Sam Burns kept up his fine goalscoring form, but he couldn’t prevent Rovers Under-23s from slipping to a narrow 2-1 defeat away to Everton.
In an entertaining first-half, which Rovers dominated for long spells, they found themselves 2-0 down inside 30 minutes, as Everton struck twice in quick succession on the counter-attack, with Josh Bowler playing in first Nathan Broadhead and then Charlie Whittaker, who got their names on the scoresheet.
Rovers got back into the game soon after however, as Burns intercepted a pass and his shot couldn’t be kept out by Isaac Price on the line, with the striker, who has been nominated for March’s PL2 Player of the Month award, claiming his sixth goal in his last five games.
The visitors pressed for an equaliser after the break and they thought they had it just before the hour mark, but Burns’ smart finish was ruled out for offside.
Ahead of the game, Billy Barr made four changes to the side that drew 1-1 at home to Brighton three weeks ago, with Dan Butterworth making a welcome return after three months out with an ankle injury.
Elsewhere, Jordan Eastham got the nod in goal, whilst scholars Jake Garrett and Lenni Cirino were restored to the starting line-up, having been involved in FA Youth Cup action last time out.
Rovers started the brighter of the two teams and came close to opening the scoring inside nine minutes.
After working the ball well out wide, Cirino delivered a brilliant left-wing cross and Joe Nolan’s stabbed effort goalwards drifted agonisingly wide of the far post.
The visitors threatened again on the quarter-hour mark. From a Rovers corner, the ball came out to Sam Barnes, whose 20-yard curler bounced back off the inside of the post and Sam Burns’ appeals for a penalty were waved away as he tried to get on the end of the rebound.
But against the run of play, Everton took the lead on 20 minutes. Garrett was caught in possession in midfield and Bowler fed Broadhead, who fired a shot across Eastham and into the far corner.
It got worse for Rovers, as the Toffees doubled their advantage in similar circumstances on the break nine minutes later. As Rovers looked to play forward, Everton seized upon a misplaced pass and Bowler played the ball through to Whittaker, whose shot deflected past Eastham.
Rovers responded well and reduced the arrears just five minutes later. Burns picked off a pass across the backline and after breaking into the box, his shot had just too much power on it for Price to prevent it from rolling over the line.
Everton thought they had been awarded a penalty just before the break when Cirino felled Bowler right on the edge of the box, but the linesman correctly overruled the referee’s decision and from the resultant free-kick, Con Ouzounidis headed Rhys Hughes’ delivery over the upright.
At the start of the second half, Butterworth fired just over from 20 yards at one end, before Bowler dragged a shot just wide of the far post at the other.
Rovers thought they had drawn level on 58 minutes when Butterworth’s shot deflected into the path of Burns, who finished sharply on the turn, but he was denied a second of the night by the linesman’s flag.
Seconds later, Sam Durrant fired inches wide of the far post.
On 63 minutes, Everton almost added a third, as Bowler again played in Broadhead, but Eastham pulled off a smart diving save.
Rovers went on to enjoy a sustained spell of pressure, camping themselves in and around the Everton box, but without testing the Toffees keeper and again the hosts came close to making their opponents pay, as Hughes’ 25-yard free-kick cannoned off the crossbar.
With 86 minutes on the clock, Burns again had appeals for a penalty waved away when he went to ground as he looked to get on the end of Jared Harlock’s free-kick.
He then dragged a shot wide of the target in stoppage time, before Nolan's late effort deflected just past the post and with it went Rovers’ chances of salvaging a share of the spoils.
The result ended Rovers’ five-match unbeaten run and they will look to get back to winning ways when they take on Everton’s Merseyside rivals Liverpool at Leyland on Monday April 19th, kick-off 7pm.
EVERTON: Tyrer, John, Ouzounidis, Anderson, Small, Warrington, Price, Bowler (Cannon 74), Whittaker, Hughes, Broadhead (Mallon 66).
Subs not used: Barrett, Welch, Butterfield.
Goals: Broadhead (20), Whittaker (29)
Booked: Whittaker, Tyrer
ROVERS: Eastham, Pike, Barnes (c), Annesley, Cirino, Garrett, Nolan, Durrant (Baker 80), Burns, McBride (Harlock 65), Butterworth (Whitehall 74).
Subs not used: Stergiakis, Saadi.
Goal: Burns (34)
Booked: McBride, Annesley, Garrett