Rovers suffered a 4-2 defeat to Brighton & Hove Albion’s under-18s at the American Express Elite Football Performance Centre this afternoon.
After a competitive start to the game, Rovers took the lead when Frank Jones fired past George Bentley on 18 minutes, but it took Albion just four minutes to draw level on the south coast.
Aaron Connolly latched onto a loose ball and beat his marker, and with just Benjamin Winterbottom to beat, the Irishman picked out the bottom corner with a composed finish to make it 1-1.
Two minutes later, the hosts had their second and it was Connolly again that caused trouble in the final third, as the 17-year-old finished into the bottom corner after some good hassling from Alex Cochrane in the build-up.
But just as the hosts started to enjoy their slender lead, Billy Barr's Rovers hit back in the 27th minute through winger Jack Vale, as Albion’s advantage was cancelled out after just three minutes.
An astonishing 13-minute spell was rounded off when Cochrane gave Albion the lead again on 31 minutes, as the youngster took responsibility from a free-kick just outside the box and curled the ball into the top corner.
The hosts continued to press for a fourth goal before the break and almost found it through Tareq Shihab, but the midfielder’s headed attempt sailed wide of the target from Danny Cashman’s accurate cross.
Four minutes after the restart, though, the Seagulls opened up a two-goal advantage and Connolly wrapped up his hat-trick, finishing well past Winterbottom after beating his marker and racing towards goal.
The Irishman was a threat all afternoon and came agonisingly close to securing his fourth goal of the game, but after latching onto Jordan Araujo’s defence-splitting pass, his powerful effort cannoned back off the post.
Isaac Hutchinson almost made things more comfortable in the closing stages but struck his effort straight at the goalkeeper - however the Seagulls held on to their 4-2 lead and added another three points to their league tally.
BRIGHTON & HOVE ALBION: Bentley; Morrison, Clark-Eden, Roberts, Cochrane; Longman, Araujo, Shihab, Cashman; Ljubicic, Connolly.
Substitutes: McGill (GK), Kone, Hutchinson, Onen, Fornah.
ROVERS: Winterbottom, Dolan (Connolly, 55), Boyomo, Buckley, Jones (Khoury, 45), Wilson (c), Vale, Chan, Connell, Lynch, Thompson.
Unused substitutes: Campbell, Pike.