Rovers U18s fell to defeat at the hands of Gainsborough Trinity despite a competitive performance at the David Longstaff & Co Stadium.
A first half own goal was the only thing that separated the two sides but it was enough to condemn Chad Gribble’s side to only a second loss in pre-season in what was their final match before the start of the 2022/23 season.
The U18s were aided by the appearances of four first team players: captain for the evening Bobby Faulkner, Charlie Seaman and off the back of signing his first professional contract with the club, Tavonga Kuleya, as final preparations were made for both of Rovers’ teams.
Rovers kicked off proceedings through Faris Khan and after seeing a chance for the hosts high and wide, the visitors got the first big chance through Jack Goodman.
Right-back Seaman took a throw in the opposing half and saw it beyond a defender, into the feet of Goodman who let the ball roll across him and took on a driven effort at the near post but the Gainsborough goalkeeper got across well to ensure Rovers didn’t find the breakthrough.
After stopping Gribble’s side taking the lead, Trinity found the opening 10 minutes later when left-back Joe West advanced into the box and played the ball to veteran striker Clayton Donaldson who was tackled but to the fortune of the hosts, the ball fired into the path of Tavonga Kuleya and ricocheted beyond Tom Chambers, into the back of the goal.
Rovers then looked to find an immediate response to falling behind and minutes later almost got what they were looking for.
Jak Whiting picked up the ball on the left and found Seaman in the middle of the park who managed to set himself and strike goalwards but saw his effort sting the palms of the Trinity's keeper and collected at the second attempt, before the hosts’ nearly extend their lead through a corner and a header at the back post but it was directed just wide of the left hand side of the goal.
The U18s tried to ramp up their attacking pressure towards the end of the opening 45 minutes but Ethan Harrison just failed to execute a set-piece as his looping effort went wide of the top left corner before Seaman saw an effort fired from close range tipped over the bar as Rovers entered the break a goal behind.
As the two sides returned to the pitch, Gribble introduced his first changes of the evening, bringing on Owen Scattergood and Jack Raper in place Tom Parkinson and Jack Goodman as his team looked to get back on level terms.
The opening third of the second half saw a spell of end-to-end play erupt with Rovers having a lot more of the ball, more chances to find an equaliser and a strong penalty shout but the referee remained unmoved and play was allowed to continue with the hosts keeping their lead.
The dice was then rolled again by the visitors with Alex Fletcher replacing Khan and a change between the sticks seeing Jake Oram take the place of Tom Chambers as Rovers’ pursuit of goal continued.
Entering the final 20 minutes of the game, more good play from Seaman saw Kuleya played one-on-one with Trinity’s keeper and looked to be about to give the U18s the goal they were craving but just as the attacker was about to set himself, the linesman raised his flag for an offside to stop Rovers in their tracks.
Kuleya would then go on to find himself presented with a goalscoring opportunity five minutes later when he carried the ball at his feet across the edge of the box, from the left, and drove the ball towards the side of the goal where he would come from, but the hosts’ stopper once again got across to prevent the ball from entering his goal and thwart the Rovers attack.
Into the final 10 minutes, Whiting made way for Freddie Allen as more minutes were put into legs across the defence and throughout the team while also continuing to find the elusive equaliser but, despite Rovers best efforts, the game would end in defeat on the road as the U18s’ pre-season schedule came to a close.
Gribble’s side will now look to make use of their free week in matchday one of the EFL Youth Alliance and prepare for their opening game of the 2022/23 season when they welcome Hartlepool United to Cantley Park on Saturday, August 13.