Town duo Ciaran Brennan and Ricky Aguiar were both shown red cards in the first forty-five as a resilient Town battled well but eventually succumbed to three second half goals from Bristol Rovers to go down to a 3-0 defeat at The Memorial Stadium in their final Papa John’s Group game of the campaign.
With Scott Lindsey’s side already out of the competition before kick-off, the Head Coach opted for wholesale changes with no fewer than eight players coming into the starting eleven from last weekend’s League Two win over Colchester.
The likes of Cian Harries, Harry Parsons, Morgan Roberts and Marcel Lavinier were among those chosen to feature, while academy graduates Harvey Fox and Josh Keyes were named among the substitutes.
Town started brightly registering their first chance on goal within the first forty seconds of the game, as Ellis Iandolo beat his man down the left and found Tyrese Shade in the box, who in turn set up Louis Reed to shoot narrowly over Anssi Jaakkola’s bar.
Just two minutes later, Rovers responded with a chance of their own, but Josh Coburn’s header from a dangerous cross from the right sailed high and wide and wasn’t troubling Sol Brynn.
On 12-minutes the hosts carved out another opportunity, as Luke McCormick did well to regain possession on the right flank before driving towards goal and crossing low for the unmarked Jerry Lawrence, but his shot at goal was superbly blocked by Town defender Ciaran Brennan.
Moments later, the centre-back put aside his defensive responsibilities for a brief moment as he drove from the back towards the Rovers area before laying it to Marcel Lavinier on the right, and his dangerous, whipped cross forced Anssi Jaakkola to dive and push the ball away from the onrushing Harry Parsons.
On 23-minutes Town threatened again with Parsons looking to break the deadlock. A defence-splitting pass from Louis Reed set Shade free down the left flank, who found the young striker in the box, but by the time he’d set himself to shoot, Zaine Westbrooke had dived in to block well.
It was then Morgan Roberts’ turn to test Rovers stopper, Jaakkola, as a fantastic disguised through ball from Ricky Aguiar sent the winger clear on goal, but the Fin did well to block his effort from a tight angle.
Then a flash point in the game as Ciaran Brennan, booked on fifteen minutes, was shown a second yellow on thirty-two for upending Josh Coburn on the edge of the area as the forward looked to squirm through on goal.
With Town reduced to ten, Scott Lindsey was forced into an early change, as Harrison Minturn entered the field in place of Ronan Darcy.
Joey Barton’s side, with the man advantage looked to capitalise, with Luca Hoole connecting with a pin-point Luke McCormick cross from the right, but he was unable to generate any power on his header and Brynn gathered easily.
Moments later at the other end, Minturn managed to find Cian Harries just inside the area after a Louis Reed corner from the right, but under pressure, he sent his half-volley over the bar.
Then, with just a minute of normal time remaining to the interval, referee David Rock stunned the crowd by showing Ricky Aguiar a straight red card and reducing Town to nine.
The midfielder was adjudged to have caught Rovers captain Alfie Kilgour as he cleared the danger just outside his area, but it seemed an extremely harsh decision on the youngster.
Town stood firm to see the remainder of the half out though, with the scores goalless.
As expected, Rovers looked to use their numerical advantage and take an early lead as the second half got underway, as both Harry Anderson and Sylvester Jasper went close with a header and a deflected shot wide just three minutes in.
Calls from the home crowd of ‘red’ echoed round the stadium as both Reed and Minturn were booked in the ten minutes that followed, while half-time Rovers sub Ryan Loft looked to test Brynn’s reactions with a close-range header, but the Town stopper was more than equal to it.
As we hit the hour mark, Scott Lindsey changed his attacking options, bringing on Tomi Adeloye, returning from injury, for Harry Parsons.
Rovers looked more threatening as the minutes ticked by, and carved out the best chance of the game on 59-minutes, as Sylvester Jasper wriggled free on the right byline and pulled the ball across goal, but with Brynn beaten, Josh Coburn could only slide in and see his effort rebound off the underside of the bar.
But Rovers weren’t to be denied for long as they forced the game’s first goal on 62-minutes, as Jasper sent sub Ryan Loft through on goal, and he casually chipped the onrushing Brynn for one-nil.
As we reached the seventy-minute mark, Joey Barton made a triple change in a bid to break Swindon’s resolve, with top scorer Aaron Collins coming on, and it was the striker that came close moments after his entrance.
He was set clear with a lofted ball over the top, but after taking a touch, dragged his effort wide of the mark.
Rovers then made their pressure pay on seventy-six minutes, as Harry Anderson found himself with the ball at his feet inside the box, and he lashed home a powerful strike from an acute angle into the top right hand corner, giving Brynn no chance.
Tyrese Shade looked to get Town back in the game, but he sent a strike from distance high over the bar as the clock ticked down.
Barton’s side continued to probe and added a third on eighty-three minutes, as a strong run from the left wing by Luke McCormick resulted in him entering the box and calmly sliding the ball into the bottom right corner.
Aaron Collins tested Brynn from a narrow angle moments later, and Sylvester Jasper put a good opportunity over when he should have done better as Town looked to see the remainder of the game out.
With three minutes of stoppage time remaining, Rovers found time for one more effort as Trevor Clarke was denied well by Sol Brynn, but the tie ended three-nil to The Gas, with Town bringing the curtain down on their Papa John’s Trophy campaign.
Bristol Rovers Line-up: 4-2-3-1
32. Anssi Jaakkola (GK) – 5. Alfie Kilgour ©, 37. Bobby Thomas (21. Antony Evans 67mins), 30. Luca Hoole, 20. Trevor Clarke, 23. Luke McCormick, 19. Harry Anderson, 34. Jerry Lawrence (18. Ryan Loft 45mins), 8. Zain Westbrooke (6. Sam Finley 67mins), 11. Sylvester Jasper, 40. Josh Coburn (10. Aaron Collins 68mins).
Subs not used: 1. James Belshaw (GK) – 3. Lewis Gordon, 15. Paul Coutts.
Scorers: Loft 63, Anderson 76, McCormick 83
Yellow Cards: None
Red Cards: None
Swindon Town Line-up: 4-3-3
1. Sol Brynn (GK) – 3. Ellis Iandolo ©, 26. Cian Harries, 34. Ciaran Brennan, 22. Marcel Lavinier, 5. Louis Reed, 17. Ricky Aguiar, 10. Ronan Darcy (31. Harrison Minturn 34mins), 33. Morgan Roberts, 29. Harry Parsons (9. Tomi Adeloye 59mins), 28. Tyrese Shade.
Subs not used: 25. Conor Brann (GK) – 37. Harvey Fox, 40. Josh Keyes, 14. Oscar Massey, 32. George Cowmeadow.
Yellow Cards: 34. Brennan 15mins & 32mins, 22. Lavinier 73mins, 5. Reed 48mins, 10. Darcy 53mins
Red Cards: 34. Brennan 32mins, 17. Aguiar 44mins
Referee: David Rock
Assistant Referees: Kevin Howick & Chris Husband
Fourth Official: Adrian Quelch
Attendance: 1,700 (218 away fans)