Bristol Rovers 1, Wycombe Wanderers 0.
WANDERERS were beaten for the second time in a week as Ryan Brunt’s first half strike was enough to seal the points for a resurgent Bristol Rovers.
New manager John Ward picked up his fifth win from the last six games courtesy of a goal from the Pirates’ most outstanding player.
For Wycombe though it was the second game in a row where they failed to play with their usual zip and spark as Rovers keeper Steve Mildenhall wasn’t forced into making a serious save throughout the 90 minutes.
Apart from a spell early in the second half where play swung from end to end the home side controlled the tempo and kept the visitors penned back without creating too much themselves.
Wanderers started brightly as Joel Grant found space for an early shot which nicked off a defender for a corner, which was subsequently headed on by Dave Winfield but a stretching Jo Kuffour – a surprise inclusion in the starting XI against his former club with Dean Morgan dropped to the bench – could only steer it into the side netting.
A flick out wide set Fabian Broghammer clear down the left flank and the German put in an excellent delivery right into Brunt’s path but the finish failed to match the build-up and the recent signing from Stoke shot tamely at Jordan Archer.
Rovers edged the number of chances in an open game as Ollie Norburn hammered over from the edge of the box and an off-balance Brunt missed the target as he got a shot off on the turn.
Blues’ defence held firm and the major heart-in-mouth moment for the travelling fans came when Archer misjudged Sam Wood’s backpass and was relieved to see the ball bobble out for a corner.
Gradually Wanderers got back into the game but a Kuffour shot that was blocked by Mark McChrystal was all they could conjure up.
A first defensive lapse of the game resulted in the opening goal. Joe Anyinsah was given far too much room on the right and his crossed picked out Brunt, who crashed home from the edge of the box past a flat-footed Archer.
Buoyed by that, the Gas started to pepper the Wanderers goal with shots, as Archer was tested by a rapidly descending shot from the halfway line and a 20 yard effort from advancing left back Lee Brown.
In injury time Brunt – who looked a class above anyone else in the home side – dummied intelligently for Anyinsah to run at the Wanderers defence. John-Joe O’Toole took over from the winger but could only fire wide from the edge of the box.
There was no let-up from Brunt at the start of the second half as his deft touch created the space for Broghammer to fire over.
Wanderers responded as Kuffour superbly took Wood’s cross on his chest but ran out of room and could only fire wide from a narrow angle.
Shots rained down on both goals in a lively beginning to the second half as Norburn and O’Toole both dragged efforts wide from promising positions and a powerful shot from Stuart Lewis flew off target and Kuffour was once again inaccurate with his finish.
On the hour Gareth Ainsworth reshuffled his pack as Morgan was introduced in place of Grant and Matt Spring came on for Marvin McCoy, with Michael Harriman reverting back to full back.
It wasn’t quite the spark needed to ignite a game that was in danger of fizzling out but Wanderers continued to press. An impressive passing move with Wood and Lewis to the fore ended with Matt McClure fluffing his shot and seeing the ball deflect into keeper Mildenhall’s hands, before Anthony Stewart swerved past a couple of defenders before firing over from outside the box.
Strong shouts for a penalty were waved away as Kuffour appeared to be pulled down by Michael Smith as the frustration levels crept ever higher amongst the 388 travelling supporters.
Heads were in hands again as Kuffour couldn’t quite tuck away Harriman’s excellent low delivery before the striker had second claims for a penalty turned down by referee Mick Russell.
Charles Dunne shot into the side netting from McClure’s ball in, substitute Dennis Oli had a shot deflect through to Mildenhall and Wood blazed over at the end of a frenetic goalmouth scramble as Blues went home empty handed.
Wanderers: Archer, McCoy (sub Spring), Stewart, Winfield, Dunne, Grant (sub Morgan), Harriman, Lewis, Wood, Kuffour, McClure (sub Oli). Substitutes not used: Harrison, Johnson, Ainsworth, Hause.