Half-time: Fleetwood Town 0 Bristol Rovers 2
First-half goals from Danny Woodards and Eliot Richards have put Bristol Rovers well on the way to securing a surprise victory at promotion-chasing Fleetwood Town this afternoon.
Ward had been hit by a succession of injuries to further weaken an already threadbare squad – but a youthful looking side, including debutant Ellis Harrison, looks set to triumph in the face of that adversity at Highbury.
Harrison, in fact, was the creator of the opening gambit after only four minutes when his tricky run and final cross to the far post was volleyed in by Woodards to offer reward for a bright start, which had also seen midfielder Seanan Clucas only denied a goal from distance by the outstretched paw of goalkeeper Scott Davies.
Rovers continued to dominate the early exchanges and could have been further ahead in the 23rd minute, but Harrison was the victim of an over-hit pass by John-Joe O'Toole, which made what would have been an otherwise good opportunity inside the penalty area too difficult to convert.
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That missed opportunity was quickly forgotten, however, when Richards ghosted into the box to fire low past Davies after being the recipient of a smart piece of play by strike partner Tom Hitchcock to carve out the opening.
In between, Fleetwood, who had been made to look distinctly average by Rovers and their energy-busting display, missed their first opportunity of the opening period when midfielder Alex Marrow fired wildly over the crossbar after the ball had fell kindly for him following a cross into the penalty area.
Steve Mildenhall also had to pull off a fine save to repel a Junior Brown effort before Hitchcock glanced a header against the crossbar.
Harrison, meanwhile, had been one of three changes to the side that lost to Gillingham at the Memorial Stadium last weekend.
He replaced Fabian Broghammer, who has failed to recover from a knee injury in time to feature. Woodards came in on the right-hand side to compensate for the loss of hamstring casualty Joe Anyinsah.
Richards moved up front alongside Hitchcock, who was also making a return to the side. Ward's need to bolster the squad in the coming weeks, however, is reinforced by the fact that the manager hadn't enough fit bodies to fill an inexperienced five-man bench.
Fleetwood, meanwhile, handed a debut to striker and record signing Jamille Matt, who completed a deal to arrive from Kidderminster Harriers yesterday.
Rovers (4-4-2): Mildenhall; Smith, Parkes, McChrystal, Brown; Woodards, O'Toole, Clucas, Harrison; Hitchcock, Richards. Subs: Norburn, Harding, Gough, Lockyer, Santos.
Fleetwood (4-4-2): Davies; Beeley, Goodall, Atkinson, Howell; Evans, Barry, Marrow; Matt, Ball. Subs: McNulty, Pond, Maxwell, Titchiner, McGuire, Johnson, Allen.