Town slip on first game of the New Year
The Hatters start to 2016 ended in defeat as two second-half goals from Rory Gaffney gave Bristol Rovers all three points.
After a goalless first half the Pirates took the lead on the hour when Gaffney rifled home inside the penalty area and, 13 minutes later, the home striker completed his double after Mark Tyler had spilled his initial shot.
It all began with Town caretaker boss Andy Awford making two changes to the side that drew 0-0 at Portsmouth on Monday. In came Cameron McGeehan and Craig Mackail-Smith for Jack Marriott and Josh McQuoid, who dropped to the bench.
Hosts Rovers made three changes following their win over Orient on Monday and it was Darrell Clarke’s side that began on the front foot – and it was much the case for the majority of the first 45 minutes.
Despite their dominance however, the Pirates only tested Tyler once in the first half when the Town stopper did brilliantly to tip away ex-Luton man Lee Mansell’s drive from 10 yards five minutes before the break.
The hosts also had two goals ruled out in a first half in which the Hatters struggled to create a note-worthy chance. Paul Benson headed the Town’s best chance wide of the target in the 18th minute following Ryan Hall’s cross from the right.
But in the truth the first half belonged to Rovers, but the Hatters defence held firm with Scott Cuthbert, Alex Lawless and Magnus Okuonghae all blocking well to snuff out the home side’s threat.
Five minutes after the break the Pirates spurned a good chance to take the lead when Gaffey fired over the crossbar from inside the penalty area and the Town could breathe again.
Back came the Town, Benson and Hall combined to tee-up Cameron McGeehan to shoot over from 25 yards on 57 minutes before Hall cut inside from the right to drill a shot into the side-netting a minute later.
But that glimpse of attacking threat from the Town was forgotten on the hour when the hosts took the lead. Howells cleared a free Tom Lockyer header off the line following a left-wing corner but Gaffney was on hand to hammer home the loose ball from 12 yards giving Tyler no chance.
Awford sent on Paddy McCourt for Howells with a quarter of the game left but Tyler needed to save to prevent the hosts going 2-0 up when saving from Stuart Sinclair’s low shot on 68 minutes.
However Tyler was at fault when Rovers doubled their lead on 73 minutes. Gaffney fluffed a simple chance when unmarked in the box but the Town keeper couldn’t gather and the home forward pounced to stab home his and the Pirates’ second goal.
The Town introduced Josh McQuoid and Jack Marriott in a bid to mount a late comeback but the Hatters failed to test Mildenhall and the home side could celebrate another victory – their fifth win in six matches.
Town: Tyler; O'Donnell, Howells (sub McCourt 68), Cuthbert, Okuonghae; Smith, Lawless, McGeehan, Hall; Mackail-Smith (sub Marriott 82), Benson (sub McQuoid 74).
Subs not used: Justham, Lee, Long, Wilkinson.
Attendance: 9,131, including 707 backing the Hatters.