Rovers got off to a winning start in the Leasing.com Trophy with second half goals from Cameron John, Kazaiah Sterling and Alfie May securing a 3-1 over Lincoln City.
Darren Moore named a strong side. Only Ian Lawlor and Matty Blair were missing from the side who beat the Imps in the league ten days earlier. Seny Dieng and Ben Sheaf were the replacements.
Danny Cowley made six changes to his side that defeated Fleetwood Town on the previous weekend. Ellis Chapman, Michael Bostwick, Jorge Grant, Callum Connolly, and Max Melbourne all coming into the Imps starting XI.
After a slow opening 10 minutes, Rovers began to assert some dominance which would continue for most of the half. James Coppinger was first to shoot after May, Sheaf and Brad Halliday linked up well to switch the play and stretch the visiting team. John’s header from a corner was blocked, May saw an effort of his own deflected wide and Reece James’ shot from a narrow angle found the wrong side of the post.
Rovers best chance of the half came just after twenty minutes. Coppinger’s cross picked out James at the back post, the left-back was left with a big task attempting to volley the ball back across the goal. He connected but was unable to get the power he needed to take it beyond Grant Smith.
Lincoln first opportunity of the half fell to John Akinde. Dieng mistimed his jump and the ball brushed his fingertips and dropped into the path of the Imps striker. Akinde could not sort his feet out in time to knock the ball into the net.
The two James – Reece and Coppinger – linked up for the next chance. James’ cross found Coppinger, but Lincoln’s defence got their bodies in the way to block the shot.
Brad Halliday’s strike from 25 yards looked destined to become an early contender for goal of the month but Smith got a good hand to it to tip the effort over the bar. At the other end, Bruno Andrade used his strength to get beyond Halliday, but his shot was wide of the goal.
Despite a good half from Rovers, Akinde ensured that it would Lincoln who would take the lead into half-time. The ball was played into his feet and the no.29 used his strength to hold of the challenges from the Rovers centre-backs and knock the ball past Dieng from close range.
Rovers would have one final chance in the first half. Ennis got his head on May’s cross but the Wolves loanee was unable to generate enough power to truly trouble Smith.
Rovers made one change at half time with Coppinger replaced by Jon Taylor. Cowley also made a change, Harry Toffolo replacing Michael Bostwick.
The second half began much like the first with the opening chances all going Rovers’ way. Kieran Sadlier’s effort from the edge of the box was deflected for a corner and Ben Whiteman saw his thunderbolt from 20 yards saved.
Rovers were finally able to get the goal they deserved when Sheaf’s half-shot, half-cross took a few deflections before being turned into the net by John.
Taylor was next to have a shot for Rovers, firing an effort over the bar from the edge of the box. Ennis was taken out off the ball in the build-up which earned Imps centre-back Cian Bolger a yellow card.
That would prove to be Ennis’ last involvement in the game as he was replaced by Sterling. Matty Blair also came on in place of Sheaf.
Lincoln were handed a golden opportunity to take the lead just after the hour mark when Akinde was fouled in the box and it was the Imps no.29 who stepped up to take the spot kick. The striker took his time, but the effort was straight at Dieng who made the save.
The penalty save set momentum firmly in Rovers favour and the home side took the lead for the first time in the game just twenty minutes from time. May picked the pocket of the Lincoln defender and crossed the ball in towards Sterling who showed true striker’s instinct to get his head on the ball and glance it past Smith.
Sadlier was next to go close. His stretching side footed effort from James’ cross very nearly wriggled under the keeper. Taylor could have doubled Rovers lead when he picked up the ball in the box – the angle was tight, but he was unable to get the power he needed to take it beyond Smith.
Rovers did extend their lead with ten minutes of the match to go. May got his first goal of the season when his thunderbolt from the edge of the box took a deflection which left Smith with no chance.
A sublime ball from May found the run of Taylor who in turn found Whiteman. The captain – who probably deserved a goal for his performance - was forced to another effort on target get deflected wide.