By Simon Gray
Bristol Rovers secured their first win of the League One season with a routine victory over ten man Northampton at the Memorial Stadium.
Ben Garner made three changes from the side that were thrashed at Doncaster last weekend. Defenders Josh Hare, Jack Baldwin and David Tutonda came in for Alfie Kilgour, Luke Leahy and Jayden Mitchell-Lawson. It was not just a change of personnel but also a change of shape for Rovers with them lining up in a 5-3-2 formation.
The Gas started positively at The Mem despite being bottom of the league going into the game and after a plucky opening few minutes it was Rovers who threatened first.
Jack Baldwin tested away keeper Steve Arnold from a corner and then Cian Harries bundled the ball in from another set piece only for the linesman to have his flag raised for offside.
The away side’s best chance of the opening exchanges came from a Michael Harriman cross that was half cleared by Rovers, with the ball landing at the right boot of Christopher Missolou only for the Frenchman to drag his volley wide.
Rovers did have the better of what can only be described as a stop/start first half, with the referee’s whistle blowing multiple times for unnecessary stoppages, including having to use the same ball even if it was launched half way down Gloucester Road.
That Rovers pressure nearly brought a goal late on in the opening 45. A driving run at the end of the half by Luke McCormick saw the Chelsea loanee’s effort drift just wide of the post.
The home side started the second half with the same intensity that they finished the first. Wing back David Tutonda saw his appeals for a penalty turned down after a clash with away goalkeeper Steve Arnold.
Then, a smart move by Rovers put Brandon Hanlan in on goal. The striker got to the byline and the right side of Cian Bolger only for the defender to bring the former Gillingham man down with the referee pointing to the penalty spot.
Hanlan picked himself up to take the spot kick and saw his effort fly into the top left corner, leaving Arnold helpless.
This forced Northampton into a triple change. Off came Warburton, Missilou and Harriman for Ashley-Seal, Korboa and Sowerby.
Almost instantly after the substitutions, Northampton were down to 10 men. A long ball up field from Rovers caused a battle between Hanlan and Cobblers defender Joe Martin with the latter flailing an arm in the striker’s direction. Hanlan hit the floor leaving the referee no choice but to send the former Rovers loanee off.
Rovers threatened for a second through a Westbrooke free kick only for the midfelder to have his effort tipped over by Arnold.
The home side continued to make the most of the man advantage, exploiting spaces in the Northampton shape. Substitute Sam Nicholson saw and effort deflected out for a corner and from the resulting delivery, defender Jack Baldwin lashed the ball home after a cushioned header from Cian Harries to make it 2-0.
The Gas were now in cruise control, some lovely hold up play by Hanlan set Josh Hare clear on the right, his low delivery was dummied by Westbrooke for Nicholson, who with the goal at his mercy, could not beat Arnold with the keeper producing a strong stop.
Hanlan then had an effort fantastically cleared off the line by a Northampton defender and Hare struck an effort off the crossbar from range.
Rovers performed much better defensively too, limiting Northampton to just one shot on target and both Ben Garner and Gasheads alike will be mightily pleased with not only the result but also today’s performance.
Bristol Rovers: Jaakkola, Hare, Baldwin, Ehmer (c), Harries, Tutonda, McCormick (Hargreaves), Grant, Westbrooke, Daly (Nicholson), Hanlan.
Unused Subs: Van Stappershoef, Kilgour, Leahy, Upson, Mitchell-Lawson.
Yellow Cards: Grant
Goals: Hanlan (pen), Baldwin.
Northampton: Arnold, Racic, Bolger (c), Martin, Harriman (Korboa), Watson, Missilou (Sowerby), Mills, Hoskins, Smith, Warburton (Ashely-Seal).
Unused Subs: Mitchell, Marshall, Adams, Rose.
Yellow Cards: Racic, Martin (2), Watson, Bolger.
Red Cards: Martin.
GasCast MOTM: Brandon Hanlan – The Rovers number nine was accomplished in his hold up play and his all round performance was rewarded with a goal from the penalty spot, although he was unlucky not to add to his tally.