A strong first-half performance would help see Bristol Rovers overcome Cheltenham Town in their opening EFL Trophy fixture at the Memorial Stadium. Aaron Collins returned to the scoresheet after a fine finish as Gibbons and Evans also got in on the act.
Rovers boss Joey Barton made 8 changes from the fanatical fixture against Lincoln Town on Saturday at the Mem. Saturday’s goalscorer Joshua Grant made his first start alongside Luke McCormick, James Gibbons and Harvey Vale.
At 5 minutes on the clock, Aaron Collins played a sweet outside of the boot ball down the wing to McCormick who looked to trouble the defence with a link-up with Harvey Vale but the resulting chance ended with a Cheltenham goal kick.
It would take just 9 minutes for Rovers to break the deadlock with a wonderful out-swinging cross from Jevani Brown who had just been played through down the right flank. The beautifully lifted cross found the diving James Gibbons whose header flew straight past Max Harris.
Rovers had the ball in the back of the net for the second time of the evening however John Marquis was a bit too eager to get in behind the Cheltenham line and after slotting past Harris, his effort was chalked off.
The hosts were given a huge let-off when Cheltenham broke down their right side through Rob Street whose fizzed cross found the unmarked Aidan Keena at the back post, but his effort rippled against the side netting.
Just shy of the half-hour mark, Antony Evans decided he wanted to get in on the action and took it upon himself to unleash a rocket 20 yards from goal which Harris watched travel into the back of the net, doubling Rovers’ lead.
A combination of passes from Collins and Lamare Bogarde saw Collins have time to cut inside from the left and whip a strike goalwards, however, his far post effort was fractionally wide.
Another moment of brilliance from the Rovers frontmen, which resulted in Aaron Collins receiving the ball 10 yards from goal and after taking a composed touch he smashed the ball into the roof of the net, leaving the visitors stunned.
The Robins were given a glimmer of hope 5 minutes into the second 45’ when Gibbons was unfortunate to concede an own goal, however, it was a tremendous finish as he managed to volley past Belshaw, reducing the lead to two goals.
The visitors' luck would begin to change when Jovan Malcom received the ball wide and looked to send a looping cross towards the head of Keena who made good contact but Belshaw collected comfortably.
Substitute Scott Sinclair made an instant impact as he won a freekick in front of the Thatchers End and the resulting set piece deflected off the head of Street and into the back of the net.
Luke Thomas, who was also introduced mid-way through the second half, darted down the wing towards the byline and after having to turn back to the edge of the 18-yard-box for support, Ryan Woods was there to launch an effort at Harris but the ‘keeper was equal to the shot.
Rovers were unlucky to have five when Sinclair found the bottom corner following a superb passage of play but the linesman had other ideas and raised his flag for offside.
As the referee blew the whistle for full-time, Rovers moved to the top of Group H and will begin to look towards a trip to Shrewsbury in 11 days time.
Bristol Rovers: James Belshaw, Josh Grant, John Marquis ©, Aaron Collins (Luke Thomas), Connor Taylor, Harvey Vale, Jevani Brown (Lewis Gordon), Antony Evans (Sam Finley), Lamare Bogarde, Luke McCormick (Ryan Woods), James Gibbons (Scott Sinclair).
Cheltenham Town: Max Harris, Sean Long © (Ellis Chapman), Ben Williams, Tom Bradbury (Jovan Malcom), Liam Sercombe, Will Goodwin(Grant Horton (Freddy Willcox)), Aidan Keena, Rob Street, Will Ferry, Daniel Adshead, Josh Williams.
Attendance: 1184 (86)