Sam Burns bagged a brace, as a rampant Rovers Under-23s kept their title tilt on track with a superb 5-1 victory over Southampton at the County Ground.
All the damage was done in a fantastic first-half, as Rovers raced into a three-goal lead inside 35 minutes.
Burns opened the scoring on five minutes, drilling the ball into the bottom corner after being played in by Joe Nolan. The same duo combined again midway through the half, as Burns prodded the ball goalwards and Nolan’s fancy flick found the back of the net.
Burns grabbed his second of the game when goalkeeper Jack Bycroft’s clearance ricocheted in off the Rovers striker, before Jayden Smith reduced the arrears just before the break.
Rovers made the points safe on 73 minutes when Lenni Cirino’s centre was turned home by Louie Annesley at the far post, before the hosts added a fifth 10 minutes later courtesy of Sam Durrant’s superb solo strike.
The convincing victory sees Billy Barr’s side keep up the pressure on leaders Manchester City at the top of the Premier League 2 table.
Ahead of the game, Barr made four changes to the side that drew 1-1 away to Tottenham Hotspur last time out.
Jordan Eastham was preferred to Antonis Stergiakis in goal, Jalil Saadi came in for the suspended Sam Barnes at centre-back, whilst Dan Pike and Connor McBride, who have been involved with the senior squad in recent weeks, were brought back into the team in place of Joe Rankin-Costello and Alex Baker.
In damp and difficult conditions, Rovers made a bright start and opened the scoring inside five minutes with a really well-worked goal. After good play down the right by Durrant, Nolan slipped the ball through to Burns, who fired a low shot across the Saints keeper and into the far corner.
Rovers came close to doubling their advantage on 21 minutes as Durrant skipped past his man and pulled the ball back from the byline, Isaac Whitehall saw his shot blocked and Nolan fired just wide on the follow-up.
A minute later, McBride fed the lively Cirino on the overlap down the left and his centre was fired goalwards by Pike at full stretch, but Bycroft somehow saved the shot on the goal-line.
The second goal was coming and it duly arrived on 24 minutes. Durrant again did well down the right, breaking into the box before pulling the ball back to Burns and his stabbed effort forwards was flicked over the line by Nolan for his fourth of the season.
Rovers almost added a third on 28 minutes when McBride centred from the left and Burns’ first-time shot came crashing back off the crossbar, although he may have just strayed offside.
In a dominant first-half display, the chances continued to come for the hosts. On the half-hour mark, the ball broke kindly to Cirino in the box, but his shot was saved and McBride’s effort was blocked on the rebound. A minute later, McBride crossed from the left, but Burns’ header went just wide.
The young forward was left scratching his head again on 34 minutes when Cirino swung in a cross from the left, but again Burns was unable to direct his header on target.
However, a minute later, the 18-year-old did get his reward, in fortuitous circumstances, as Bycroft’s clearance struck the striker and the ball trickled over the line for Burns’ second of the game.
Southampton pulled a goal back on 41 minutes, as Rovers were guilty of over-playing in midfield. After Jake Garrett was caught in possession, Lucas Defise slipped the ball through to Smith, who slotted a shot past Eastham.
As the rain eased, Rovers created the first chance of the second half, on 52 minutes, as they worked the ball out to Durrant, who danced past a couple of defenders, before seeing his shot saved from close range.
Moments later, Garrett cut the ball back from the byline and McBride’s goal-bound strike was well blocked.
Rovers remained in control as the half progressed and made the points safe with their fourth of the afternoon on 73 minutes. A corner on the left was played out to Cirino and his low cross was swept home by Annesley at the far post.
The hosts pushed for a fifth, with Whitehall twice denied by Bycroft in quick succession on the 80-minute mark, but moments later, Durrant got the goal his display deserved, cutting in from the right before lashing a lovely left-foot shot into the far corner.
It was almost six on 87 minutes, as substitute Jared Harlock’s shot was well saved and Pike’s follow-up was somehow cleared off the line.
It was another impressive home performance from Barr’s boys, who defeated West Ham United 4-1 in their last Leyland outing and up next for Rovers is a trip to Arsenal this Friday, kick-off 7pm.
ROVERS: Eastham, Pike (Connolly 88), Saadi, Annesley (c), Cirino, Garrett (Harlock 82), Whitehall, Nolan, Durrant, McBride, Burns.
Subs not used: Dowling, Gent, Baker.
Goals: Burns (5, 35), Nolan (24), Annesley (73), Durrant (83)
Booked: Garrett (58)
SOUTHAMPTON: Bycroft, Otseh-Taiwo, Morris, Agbontohoma, Tchaptchet, Burnett, Bellis (Smales-Braithwaite 63), Keogh (Kpohomouh 46), Smith, Defise, Olaigbe.
Subs not used: Scott, Payne, Tizzard.
Goal: Smith (41)
Booked: Olaigbe (86)