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Rovers u21s 2 Aston Villa u21s 2

18 April 2016

Rovers Under-21s claimed the point they needed to make the end of season play-offs after a 2-2 draw with Aston Villa on Monday evening.

Damien Johnson's side went into the match at Leigh Sports Village knowing they just need to avoid defeat to secure a fifth-placed finish, but they will have been disappointed not to have claimed all three points.

Rovers fell behind on 18 after Khalid Abdo's strike bounced off the crossbar and in off the unfortunate Simon Eastwood, but the home side were quickly back on level terms when Anton Forrester scored from the spot after Ryan Nyambe had been fouled.

They then ended the first half in front when Joe Rankin-Costello scored his first Under-21 goal, firing home after an excellent cross from Forrester.

The second half was an even affair with both sides having chances. But in a dramatic end to the match Villa's Abdo saw red after his second booking on the night, before Andre Green ensured the match ended 2-2 after Jordan Lyden's 88th minute penalty had been saved by Eastwood.

The result means Rovers will now face a trip to play Arsenal in the semi-finals after the Gunners missed out on top spot as they went down 2-1 to West Bromwich Albion.


There was little between the two sides until the visitors took the lead in comical fashion on 18 minutes.

Rory Hale's free-kick was intended for Jordan Lyden but he collided with the referee and that allowed the ball to run on for Abdo whose sweet shot struck the crossbar before rebounding off the unfortunate Eastwood and into the back of the net.

Matty Platt headed wide a Willem Tomlinson free-kick as Rovers looked to get back on level terms, but they didn't have long to wait as the home side were awarded a penalty in the 26th minute.

A strong forward run from Nyambe saw the defender race into the area only to be tripped by Andre Green. Forrester stepped up and made no mistake from 12-yards.

Five minutes later and Damien Johnson's side threatened once more. Rovers made progress through Forrester and Nyambe, Rankin-Costello saw his shot kept out by Matija Sarkic, whilst Nyambe saw his attempt on the follow-up blocked for a corner.

But on 39 minutes the young Rovers got their reward to take a deserved lead into half-time. Connor Thomson sent Forrester racing clear with a ball down the right and the forward's centre was perfect for Rankin-Costello to fire high into the roof of the net.

Both sides saw chances in a lively start to the second half, Abdo testing Eastwood from the edge of the box before Thomson saw an effort saved after good work from Rankin-Costello.

Keinan Davis saw a shot from distance claimed by Eastwood before Rovers had the ball in the back of the net once more, however Matty Platt saw his header ruled out for a push.

In what was a foul-laden match, the game appeared to be drifting towards a satisfactory conclusion until it sprang into life in the final five minutes.

Villa's Abdo saw red after picking up his second card of the match for a dive in the penalty box, but just 90 seconds later the visitors were awarded a spot-kick as substitute Callum O'Hare went down under a soft challenge from Nyambe.

Simon Eastwood did brilliantly to save Lyden's initial kick, but was powerless to prevent Green from snapping up the rebound to even up the scores.

Rovers then saw strong claims for a penalty of their own waved away. Nyambe, on the attack this time, was pushed over in the area in similar fashion to the one moments earlier, but no decision was forthcoming despite hearty appeals.

Knowing a point would be enough to ensure an extension to their season, Rovers' youngsters saw out the remaining minutes to secure a top five finish and a semi-final against Arsenal.

ROVERS: Eastwood, Nyambe, Askew, Tomlinson (sub Grayson 77 mins), Platt, Wharton (c), Thomson (sub Pemberton 86 mins), Rankin-Costello, Forrester, Hardcastle, Wall.

Subs not used: Travis, Fisher (GK), Mansell.

Goals: Forrester (pen) 27 mins, Rankin-Costello 39 mins.

Booked: Thomson.

ASTON VILLA: Sarkic, Webb, Borg, Lyden (c), Suliman (sub Doyle-Hayes 84 mins), Toner, Blackett-Taylor (sub Cox 84 mins), Hale (sub O’Hare 69 mins), Davis, Abdo, Green.

Subs not used: Leggett, Johansson (GK).

Goals: Eastwood (OG) 18 mins, Green 88 mins.

Booked: Abdo, Webb.

Off: Abdo.

Attendance: 295

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