Wembley dreams dashed as Rovers dump Cobblers out of Checkatrade Trophy
Keith Curle suffered his first home defeat in charge of the Cobblers as they crashed out of the Checkatrade Trophy with a 2-1 loss to Bristol Rovers on Tuesday.
Curle had been unbeaten in all of his previous nine home matches at the helm, stretching back to the start of October, but that run came to an end at the hands of Rovers, who were worthy winners on the night.
The visitors were in front at half-time courtesy of Tom Broadbent's header late in the first-half and Stefan Payne added a second on the hour-mark before Matt Crooks' fine strike gave Town hope, but it wasn't to be.
Teenager Jay Williams cerebrated the signing of his first professional contract earlier the same day by starting against Rovers as Curle named a strong side that also included Crooks and Junior Morias.
New loan signing George Cox was cup-tied and there was also no sign of Shaun McWilliams, Andy Williams or John-Joe O'Toole in the matchday squad.
David Cornell made his first appearance in the competition this season and he was called upon just eight minutes in when racing out to block from Payne, who had shrugged off Jordan Turnbull to latch onto Alex Rodman's through pass.
But that opportunity remained the only clear sight of goal for either team in a flat first half-hour.
The game began to come to life towards the end of the opening period with Ed Upson producing a last-ditch block to deny Dean Bowditch in Town's best chance and then Cornell leaping to his left to tip Alex Rodman's header around the posts.
The breakthrough came a minute short of half-time when the Cobblers failed to clear their lines in the box and the ball dropped perfectly to Broadbent, who lashed into the bottom corner from close-range.
Rodman sent a free header over in first-half stoppage-time but Rovers were two to the good just shy of the hour-mark thanks to a gift of goal, Shay Facey's loose defensive header falling straight to Payne inside the box and he gleefully snapped up the chance.
Crooks forced Jack Bonham into his first save of the night, a comfortable one from 20 yards, and then Upson blazed over for Rovers, before substitute Daniel Powell squandered an excellent chance to get Town back into it, side-footing wide having been slipped in by Crooks.
Town lost Ash Taylor to injury 20 minutes from time as Rodman headed another chance wide, but Cobblers gave themselves renewed hope with 14 minutes to go when Crooks' well-struck long-range effort beat a flapping Bonham.
Despite a strong finish to the game though, including a series of corners and attacking throw-ins, plus a goalmouth scramble deep into stoppage-time, the ball would just not fall kindly for Town in the penalty box and Rovers defended stoutly to secure their place in the next round.
Cobblers: Cornell, Facey, Taylor (Pierre 71), Turnbull, Buchanan (Powell 61), Hoskins, Foley, Williams, Crooks, Bowditch (Bridge 53), Morias
Subs not used: Coddington, Pierre, Odoffin, Roberts, Waters
Rovers: Bonham, Lockyear, Upson, Sercombe (Nicholls 75), Lines, Broadbent, Partington, Matthews, Kelly, Rodman (Leadbitter 74), Payne (Reilly 83)
Subs not used: Smith, Russe, Clarke, Menayese
Referee: Charles Breakspear
Rovers fans: 97