Reece James made his return from injury with Rovers’ U23 side as they bowed out of the Premier League Cup to West Bromwich Albion on Friday evening.
Rovers played some good football, but struggled to cope with the pace and power of their West Midlands-based opponents who stretched their margin of victory with a number of late strikes at Hednesford’s New Keys Park.
Rovers went behind after seven minutes when Taylor Gardner-Hickman’s long pass found Tyrese Dyce on the left. He cut inside and fired a fierce low drive past Rovers’ trialist goalkeeper.
Ten minutes later it was 2-0 to the home side, when the goalkeeper failed to clear Gardner-Hickman’s cross and the loose ball cannoned off the unfortunate Ben Blythe into an unguarded net.
The Rovers goalkeeper saved well with his feet from Cheikh Diaby after he had been set up by Dyce and Rovers began to create some openings. James’ deep cross was flicked wide by Jack Watson and Junior Smith forced a good save from Josh Griffiths after cutting in and shooting low. At the interval the home side led 2-0.
Rovers halved the deficit two minutes into the second half when Junior Smith was brought down in the penalty area by Gardner-Hickman and Fejiri Okenabirhie sent Griffiths the wrong way from the spot.
Rovers’ joy was short-lived, because after 52 minutes Rayhaan Tulloch picked up the ball in his own half, drove at the visitors’ defence and cut inside to score with a fierce drive for what was an outstanding solo goal.
Rovers went close to narrowing the score after 58 minutes when James made a strong run and found Smith, whose shot was finger-tipped wide by Josh Griffiths.
Albion embellished the scoreline with three goals in the final 15 minutes. They all but sealed the game after 75 minutes when Diaby controlled a bouncing ball and shot low past the Rovers goalkeeper to make it 4-1.
Albion scored twice in the dying minutes, with Tulloch netting his second and then substitute Sam Wilding making it 6-1 to give the scoreline a rather flattering gloss.
Gary McSheffrey’s team can be proud of their efforts in this competition as they reached the knockout stages for the first time, but in the impressive Albion they met their match.
WBA: Josh Griffiths, Taylor Gardner-Hickman, George Harmon, Saul Shotton, Jack Fitzwater, Toby King, Rayhaan Tulloch, Finn Azaz, Cheikh Diaby (Stanley Asomugha, 81), Zak Brown (Sam Wilding, 66), Tyrese Dyce (Yusuf Ojedode, HT). Unused subs: Tom Sharpe, Ted Cann (gk).
Rovers: Trialist A, Trialist B , Reece James, Branden Horton, Ben Blythe, Will McGowan (Lirak Hasani, 69), Junior Smith (Rieves Boocock, 75), A.J. Greaves (Elliott Walker, 75), Fejiri Okenabirhie, Liam Ravenhill, Jack Watson. Unused subs: Rian McLean, Kian Johnson (gk).
Referee: Scott Jackson.
Scorers: Tyrese Dyce (7 mins, 1-0), Ben Blythe (og 17 mins, 2-0), Fejiri Okenabirhie (penalty 47 mins, 2-1), Rayhaan Tulloch (52 mins, 3-1), Cheikh Diaby (75 mins, 4-1), Rayhaan Tulloch (87 mins, 5-1), Sam Wilding (89 mins, 6-1).
Caution: Ben Blythe (Rovers).