REPORT: Bristol Rovers v Wanderers

Wanderers know they will face Barnsley in the play-off semi-finals after securing fifth place in style thanks to an impressive ‘last-day’ victory.

Derby’s defeat at Sheffield Wednesday meant the Whites couldn’t be overtaken in the final League One table.

But Ian Evatt’s men made sure they would decide their own destiny as a 14th away win of the campaign set up the double-header against Barnsley – starting at the University of Bolton Stadium next Saturday.

Wanderers will go into the play-offs with momentum behind them after back-to-back wins and just one defeat in their last 10 games.

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And the latest victory came courtesy of a couple of notable firsts and a wonderful Aaron Morley strike that proved to be the winner.

Shola Shoretire and Dan Nlundulu both scored their first goals for the Whites – either side of a Rovers’ equaliser before the break.

And Morley then made sure of victory with a typical long-range effort that gave Wanderers the cushion to survive a late goal from John Marquis and secure another notable victory en route to the promotion shoot-out.

With Wanderers’ place in the play-offs already assured, boss Evatt made eight changes to his starting line-up to share around the game time and rest some of those who had helped secure the top-six spot.

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There was a timely return from injury for captain Ricardo Almeida Santos as he played for 45 minutes in his first appearance since the Wembley win at the start of April and behind him a first league appearance of the season for goalkeeper Joel Dixon.

Shoretire was also back in the side and it was the on-loan Manchester United youngster who put the Whites ahead.

Wanderers’ re-shuffled line-up had dictated the opening stages with some excellent football and got their reward after 25 minutes when Shoretire drilled the ball home from close range after Gethin Jones had helped a Morley corner goalwards.

The down side was an injury to Jones, who left the action holding a hamstring, and Wanderers hadn’t properly re-grouped when they allowed Rovers a leveller just a couple of minutes later.

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A ball into the box from Sam Finley eluded everyone and when it bounced back off a post, Luca Hoole stooped to head home and make it 1-1 just before the half-hour.

Rovers hadn’t won in six games but were looking to finish on a high in front of a sell-our crowd and there was certainly no end-of-season feel about a highly competitive contest.

And as both sides looked to go in front by the break, the woodwork was struck at either end in the dying moments of an entertaining first half.

Victor Adeboyejo - looking on top of his game - was only inches away for Wanderers when his angled strike hit the far post and then when Rovers broke away Josh Coburn thundered a header against the crossbar before Dixon did well to keep out the follow-up from Grant Ward.

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The introduction of MJ Williams in place of Santos at the start of the second half meant a 100th Wanderers’ appearance for Williams, who underlined his value to the cause by again slotting in as a central defender.

And with an hour gone, Evatt made a further three changes with a new look to the strikeforce and a slice of the action for Kieran Lee.

Shoretire could have departed – having picked up a knock – with two goals to his name after going close to restoring Wanderers’ lead six minutes after the break when he forced James Belshaw into a smart save after being teed up by Adeboyejo.

But the switch soon worked with Nlundulu also opening his account to put the Whites back in front with 20 minutes to go with an excellent finish.

George Thomason deserved great credit for another forward run and smart lay-off to Nlundulu, whose first-time perfectly placed effort was steered into the bottom corner of the net from close to 25 yards out.

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Nlundulu nearly had another with an effort blocked in front of goal as Wanderers – firmly back on top – then looked to get the job finished.

And with 13 minutes to go it was game over thanks to another Morley master-piece.

The midfielder only seems to score special goals and this was another one as he collected the ball well outside the Rovers’ penalty area and swung magnificent right-footed effort into the top corner in front of the delighted travelling fans.

There was still time for substitute John Marquis to pull a goal back after Dixon had saved well from Antony Evans and Scott Sinclair to hit the bar in injury time.

But Wanderers wouldn’t be denied as they now look forward to extending their season and pressing on with a promotion push.

Wanderers: Dixon; Toal, Almeida Santos (MJ Williams 46), Johnston; Jones (R Williams 28), Morley, Thomason, John; Sheehan (Lee 60); Shoretire (Nlundulu 60), Adeboyejo (Jerome 60). Substitutes: Charles, Kachunga.

Booked: Sheehan, Thomason, Nlundulu

Bristol Rovers: Belshaw (Balcombe 81); Hoole, Quansah, Gibson, Gordon (Bogarde 81); Ward, Finley (Whelan 78 (McCormick 90)); Sinclair, Evans (MacDonald 81), Collins; Coburn (Marquis 46). Substitutes: Connolly.

Booked: Connolly

Referee: Will Finnie

Attendance: 10,085 (1,269 Wanderers)

Read Time: 5 mins