cross to the back post found Alex Rodman unmarked, he tried to volley in but didn’t connect well enough to truly test Dieng.
Referee, David Rock, was given a decision to make when Ennis went down off the ball in the Gas penalty box. The striker was trying to get onto a throughball which was poked through by Anderson – but was blocked by Tony Craig on the way through. The officials were unmoved by the youngster’s claims.
When a penalty claim was made at the other end of the pitch, Rock did give it. A ball which bounced at awkward height in the box was met by the head of Kilgour and the foot of Sadlier - a challenge the referee deemed dangerous.
However, Dieng stood tall and dived the right way to make his second save from the spot this season. Tom Nichols was the man unable to convert from 12-yards.
The crowd roared into life and Rovers began to play the football supporters have become used to under the current manager, and a move down the left involved Reece James, Sadlier and Whiteman meant the captain had another chance from the edge of the box blocked wide.
While at the other end, a goalmouth scramble left bodies everywhere before Abu Ogogo’s piledriver was blocked by Brad Halliday leaving the home side to break through Sadlier, Taylor and Whiteman. The Rovers no.8 had his shot blocked by Kilgour.
Sadlier headed Rovers into the lead five minutes before the break – he rose highest to meet Taylor’s deflected cross with a wonderful glancing header just inside the far post.
He almost doubled his tally soon after as he let fly from 30-yards – Jaakkola was scrambling and would have been relieved to see it fly a whisker passed the post.
The Gas could have been awarded a second penalty when former-Rovers loanee Tyler Smith went down under the challenge of Donervon Daniels but referee Rock was satisfied that Daniels got a touch of the ball.
More good football by Rovers – this time Sadlier and Ennis combining around the opposition area – before Ben Sheaf shoots. It took good save from Jaakkola to deny the youngster his first goal in a Rovers shirt.
The final action of the half came as Rodman cut inside for the Gas and tried to curl one in at the far post but while it evaded Dieng, Halliday had dropped back well and was able to clear the chance.
No changes at the break for either side – and Rovers came flying out of the blocks.
Sadlier and Ennis both had one blocked before Taylor’s cross from the right took a wicked deflection which almost saw it creep in at the far post.
Rovers had a big penalty claim when Ennis looked to have been taken out in the box but – like the challenge on the Gas’ Smith – Rock had no interest and allowed play to continue. Ennis required treatment but was able to continue which was great news as the youngster was heavily involved for Rovers’ second.
A perfectly weighted throughball by Whiteman allowed the striker to break the offside trap and put him one-on-one with the Gas shot-stopper. Jaakkola made a great save to keep him out but Taylor made no mistakes with the follow up and fired into the net to put Rovers two up.
Kilgour tried to get his side back into the game when he unleashed a speculative effort from 30 yards – the ball kept rising and by the time it reached the goal was way over the cross bar.
Whiteman played Ennis through again – the striker getting a lot of joy from hanging between the two Bristol centrebacks but Craig did well to recover and clear the danger. Sheaf then had to watch another thunderbolt effort get deflected agonisingly wide and Sadlier had one blocked before miscuing a second wide.
Former Rovers player Kyle Bennet – who came on for Clarke in the second half – tried his luck from distance. It was on target and, while the ball dipped ferociously, it didn’t carry the pace it needed to truly worry Dieng.
At the other end, Whiteman’s effort from outside the box did worry Jaakkola. The fantastic effort from the skipper was over the keeper but glanced the top of the crossbar on its way into the 500 travelling supporters.
Sheaf saw another shot curl wide before another Whiteman throughball cause the visiting backline problems – this time it was Sadlier who got on the end of it, he cut back inside but the touch gave the Bristol defence to get back in and get a touch. The deflection took enough pace off the ball to allow Jaakkola to make an easy stop.
Thomas was brought on with ten minutes for his home debut and almost made it three when Coppinger’s ball found him in the box. The striker hit it on the spin and it looked to be creeping in just inside the post – a good save by Jaakkola at full stretch denied him.
The combination of Taylor and Sadlier almost bore fruit again in the closing stages – but Jaakkola got there first.