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A great test for the lads

9 February 2017

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Development squad boss Damien Johnson was delighted with his side's application as they overcame Southport to reach the semi-finals of the Molson Coors Senior Cup.

After the match ended 1-1 after 90 minutes at the Merseyrail Community Stadium, Rovers won the tie 3-2 on penalties to set up a last four clash with Fleetwood Town.

Johnson felt that this season's exploits in Checkatrade Trophy helped them in coming up against a strong Southport side with Rovers acquitting themselves well against the Vanarama National League outfit.

"It was a really tough test for us, we knew it would be coming here with their new manager coming in," said the U23s coach.

"They were as strong as they could go with a proper first team out. The conditions and the pitch wasn't great, and they put us under pressure with long balls and set-pieces, more than what we usually have to deal with in a PL2 fixture.

"But that is what is great about this competition, and the previous games in the Checkatrade, and I think we've seen the benefit tonight from that in that the lads were more prepared and had to stand up and be counted.

"There are still areas from which we can improve, but I'm really pleased."

After a goalless first half it was the Sandgrounders who opened the scoring when Jamie Allen took advantage of the space afforded to him at the back post to fire home.

But Rovers hit back just three minutes later thanks to a fantastic strike from Lewis Mansell.

The game ended all-square which meant penalties were required, with Rovers keeper Andy Fisher the hero with three saves to see them progress.

"The goal was disappointing because it was a second phase from a set-piece which we'll need to improve on," added Johnson. "But the lads responded, and at times, even in the difficult conditions, we created some good opportunities.

"It is a terrific goal from Mansell. Good combination play and the finish in the top corner. He deserved it, he worked his socks off, he was up against two really physical centre-backs, so I'm really pleased for him.

"Then it is always about the keepers in penalty shootouts and thankfully Fish has done great, he made some good saves and fair play to the lads who stepped up.

"It is nice to get through. Coming away from home and not getting beat is good for their development. It shows a taste of what real football is about."

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