Goals from Niall Ennis and Tom Anderson ensured Rovers closed the gap to the play-offs to just two points with victory over Shrewsbury Town.
It was a professional performance from the home side as they made it three wins from four in Sky Bet League One. Ennis headed in within five minutes of kick off which set Rovers up for a good evening.
Another impressive defensive performance from Anderson and Joe Wright (including a goal line clearance from the latter) ensured a second consecutive clean sheet for Rovers, while Anderson’s header from a corner with just 15 minutes remaining killed off the match.
Darren Moore named an unchanged side from the one which defeated Oxford United on New Year’s Day while Sam Ricketts made one change from his side that earned a draw away at Bristol City in the Emirates FA Cup Third Round – a change between the sticks with Max O’Leary replacing Joe Murphy.
Rovers got off to the perfect start when Ennis headed in on the fourth minute. The move started – as many do for Rovers - with James Coppinger being given space in the middle of the park. His perfectly weighted ball down the line with the outside of his foot found the run of Kieran Sadlier who whipped the cross across the six-yard line. Ethan Ebanks-Landell got his head to it but could only loop the ball upwards and Ennis was able to head home unchallenged.
Shrewsbury countered quickly – a mix-up between Joe Wright and Seny Dieng allowed Daniel Udoh to break into the but his touch was heavy, and Wright got to make sure the visitors only got a corner. The corner would turn out to be Shrewsbury’s best effort of the opening 20 minutes as Arron Pierre towered above everyone but nodded wide.
Both no.5s made important interceptions to keep the score line as it was. Wright cleared the ball off the line after a moment of confusion between Dieng and Tom Anderson meant the ball ricocheted between them and eventually goalward.
At the other end, Ro-Shaun Williams timed his block well to prevent a through-ball reaching Ennis, who would only have had the keeper to beat. Williams was also on hand to deny Ennis the chance of reaching a Coppinger cross - though the ball probably finished a little closer to his own goal than the defender would have liked.
The remainder of the half was played out mostly in the middle of the park and while both sides could post plenty of possession and Shrewsbury Town had probably created more chances, neither were really doing enough to test the either keeper.
Ricketts opted to make a change at half-time with Sean Goss making way for Shaun Walley and adding some extra energy to the Shrews midfield, however, it was Rovers who created the first big chance of the second 45.
Ennis demonstrated great strength to hold off the defender and earn himself a one-on-one with O’Leary. The goalkeeper got just enough on the shot to take it looping agonisingly over the crossbar. Wright – at full stretch - toed the ball over the bar from close range off the corner.
Whalley had his first say in the game when he whipped a wicked cross along the six-yard box, but it was headed clear by Brad Halliday. Rovers looked to use the clearance to counter but a cynical challenge by Ebanks-Landell brought the move to an end and earned the defender a booking.
The substitute’s second involvement was not quite as impressive. Shrewsbury put together a really quick piece of passing play through midfield and eventually found Whalley with space to shoot at the edge of the box. The Shrews no.7 got it all wrong and the shot eventually went for a throw-in.
Ben Sheaf also squandered a shot from a similar position at the other end of the pitch. He may have been expecting the referee’s whistle to blow after Sadlier was taken out in the build-up, but Ben Toner played the advantage and the Arsenal loanee – who had extended his loan deal with the club earlier that day – fired wide.
Ricketts opted for another chance with Scott Golbourne replaced by Dave Edwards and the former Wolves’ midfielder’s experience told. He was at the centre of a clever bit of play by Shrewsbury which saw them pass around the Rovers defence and find Udoh unmarked on the penalty spot. An excellent piece of last-ditch defending by Reece James denied the striker a tap-in.
With Shrewsbury beginning to boast more possession – Rovers were able to hit on the break thanks to an intelligent driving run by Ennis. His ball down the line found Sadlier whose cross to the back post was over the head of Jon Taylor.
Rovers hit the visitors on the break again almost straight away. Again, the combination of Ennis and Sadlier found joy down the right, this time the Irishman cut the ball back to Coppinger who had timed his run from deep. The no.26 hit it first time but an impressive block by Pierre sent it off target.
Sadlier – who was finding more and more space down the right – was sent through again, this time by Jon Taylor, his cross to the back post was touched behind by the Shrewsbury defence for a corner.
The home side had looked dangerous from corners and this time, Anderson rose highest and headed in off the far post.
With ten minutes remaining, Darren Moore made his first change of the evening – Coppinger exited the field to a standing ovation and was replaced by Madger Gomes. The Spaniard won a freekick about 25-yards from the Shrews goal with his first touch of the game but, content with their two-goal lead, Rovers opted to keep possession eventually winning a corner.
Taylor had two shots blocked in the final minutes but it was a case of job done for Rovers who saw out the match with relative ease.