A Mason Greenwood goal deep into injury time snatched a point away from Rovers when they hosted Manchester United’s U21s in the Leasing.com Trophy.
Alfie May’s goal in the second half had seen Rovers take the lead but a stunning volley by Ethan Galbraith got the youngsters back on level terms before Greenwood scored to see Man United take three points and top the group.
Much like when Rovers faced Lincoln City in the Leasing.com Trophy, Rovers had missed out on a game the weekend before and Darren Moore opted to name a strong side.
Ben Whiteman, Donervon Daniels, Kwame Thomas, Reece James and Brad Halliday all started having also started in the 7-1 league victory over Southend United a week earlier. There were also places in the line-up for May, Madger Gomes, Joe Wright who finished that game.
Rovers played some excellent attacking football in the early exchanges and were on top. Despite a good start - and both James and Halliday causing all sorts of problems with their bursting runs down the wings and crosses into the back post – Rovers were unable to capitalise on some big chances.
Halliday’s cross from the right found May at the back post – his shot across the goal was saved well by Matej Kovar, before Alex Kiwomya’s header at the back post from a James cross was headed into the ground and bounced up over the bar. Kovar then pulled off a superb save down to his right to prevent Wright’s headed effort from point-blank range.
Gomes had a shot saved, May had one blocked, and Niall Ennis hit a shot which took a deflection making an easy save for Kovar.
Manchester United did look dangerous on the break and Tahith Chong showcased his pace when the U21 side broke down Rovers right-hand side. Some very shrewd defending from Wright meant he did just enough to drive the Red’s skipper wide and snuff out the danger.
Chong was involved in all of United’s dangerous attacks, and his one-two with Mason Greenwood would almost certainly have ended in a goal if not for Gomes’ defensive tracking to intercept the final pass.
United began to assert themselves on the game more but without testing Lawlor. At the other end, Ennis forced another save from Kovar as he beat the offside trap getting on the end of May’s through ball and shooting towards the far post.
With United starting see more and more of the ball and spending more time in Rovers’ half, they began to waste a few chances of their own.
Some excellent passing between the United youngsters probably should have yielded more but Greenwood opted to shoot from a narrow angle and found Wright in the way. Largie Ramazani skewed one well over the bar before D’Mani Mellor’s effort found the arms of Ian Lawlor, and Daniels would have felt the sting of Greenwood’s thunderbolt strike from 20 yards which smacked the Rovers centre back square in the chest.
Two changes at half-time for Rovers with Kieran Sadlier and Ben Sheaf coming on to replace Ben and Niall Ennis.
Sadlier was in the action immediately firing an effort from a narrow angle which was collected by Kovar while his header from James’ cross was awkward and easily cleared and was involved to cut the ball back to May who curled his chance into the arms of Kovar.
The deadlock was broken on the hour mark when Kovar – who had been excellent all evening – had a horror moment as he let May’s strike from the edge of the box through his hands.
The game roared into the life as Lawlor was forced into a good stop from Greenwood who fired from the keeper’s left. Wright was there to clear, and almost headed in at the other end when he met another good delivery from a corner kick.
Ramazani’s ball across the face of Lawlor’s goal only needed a touch but no one from the United front line read it. United continued to press winning free kicks in dangerous positions and earning themselves corner after corner. However, it took a stunning strike to bring the youngsters level.
Ethan Galbraith caught his volley from a clearing header sweetly and sent it screaming just inside the post.
Confidence grew among the United side, Ramazani had one blocked by James and one saved by Lawlor while Mellor probably took one touch too many when Galbraith’s perfectly weighted pass left him one-on-one with Lawlor allowing Daniels to get back and block the shot.
Kiwomya could have wrapped it up as a ball whipped in by Halliday cleared Sadlier and United defender Teden Mengi to find the striker unmarked at the back post but he lost his footing and United cleared their lines.
United claimed the winning in the dying minutes of added time as Greenwood fired in for the visitors from a narrow angle after.
Rovers must now wait until November 12 when Rotherham United head to Lincoln City the final game of Group H to see whether they have qualified for the next round. A win at home for Lincoln should see Rovers through.