Rovers fall to defeat at the Abbey Stadium with a 3-1 loss to Cambridge United.
Rovers created chance after chance in the early stages hitting the woodwork three times before being hit by a sucker-punch in added time when Harvey Knibbs capitalised on a mistake in midfield to put the home side ahead against the run of the play.
The second half was a more even affair and Harrison Dunk’s header just before the hour mark seemed to have sealed things for the home side. Rovers did hit back with 20 minutes remaining when Joe Dodoo slotted home from close range, but in pushing for an equaliser late on, Rovers were hit on the break again with Sam Smith finishing off a counterattack to seal the three points for the Us.
Gary McSheffrey made two changes to his side that suffered a narrow defeat to Wigan Athletic on Saturday with new-signing Josh Martin coming straight into the team and Charlie Seaman making his first start since picking up an injury in September.
It took less than a minute for Rovers to register their first shot on target. High pressing football saw Tommy Rowe win the ball off Paul Digby. He lined-up a left-footed shot, but it was a tame attempt and a simple stop for Dimitar Mitov to claim.
Dodoo was first to hit the woodwork when he connected with Ethan Galbraith’s floated free-kick into the box and volleyed against the post, but the whistle was blown for a suspected handball.
Next came a flurry of chances with Kieran Agard heading over the crossbar and Josh Martin and Rowe seeing shots blocked on the line, while Dodoo once again met a Galbraith delivery and headed against the post.
Rovers were awarded another golden opportunity when Jack Iredale dragged, Agard to the ground outside the box teeing free-kick specialist Martin up for his first chance from a dead ball situation. The Norwich City youngster struck it sweetly and it cannoned off the crossbar.
Kyle Knoyle was next to go close when he volleyed wide of the far post, before Branden Horton’s left-footed corner kick delivery caused chaos in the United six-yard boy but was eventually cleared.
With the woodwork having done its job, Mitov then pulled off a string of saves denying Agard with a fingertip stop down to his right, before saving Dodoo’s effort at the near post.
McSheffrey’s side were hit with a sucker punch in the one minute of added time when Cambridge capitalised on a mistake in the middle of the park and hit Rovers on the break working the ball to Knibbs who was able to slot in.
Probably buoyed by their goal before the break, the home side started the second half the stronger and it took an important intervention by Rowe to deny Adam May when he wound up for a shot from the edge of the box.
For Rovers, long hopeful balls forward weren’t finding the runners the way they had in the first half and on the occasion that Agard was played through, he was crowded out by the Cambridge defence.
Determination from Rowe provided a half-chance for Rovers just before the hour mark. He nicked the ball away from his marker and played a smart one-two with Matt Smith but his cutback was behind Agard and Dodoo and easily cleared.
But any confidence or hope that could have been garnered from that attack was snuffed out when Cambridge hit back with a second goal.
Harrison Dunk climbed highest at the back post and headed in to double to league and give Rovers a near impossible task.
McSheffrey brought Omar Bogle on to replace Seaman which led to a switch around with Galbraith dropping into right back.
It was good work by Martin – who looked extremely bright on his debut – which breathed life in to the game for Rovers. Calmness on the ball and clever vision to pick out the run from Smith allowed the Arsenal-loanee to break the defensive line. His cutback was turned in from close range by Dodoo.
Rovers continued to work hard, but crosses into the box were dealt with by the U’s defence and they weren’t able to find the same attacking form they had shown in the opening 45 minutes to fashion any cutting edge chances.
Once again, Rovers were hit late on when substitute Sam Smith fired home from close range after a quick counter-attack by the home side in added time.