Substitute Daniel O’Brien scored a stoppage-time winner, as a below-par Rovers Under-21s suffered a cruel 1-0 defeat away to Aston Villa.
The contest seemed certain to end goalless, until the former Rovers schoolboy converted Riccardo Calder’s cross in the 91st minute to secure the spoils for Villa at Burton Albion’s Pirelli Stadium.
Rovers went into the game looking to claim a third straight win, but they never hit the same heights of the victories over Newcastle United and Villa in the Under-21 Premier League Cup.
With Tommy Spurr back in the first team fold for Tuesday’s trip to Derby County, head coach Eric Kinder made two changes to the side that won at St. James’ Park last time out.
Yann Songo’o got a run-out at the heart of the defence, whilst Jack Doyle was preferred to Bradley Bauress, who netted the winner for Rovers when the two teams met in the cup only a fortnight ago.
In truth, the game never got going, with neither side creating any real clear-cut chances in the entire 90 minutes.
Villa’s Alfie Crooks made an important challenge to deny Rovers captain John O'Sullivan early on, before Jack O’Connell failed to direct a looping header goalwards after Villa only partially cleared Connor Mahoney’s corner.
The hosts grew into the game and were the better side by the midway point in the half. Bradley Lewis headed Graham Burke’s corner wide, following a fine attacking move, before David Raya gathered Burke’s well-struck free-kick from 25 yards.
Jerell Sellars then tried his luck from long-range, but his effort was always drifting high over the bar.
Just as he did in the cup encounter at Leigh Sports Villa earlier in the month, Jack Grealish almost found the back of the net inside 60 seconds of the restart. After playing a neat one-two with Calder, his shot was saved and Khalid Abdo couldn’t convert the rebound.
Raya then denied Burke’s crisp strike, following a lay-off from Sellars.
Rovers made a double change, with Anton Forrester and Devarn Green replacing Jordan Slew and Mahoney, but it failed to have the desired effect.
Instead, it was Villa substitute O’Brien, brought on in place of Abdo, who would go on to make the telling impact.
Before then, the lively Burke threatened again. First thwarted by O’Connell, as he whipped in a left-wing cross, before seeing a first-time shot from 30 yards sail wide of the mark.
Just as the game seemed set to end in a stalemate, Villa won it on the counter-attack at the death. Calder provided the cross, Rovers didn’t track the runner from midfield and O’Brien was on hand to tap home at the back post.
The result was revenge for Villa, after Rovers had edged a five-goal thriller with a later winner at Leigh Sports Village in the last 16 of the Under-21 Premier League Cup and it was the second time this season that Gordon Cowans’ side had struck a stoppage-time goal against Rovers, having netted a last-gasp leveller in the reverse league fixture back in August.
A disappointed coach Kinder said: “We never got near the levels we have reached in the past couple of weeks.
“Both teams were very average and cancelled each other out. It was a 0-0 game all night long, but then we didn’t defend properly in injury time and we paid the price.”
ASTON VILLA: Hill, Leggett, Lewis, Crooks, Donacien, Toner (c), Burke, Calder, Sellars, Abdo (O’Brien 71), Grealish.
Subs not used: Bannister, Strain, Webb, Hale.
Goal: O’Brien (91).
ROVERS: Raya, Nyambe (Bauress 86), Songo’o, O’Connell, Doyle, O’Connor, Carson, O’Sullivan (c), Mahoney (Green 68), Rittenberg, Slew (Forrester 58).
Subs not used: Crump, Lavelle.