Report: Rovers 1 Preston 2
Ten man Rovers went down 2-1 to Preston North End in a pulsating Lancashire derby.
In a reversal of the scoreline when the two sides met at Deepdale back in November, Rovers started strongly with Elliott Ward getting his first goal for the club on 13 minutes, slamming home the rebound after Hope Akpan's header had come back off the crossbar.
But the sending off of Shane Duffy when he handled on the line on just past the midway point of the first half proved to be the pivotal moment of the match.
Joe Garner scored from the spot, before Jordan Hugill put the visitors in front with a cool finish from a Paul Gallagher cross.
Rovers reshuffled in the second half and despite being a man light they really took the game to their opponents. The home side saw strong claims for a penalty of their own waved away when sub Chris Brown was brought down in the area, before the forward saw a header well saved by Lindegaard.
Preston were always a threat on the counter, but Rovers gave it everything in the closing stages. However they just couldn't get the equaliser their determination and desire deserved.
Paul Lambert made two changes from the side that defeated Brentford a fortnight ago as Elliott Ward and Tony Watt replaced Grant Hanley and Craig Conway.
But Watt's match was over within five minutes of the lunchtime encounter as the Scottish international pulled up as Rovers went close when an Elliott Bennett centre was diverted goalwards by defender Tom Clarke, but as Preston scrambled clear the forward indicated he was unable to continue with Simeon Jackson on as his replacement.
However Rovers brushed off that early set-back by grabbing the opening goal on 13 minutes.
A strong run and cross from Tommy Spurr earned Rovers a corner on the left and as Hope Akpan headed Bennett's centre against the bar, Ward was on hand to expertly blast home through the crowded area for his first goal in blue and white.
It was almost 2-0 moments later, this time a short corner between Bennett and Jordi Gomez saw Ben Marshall teed up, he struck the ball sweetly but Clarke was alert with an important deflection to prevent it finding the back of the net.
However that would prove to be as good as it would get for the home side as the game was turned on it's head just past the midway point of the half.
But after Danny Graham looked to have been fouled at one end Preston pressed at the other. Alan Browne saw a shot from the edge of the box saved by Jason Steele, Joe Garner looked to prod home the rebound, Shane Duffy dived to save the ball on the line with an outstretched hand.
Unfortunately for the Irishman the linesman on the far side saw the infringement and flagged. Duffy received his marching orders and to rub salt into the wounds former Rover Garner made no mistake from the penalty spot.
That prompted a second early change as Matt Kilgallon was brought on, Jackson the unfortunate man to make way.
Last time out against Brentford Rovers had to play some 40 minutes with only ten men. On this occasion it would have to be more than an hour.
But unlike the game at Griffin Park, Rovers weren't able to keep their opponents at bay as following a period of pressure a reverse pass from Paul Gallagher superbly picked out Jordan Hugill and he guided the ball back across goal and into the far corner of the net to ensure a first half lead for the visitors.
Rovers made a tactical change as the two sides resumed at the start of the second half as Darragh Lenihan moved to be one of the centre-halves alongside Kilgallon and Ward with Spurr and Marshall as wing backs to match their opponents. Lenihan immediately involved in defence to bravely head a clearance away from goal.
Looking for an early way back into the game Hope Akpan tested Anders Lindegaard with a low shot from outside the box, before a lovely ball from Kilgallon almost played Graham through on goal but his touch just let him down at the vital moment.
With play stretched Preston could have extended their lead on 54 minutes with a breakaway as Adam Reach teed up Ben Pearson but the midfielder fired wide when well placed.
Moments later the former Manchester United youngster was perhaps a touch fortunate not to follow Duffy down the tunnel with a studs up challenge on Bennett, but only a yellow card was issued followed by similar coloured cards to Bennett and Ward for their reaction to the tackle.
Pearson was quickly replaced with Dan Johnson on in his place, but it was Hugill's knockdown that almost played in Callum Woods, a combination of Kilgallon and Spurr just doing enough to prevent the wing back from getting his shot on target.
Fellow defender Greg Cunningham stung the gloves of Steele, whilst at the other end a lovely ball from Spurr saw Graham connect at the near post but the forward didn't get enough of a connection to guide it on target.
The final roll of the dice from Lambert saw Chris Brown replace Akpan as Marshall moved into midfield as Rovers went back to four at the back.
Almost immediately the former North End striker chased a ball into the box from Gomez, he went to ground under a challenge from Bailey Wright but the referee awarded a goal kick and booked Brown for simulation.
Then on 76 an Bennett free-kick picked out Brown in the area, he rose well to head goalwards but Lindegaard was swiftly across to make it look a comfortable save.
With Rovers throwing bodies forward at every opportunity they were always open at the other end. A lovely cut-back from Woods picked out Johnson, but with the goal at his mercy Kilgallon made a superb block to deny the Preston man.
Then fellow substitute Jermaine Beckford stole through with three minutes of the 90 remaining but from a increasingly tight angle he put his shot across Steele but wide of the far post.
Gomez sent Graham on the chase as Rovers gave everything in the final minutes to get the equalising goal that their endeavours deserved, but his near post shot was claimed by Lindegaard.
It was a case of everybody up as Spurr sent a long throw into the Preston box, but the visitors held on to claim the win.
ROVERS: Steele, Marshall, Ward, Duffy, Spurr, Akpan (sub Brown 71 mins), Lenihan, J. Gomez, Bennett, Watt (sub Jackson 7 mins (sub Kilgallon 27 mins)), Graham.
Subs not used: Raya (GK), Henley, Grimes, Conway.
Goals: Ward 13 mins.
Booked: Bennett, Ward, Brown.
PRESTON: Lindegaard, Cunningham, Pearson (sub Johnson 63 mins), Clarke (c), Wright, Gallagher, Garner (sub Beckford 86 mins), Woods, Browne, Hugill, Reach (sub Huntington 80 mins).
Subs not used: Kirkland (GK), Vermijl, Doyle, Robinson.
Goals: Garner (pen) 25 mins, Hugill 43 mins.
Booked: Gallagher, Pearson
Attendance: 21,029 (including 6984 visiting supporters)