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PL Cup report: Sunderland 1 Rovers 0

4 November 2016

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Rovers slipped to a narrow 1-0 defeat away to Sunderland in their second Premier League Cup group match.

On a cold night in the North East, striker Josh Maja, who earlier wasted a glorious chance when one-on-one with Andy Fisher, scored the only goal of the game on 27 minutes, capitalising on a mistake at the back to drill home.

Rovers weren’t without their chances in the first half, as Lewis Mansell headed just wide and Lewis Hardcastle twice went close.

The visitors then completely dominated the second period, as Mansell was denied by a superb save from James Talbot, Matty Platt mistimed a free header in front of goal and Willem Tomlinson twice threatened from long range.

Tomlinson was again denied at the death, as Rovers failed to find a way past a resolute Black Cats back-line, who clung on to secure the spoils. 

The result means that Rovers remain on three points in Group B following their 2-0 victory over Burnley at Ewood Park back in September.

Ahead of the game, Damien Johnson made one change to the side that lost 4-0 in the Premier League 2 fixture at Aston Villa last time out, with Joe Rankin-Costello coming in for Connor Thomson, who dropped to the bench.

Rovers registered the first chance of the game on eight minutes, when Tomlinson spread play out wide to Connor Mahoney, whose cut-back from the byline fell back to Tomlinson, who blazed over the bar from just outside the area.

Rovers received a let-off six minutes later when Scott Wharton underhit his back pass straight to Maja, who raced clean through on goal, but Fisher came out to smother his shot.

Soon after, the visitors had a great chance to open the scoring at the other end. Mahoney beat his man brilliantly down the right, his deep cross was headed back across goal by Hardcastle, but both Rankin-Costello and Mansell couldn't convert from close range.

At the midway point in the half, Maja threaded a ball through to Rees Greenwood, who fired a left-foot shot towards the target, but Fisher made a superb save with his legs. 

Two minutes later, Wharton was booked for bringing down Maja just outside the area and from the resultant free-kick, Ethan Robson struck the base of the post with a lovely left-foot curler.

Rovers didn’t heed the warnings and conceded the opener on 27 minutes. Luke Molyneux crossed from the right, Platt completely missed his kick in the middle and Maja drilled a low shot past Fisher.

Rovers responded well, with Hardcastle firing a left-foot shot over the bar, before the visitors should have levelled on 38 minutes when Lewis Travis delivered an inviting ball into the box, but Mansell planted his free header wide.

On 42 minutes, Sunderland keeper Talbot inexplicably came racing off his line and got nowhere the ball, which fell kindly to Hardcastle, whose attempted lob towards the unguarded goal deflected just wide.

The hosts made a change at the break, with Daniel Wright replacing Seb Larsson, who was making his comeback from injury.

Like the first half, Rovers registered the first chance of the second period on 57 minutes. Travis delivered a dangerous cross from the right and Mansell's stooping header was somehow saved by Talbot at point-blank range.

With Rovers on top, Sunderland looked to hit on the break. Maja collected a clearance in space down the left, he found Molyneux on the opposite flank, but his attempted curler was comfortably saved by Fisher.

That was a rare Sunderland attack, as all the chances were falling in Rovers’ favour. On 65 minutes, Tomlinson’s crisp strike from distance swerved just wide, before Mahoney’s mazy run ended with a wild left-foot shot which was well off target.

Mahoney was the main source of danger, as his corner on 70 minutes found the unmarked Platt, but he couldn’t connect cleanly with his header six yards out. Moments later, Mahoney delivered a deep cross from the right, but Hardcastle volleyed over at the back post.

On 81 minutes, Tomlinson again tried his luck from long range, but his top corner-bound effort forced a smart save from Talbot. Moments later, an Elliot Embleton free-kick whistled a whisker over the woodwork.

Rovers came close to the equaliser their display deserved two minutes from time, as Tomlinson created space for a shot, but his low drive from the edge of the area was parried by Talbot and Sunderland scrambled the ball clear.

Johnson’s side are back in Premier League Cup action when they travel to Cardiff City next month, but up next is back-to-back home games against Oldham Athletic in the Checkatrade Trophy and Lancashire FA Senior Cup.

SUNDERLAND: Talbot, Casey (J. Robson 82), T. Robson (c), Larsson (Wright 46), Ledger, Brady, Molyneux, E. Robson, Maja, Embleton, Greenwood (Asoro 73).
Subs not used: Pain, Pybus.

Goals: Maja (27)
Booked: Maja

ROVERS: Fisher, Nyambe (Rittenberg 76), Platt, Wharton (c), Doyle, Mahoney, Hardcastle, Tomlinson, Travis, Rankin-Costello, Mansell.
Subs not used: Powell, Magloire, Pemberton, Thomson.

Booked: Wharton

Attendance: 220

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