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Report: Rovers U23s 1-3 Arsenal U23s

A hat-trick from Folarin Balogun does the damage as Rovers'

12 August 2019

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A hat-trick of penalties was the story of the game as Rovers started their Premier League 2 campaign with defeat to Arsenal at Leyland.

Folarin Balogun hit a hat-trick for the visitors on the night, after Stefan Mols had given the hosts the lead midway through the first half at the Lancashire FA HQ.

Although his first spot kick was saved by Joe Hilton, the forward followed up with a close range finish before adding two further finishes from 12 yards in the late stages of the encounter.

Under the guidance of Tony Carss, a number of Under-18s were given their opportunity in the squad, with Isaac Whitehall starting for the Development Squad for the first time and Luke Brennan debuting for the first time at the level.

Arsenal included first team defender Rob Holding in their starting XI, whilst the highly-rated Emile Smith-Rowe, who spent the second half of last season on loan at Bundesliga side RB Leipzig, began the game in midfield.

The first opportunity of the game came after just five minutes, but visiting skipper Robbie Burton could only send a strike comfortably over Joe Hilton's upright from the edge of the box.

At the other end, Jack Vale's perfect pass fed Lewis Thompson, but the advancing left back's cross-shot just evaded Mols at the back post, before Brad Lyons nodded wide soon after.

Midway through the half and Rovers took a deserved lead with a terrific counter attack. Lyons' ball was inch-perfect for Mols to run onto, and the winger cut in before sliding the ball beyond James Hillson in the Arsenal goal.

But moments later Steve Bould's side found a quickfire equaliser after Charley Doyle brought down Trae Coyle in the box. Folarin Balogun stepped up, and although Hilton guessed the right way and saved the spot kick, the striker was there to follow up and tap home.

Rovers responded, and a fine turn and pass from Vale found Brennan, but the winger could only fire narrowly over the upright with his unfavoured left foot.

Rovers almost took the lead into the break, but Sam Barnes could only fire straight down the throat of Hillson with just seconds of the half remaining.

But it was an encouraging display from the youngsters, who will have counted themselves unfortunate not to have taken the lead into the interval.

Just moments into the second 45 minutes the hosts came close to regaining the advantage, but after a great run from Brennan, Vale saw his curling effort beaten away by Hillson.

The half was mainly full of half-chances, but another penalty with six minutes remaining put the visitors back ahead late on.

Hilton was adjudged to have brought down an Arsenal forward and Balogun stepped up to smash down the middle.

The trio of penalties was complete in the final moment of the game as this time Doyle hauled down his man, with Balogun again stepping up to the plate to slot home to Hilton's left with almost the final kick of the game.

It was harsh on Rovers, who had really shown quality throughout, particularly in the first half, but their Premier League 2 bow began with defeat.

Rovers: Hilton, Jackson, Thompson, Doyle (c), Annesley, Barnes, Mols (Burns, 57), Whitehall, Vale, Lyons, Brennan.

Unused substitutes: Eastham, Saadi, Garrett, Boyomo.

Goal: Mols, 27

Booked: Lyons, 25, Vale, 90, Doyle, 90.

Arsenal: Hillson, Swanson, Bola, Burton (c), Holding (Olowu, 62), Clarke, Coyle, Olayinka (John-Jules, 72), Balogun, Smith-Rowe (McEnuff, 45), Tormey.

Unused substitutes: Smith, Omole, McEnuff.

Goals: Balogun, 30, 83 pen, 90 pen.

Booked: Swanson, 89

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