MATCH REPORT: Bristol Rovers 3 Fleetwood 1
The learning curve continued for Fleetwood's young guns as their unbeaten start to the season juddered to a halt.
Town were able to play their passing football across the back line, with Rovers happy to let them keep ball in their own half as Fleetwood tried to bring the blue and white shirts too them to do what they do best – sting on the counter.
The only downside to the game plan in the first half was that Fleetwood were not able to get midfield maestro Kyle Dempsey or his more physical central partner Aiden O’Neill on the ball as much as normal to pull the strings as Darrell Clarke’s men dominated the middle of the park.
Though with Town sitting back and inviting pressure, roared on by their gnarly home faithful, Rovers sensed blood.
Rovers should have taken the lead just minutes into the opening exchanges with the man in black taking centre stage once again.
Amari’i Bell was left winded by a high tackle by Billy Bodin but the referee unbelievably saw no foul in the challenge and allowed Rovers to attack.
With Bell writhing around in pain the right flank was open and Rovers’ wing wizard Partington eventually whipped a cross into the mix.
Town’s defence was static as it rolled towards Gaffney but fortunately Bolger was on hand to block the effort with Town eventually clearing the ball.
Town did not head their warnings about clearing their lines and the hosts took the lead in the 27th minute - though it should not have stood.
Bodin and Nichols played a short corner routine on the right, they fed Partington who hoofed a high ball towards the back stick.
Gaffney was in an offside position and looked to have impeded Town skipper Pond when he nodded the ball back into the path of Stuart Sinclair to side-foot home.
His ability to stroll into the box unchallenged by a red and white shirt clearly a cause for concern for Town as they looked shaky on set-pieces.
Cole had two chances to get Town back into it as they stuck to the original game-plan and lived on the counter.
He broke after good work by Jordy Hiwula but instead of hitting the ball first time, he took a touch which was too heavy and the chance was lost.
The forward broke free of Rovers’ shakles once again but after sprinting one-on-one at an angle he opted to shoot and fired straight at Slocombe with Hiwula and Dempsey agonisingly waiting for a pass in good positions in the box.
The hosts effectively killed the game off two minutes before the half-time whistle.
Bodin was allowed space and time outside the box and his inch perfect 25-yard strike flew past an outstretched Cairns and kissed the post as it flew home.
The goal knocked the stuffing out of Town and it was a nervous few minutes until the whistle went with the red and white shirts at sixes and sevens as Rovers went for the jugular.
Town faced an uphill battle in the second 45 but after the introduction of Ash Hunter for Bobby Grant they were a team transformed as they aimed to overturn that two-goal deficit.
Had they left themselves too much to do? It seems so, but not through lack of trying.
Howwever for once, unlike in their last two league games when Northampton and AFC Wimbledon were guilty of wasting chances, it was Rosler’s normally clinical side that were left licking their wounds.
Town were on top from the off and Hunter, who has had a point to prove after being dropped from the squad for the Northampton win, took the 45 minutes as a chance to say - I’m back and I’m ready to go.
He took the game by the scruff of the neck and it was his peach of a cross from the right that fell in the perfect pocket just in front of Slocombe and ahead of the defence for clinical Cole to sneak in and volley home from close range.
A fine poacher’s finish as Cole continues to impress netting his fourth goal in three games.
Dempsey and O’Neill were able to get more of a foothold in the game in the second half and it was Dempsey who nearly levelled things up.
He latched on to the loose ball outside the box but his low effort shaved the left pos.
Then it was Hunter who rippled the side netting and former Bristol City man Wes Burns forced Slocombe to tip his header over from close range.
Rosler withdrew skipper Pond for new boy Baily Cargill as he shifted up the back three to prepare for Rovers’ counter attacking play as Town pressed forward in search of that equaliser.
But it was not to be Town’s day as just minutes afterwards the intimidating home faithful roared back into full-voice.
They raised the volume when Lewie Coyle was ruled not to have handled in Fleetwood’s box.
Substitute Ellis Harrison popped up with Rovers’ third to bag the three points in the 80th minute
Like Bodin’s strike before the break, that goal was a sucker-punch for Town.But despite the defeat and some set-pieces conundrums to consider there were positives, especially Ash Hunter’s return to prominence.
He will no doubt take his spot in the starting line-up against Leciester in the Checkatrade tomorrow after his cameo.
Fleetwood: Cairns, Bolger, Pond (Cargill, 75), Eastham, Coyle, O’Neill, Dempsey, Bell, Grant (Hunter, 46), Hiwula (Burns, 64), Cole. Subs not used: Neal, Glendon, Ekpolo, Schwabl.
Slocombe, Partington, Lockyer, Sweeney, Brown, Sercombe, Clarke, Sinclair (Lines, 24), Bodin, Gaffney (Moore, 75), Nichols (Harrison, 64). Subs not used: Andre Jr (GK), Burn, Bola, Telford.
8363 91 (Fleetwood)