Rovers U18s showed both their quality and character in a performance that saw them come from behind to take the spoils away at Lincoln City.
Tony Cook’s side found themselves trailing by two goals after the first half-hour but braces from Jack Goodman and Alex Fletcher, and additional efforts from Dan Wilds and Michael Nesbitt, ensured Rovers took their first three points of the merit league in their opening fixture.
Wilds captained the team as they faced an Imps side that had finished two places higher than them in the regular season and the two sides’ head-to-head record this season had been even before the game, with Rovers taking a 3-2 victory in Lincolnshire on the opening day of the season and City winning 2-1 in the reverse outing.
Rovers started the first-half the brightest of the two sides having had shots from Josh Lindley and Tom Henson failed to meet the top-right corner from the edge of the box, but it was the Imps who took the lead after 11 minutes when Tayo Tucker picked up the ball just outside the box, shot towards goal and, despite goalkeeper Luke Chadwick getting a glove on the ball, it bounced off the underside of the crossbar into the goal to give City the lead as the goal-scorer turned away to acrobatically celebrate.
Cook’s side immediately looked to draw level as Nesbitt took on a shot from range on the half-volley but it cleared the crossbar.
Approaching the half-hour mark, a well-contested battle in the midfield saw the Imps’ Bailey Adamson emerge with the ball and immediately take aim low towards goal, and, as Chadwick went to collect it, the damp conditions caused the ball to slip between his hands and roll past him into the goal to allow the hosts to double their lead.
The visitors then started to see chances arise on a more frequent basis and after Chadwick collected a set-piece effort at his feet, Rovers set off down the left-wing and worked the ball across field to find Will Hollings. He linked-up with Nesbitt, and shot low but the Imps’ keeper got down well to save his effort,but it was all in vain as the ball was parried into the goal mouth where striker Goodman was waiting, ready to tap in and half the deficit.
With almost the last play of the first-period, right-back Nesbitt won his side a corner after the hosts’ keeper somehow made a great double-save at point-blank range to deny the defender a goal and keep Rovers behind.
Midfielder Hollings swung the resulting corner towards the back-post where it met Wilds who directed his header towards the ground, just at the feet of the keeper, leaving City’s number one with no chance of saving the effort as Rovers equalised.
After the break, Rovers came racing out of the traps as they looked to keep the momentum going that they had built up at the end of the first-half and they succeeded two minutes into the second 45.
Neat footwork from Henson on the left-wing enabled him to glide past two players and release Alex Fletcher who looked to have attempted a cross to pick out a teammate in the box, however the ball looped beyond the keeper and bounced off the far-right post into the goal as Rovers in the space of six-game-minutes had gone from trailing by two to leading the game.
Just under 10 minutes later, the Imps found themselves back on level-terms after Billy Brooks managed to flick on a cross from City’s wide man on the right, across goal and into the bottom corner to make the scores three apiece.
The second half was a very action-packed affair and the next Rovers chance came five minutes later when Hollings received the ball from Nesbitt in the box and took aim at the top-right corner but saw his effort deflected onto the post and cleared.
Afterwards Henson used his footwork, this time in front of the dugouts, to prevent a throw-in and advance up the field where he found Fletcher down the left-wing, the left-back then fizzed a ball across the face of goal to set up Nesbitt to fire past the keeper with pace just inside the box to again give Rovers the lead heading into the last half-hour.
Wolny found himself one-on-one, baring down on the goal and as he reached the goalkeeper, he attempted to chip the stopper who did well push away for a corner.
From a dead-ball sitation, Hollings found Fletcher on the penalty spot to head past the keeper to complete his brace and give Rovers daylight between themselves and their opponents for the first time in the game.
The visitors were relentless with their attacks in the second-half and Cook’s side found that sixth goal they were looking for with 15 minutes to go when a good spell of play paved the way for the ball to fall to Lindley on the left, just inside the box, and cleverly cutback to Goodman who smartly slotted home to give Rovers a three-goal cushion.
With game management on the minds of the Rovers players, Cook introduced Tom Parkinson, and U16s Max Adamson, Harry Wood and Justin Bennett in place of Goodman, Wolny, Lindley and Henson respectively as the side comfortably saw out the remainder of the game.
The Academy’s comprehensive victory sees them pick up their first points of the merit league and currently sit second as Cook’s side turn their attention to their next game, away at Rotherham United on Saturday, April 23.