Goals from Rodrigo Vilca and Joe Dodoo (2) helped a very young Rovers side secure a 3-2 win over Scunthorpe United and book their place in the knock-out stages of the Papa John’s Trophy.
Late goals for Ryan Loft and Jake Scrimshaw made for a nervy finish but Rovers saw out injury time to seal three points.
Three international call-ups coupled with a laundry list of injuries saw Richie Wellens name an extremely young squad for the final game of the Papa John’s Trophy North Group E. Seven of the current U18s crop were named in the squad while 17-year-old Tavonga Kuleya earned his place in the starting XI.
Doncaster-born Academy graduates Louis Jones and Branden Horton were also named in the starting line-up along with fellow graduate Ben Blythe. Lirak Hasani made his first start for the club.
Both sides went into the game with a chance of progressing – a point would be enough for Rovers to leapfrog Manchester City U21s into second place, while Scunthorpe required a win scoring four or more goals to ensure they cinched the qualifying spot.
It was the perfect start for Rovers and Kuleya. The 17-year-old registered his first assist within five minutes of kick-off.
A very smart header by Branden Horton released Tommy Rowe down the left – the No.10 cut the ball back to Kuleya who held the ball up really well and found Vilca on the edge of the box. The Peruvian unleashed a shot which took a horrible deflection to wrongfoot keeper Rory Watson and find the back of the net.
Just fifteen minutes later Rovers doubled their lead with Vilca heavily involved again. He drove forward as Rovers looked to hit the Iron on the break, his weighted pass put Dodoo through one-on-one with Watson. The keeper raced out, but the striker showed real composure to slot the ball past him.
It could have been more for Rovers. Rowe tested Watson with a stinging effort from distance and linked up with Kuleya to have another effort from a narrow angle saved.
At the other end, Tom Pugh’s lashed an effort wildly off target when a misplaced cross found him at the edge of the Rovers box.
The game began to even out around the half-hour mark with the home side seeing much more of the ball. Aaron Jarvis was played in behind Tom Anderson, but Louis Jones came flying out of his box and did enough to force the forward to take a wide touch which alleviated the danger. The best chance of the first half came down the right. Pugh got the better of Horton and sent a dangerous ball across the face of goal. It evaded everyone from both sides and rolled away out of danger.
The closest the home side came in this period was Myles Hippolyte’s low, driven effort from distance which flew inches wide of the far post.
Rovers could have extended their lead early in the second period. Hasani played a beautiful cross-field pass to Rowe who juggled his way past the incoming challenges and unleashed an effort from close range which was well-saved by Watson. The loose ball fell to Vilca who rattled the crossbar with the follow-up.
Dodoo did make it three just before the hour mark. He drove forward, got the ball out of his feet and fired past Watson under pressure.
More chances fell to Rovers. Horton was picked out by a fantastic through-ball from Smith. His first shot was blocked by Jai Rowe, but he won the ball back and floated a second effort over the bar with the outside of this foot. Watson pulled of a great stop to deny Dodoo his hat-trick when he unleashed a left-footed effort.
The final eight minutes saw the introduction of another youngster Will Hollings in a straight swap for Kuleya and Jack Goodman who replaced Dodoo.
Jones made his best save of the evening when he flew off his line to close down Hippolyte with five minutes remaining.
The introduction of Jake Scrimshaw made for an anxious final five minutes for Rovers. He got an assist when he played in Loft – who coolly dinked Jones in the 88th minute and less than 90 seconds later he headed in from a corner to make for a nervy three minutes of added time.
Rovers were able to see out the final stages to be in the hat for Saturday’s draw.