Goals in each half saw Rovers claim a 2-0 victory against Northampton Town.
Shaun McWilliams 18th minute red card for a late challenge on Andy Butler changed the make-up of the game and Rovers were able to make their advantage count just after the half-hour mark when Tyreece John-Jules coolly chipped the keeper from close range.
Reece James' cross was bundled in at the back post by a combination of Joe Wright and defender Michael Harriman to put daylight between themselves and the hosts on the hour mark and Rovers could have wrapped up the three points in the 82nd minute when James Coppinger's effort was cleared off the line by Harriman's arm. Ben Whiteman was unable to convert from the spot but it didn't matter in the end as Rovers saw out the remaining time to take three points.
There were just two changes for Darren Moore’s side from Wednesday evening’s defeat at Hull City but – perhaps in preparation for the direct style of play the Cobblers are experts in – the XI had a very different look.
A first league start for Andy Butler since his return in the summer saw Joe Wright start at right-back for the third time in this campaign while Brad Halliday was pushed much higher than normal taking up his place on the right wing.
Reece James continued in his new midfield position alongside Ben Whiteman while Taylor Richards made his third consecutive start since his return from injury. Tyreece John-Jules was rewarded for his impactful cameo at the KCOM with a start.
It was just 6° when the game kicked off and it took a while for either team to warm into the game. Ricky Homes lashed a wild effort well over Joe Lumley’s crossbar after 10 minutes and Rovers hit back with a few half-chances. The best of these falling to Ben Whiteman appearing in his favoured shooting spot at the top of the box – it wouldn’t sit up for him and his left-footed swinger bounced wide.
Moore’s men dominated most of the ball in the early stages but with possession mostly in their own half.
The big turning point of the game came on the 18th minute. A needlessly late and high challenge by Shaun McWilliams on Andy Butler meant Graham Salisbury had no choice but to show him a red card.
The ensuing ten minutes saw more cards than shots. Brad Halliday went in the book for going in late on keeper Steve Arnold in a challenge the referee had looked to be letting go but eventually pulled play back to dish out the card. Five minutes later Reece James was brought to the ground by the swinging leg of the Northampton midfielder – Fraser Horsham was booked.
As the free kicks kept mounting, it was hard for either side to play any meaningful football and the game became very stop-start with the officials being called into action more than the players.
Fouls in and around their own box gave Rovers plenty of defending to do but the mountain-like back four of Tom Anderson, Joe Wright, Andy Butler and Cameron John were able to deal with the aerial threat that the hosts possessed and we able to see out most of the danger.
It was perhaps fitting for the way the game was going that the goal should come by a fortunate ricochet from a tackle which seemed to bounce off Wright and into the box. John-Jules showed the composure of a seasoned pro and sprinted onto the loose ball and chipped coolly over Arnold from a narrow angle.
The young Arsenal loanee had a chance to double his and Rovers’ tally in added time when he was played in by Halliday but he took just a little too long to set himself and the defender had time to slide in and block the shot.
Moore made two changes at the break with John and Halliday making way for Matt Smith and Fejiri Okenabirhie – this meant a return to his favoured left-back role for James.
The hosts started on the front foot with an aerial bombardment of the Rovers penalty box but the long throws and inviting crosses were dealt with. The only shot with any anger came early and from distance with Jack Sowerby lashing it almost over the stand let along the goal.
Rovers put a nice bit of passing play together around the edge of the Northampton box with star man John-Jules lifting the tempo with a few first time lay-offs. The ball was well worked out to James buy his cross lacked the pace to beat the first man.
The same could not be said of the left-back when he was given a similar chance from a similar position just minutes later. This time the ball was in the air instead of the ground. It just evaded John-Jules in the centre of the goal and was bundled in at the back post by a combination of Wright and Michael Harriman.
Rovers pushed for a third in a fairly even 15 minutes. John-Jules stung the keeper’s palms with a fierce strike from close range, but the angle favoured Arnold and the keeper did his job well. He made a much simpler stop when Okenabirhie cut inside and shot from range – the ball hitting a few bobbles on the way through.
At the other end, a cleared corner fell kindly to Jack Sowerby who unleashed a fierce effort on target which was well blocked by the men in red and white hoops and Benny Ashley-Seal also saw an effort blocked. The chances brought the 1,200 strong home crowd into full voice as they sensed a goal.
Rovers had a chance to silence the supporters for good on the 82nd minute when James Coppinger’s low effort was scooped off the line by the hand of Harriman. It took some time for the officials to decide what had happened but Salisbury eventually pointed to the spot. Whiteman’s strike was good enough but it was a really good save by Arnold at full strength to tip it around the post.