A Ben Knight thunderbolt and an Oli Finney header saw Rovers bow out of the Papa John’s Trophy with a 2-0 away defeat to Crewe Alexandra.
Rovers had the best of the play in the first half but for all their possession, passing and positioning, it was the home side who led at the break thanks to Knight’s unstoppable effort from 25-yards.
Rovers struggled to assert themselves in the same way in the second half and Crewe were able to double their advantage when Finney headed in from Knight’s corner kick delivery to seal defeat for Rovers.
Rovers made three changes from the side that were defeated at Burton Albion at the weekend with Louis Jones, Joseph Olowu – whose suspension does count in the Papa John’s Trophy – and Tiago Cukur receiving starts.
A Callum Ainley shot straight at Jones and a Finney effort which was ballooned well over the crossbar signalled a bright start for a Crewe side who have a near perfect record in the Papa John’s Trophy.
But it was an open game and Rovers were getting plenty of joy down the right. Smart play from Rovers, which saw them building well from the back, released first Aidan Barlow – whose cross was just ahead of Jordy Hiwula – and Joe Dodoo whose chipped ball into the six-yard box was headed wide by a combination of Barlow and Cukur. Another ball from the Rovers right was just about scooped over Crewe goal by Connor O’Riordan.
The closest either side went in the opening twenty minutes was when Mikael Mandron rose above Tom Anderson to meet Ainley’s cross but could only guide the ball onto the crossbar.
The two sides continuted to exchange a few half chances.
Matt Smith shot wide from 20 yards, before Dodoo picked up on a loose ball and his effort was deflected wide. At the other end, Jones parried Ainley’s effort before denying Nathan Woodthorpe at his near post.
Jones could do nothing about Crewe’s opening goal when it came just after the half-hour mark.
Knight collected the ball drove forward and hammered an effort into the top corner producing a moment of magic from virtually nowhere.
Despite going behind, the goal seemed to give Rovers incentive and they finished the half the stronger.
Dodoo, and Kyle Knoyle both had good shots blocked, while Barlow curled a sublime effort inches wide of the far post. Some spectacular defending by Luke Offord diverted Smith’s cross away from Dodoo who had looked set to make it five in four Papa John’s Trophy matches.
There were changes at the break for both teams – both managers were able to make five substitutions as the competition entered the knockout stages – with Tommy Rowe replacing Branden Horton at left back for Rovers.
Crewe started the second half much more brightly and Richie Wellens’ men were almost caught out when Finney nipped in to pinch the ball away from Olowu and work it to Knight. The Manchester City loanee was unable to find the same deft touch he’d found in the first half and this time sent the ball wide.
Despite not getting as much joy in the second period, Rovers did manage to work two big chances on the hour mark.
Dodoo, who was found well by Smith, had his effort blocked before Lirak Hasani – who replaced Barlow – won the ball back and threaded a pass to Rowe who was overlapping on the left. Rovers' No.10 played a delightful ball into a dangerous area, but Hiwula was caught on his heels and was beaten to it by keeper Jaaskelainen.
At the other end, Finney’s effort out of nothing took a horrible deflection which very nearly saw it loop over Jones into the far corner – it was a bit of a warning as Crewe continued to dominate the second period.
Finney’s goal, when it came, couldn’t have been simpler. He glanced Knight’s corner delivery in under no pressure.
U18 winger Tavonga Kuleya was introduced with 15 minutes remaining but it took until the 86th minute before he was able to really stretch his legs. He strode away from the home side’s left back and sent a decent ball into the box which was dealt with superbly by Luke Murphy.
That sparked a short period of pressure for Rovers. Rowe’s effort was blocked to Hiwula who in turn saw an effort blocked. Later Kuleya reacted well to take a first time strike from the edge of the box which was deflected wide.
It was too little too late for Rovers as they bowed out of the trophy competition.