Full-time: Bristol Rovers 1 Rotherham United 2
Bristol Rovers' recent six game unbeaten run was brought to an end by promotion-chasing Rotherham United in front of the biggest Memorial Stadium crowd of the season tonight.
A recent upturn in form ensured another big turnout following the recent success witnessed at the Friday night game against Barnet on February 1 - but the 8,646 that made it through the Filton Avenue traffic and the Memorial Stadium turnstiles were left disappointed.
Quick-fire goals within three minutes of each other in the second-half from Kayode Odejayi and Lee Frecklington set Rotherham on their way to seeing Rovers lose for the first time since Martin Allen's Gillingham inflicted a 2-0 defeat at the Memorial Stadium on January 5.
Joe Anyinsah smashed in a swerving drive from the left-hand side of the penalty area in the 80th minute to set up a nervy finish to the game for the visitors – but Rovers were unable to find an equaliser in the remainder to allow Rotherham revenge for the 3-1 thrashing Ward's men had served up at the New York Stadium at the end of last month.
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Ward named an unchanged side from the one that secured a 1-0 victory over Wycombe Wanderers on Saturday and received a boost before kick-off when the team-sheet revealed the absence of Rotherham's leading-scorer Daniel Nardiello because of injury.
The early stages were notable only for the Memorial Stadium crowd giving Rotherham manager Evans an early 'welcome' following a bout of exchanges with the fourth official.
Rovers were content to sit deep and allow Rotherham to have possession of the ball before breaking at pace when and if the opportunity arose.
Anyinsah looked the most useful outlet down the right-hand side yet the game ticked past the quarter-of-an-hour mark without a meaningful chance created by either side.
Ward, meanwhile, was forced into an early change with Fabian Broghammer forced to leave the field because of what looked like a hamstring complaint to be quickly replaced by Eliot Richards.
John-Joe O'Toole's low shot into the side-netting after Seanan Clucas showed plenty of grit and determination to win the ball back and create the chance was the first opportunity worthy of any description.
That it had taken 25 minutes to come perhaps reflected the nature of a game that had been mostly dominated by stout defences and dogged midfield play.
Rotherham squandered the best chance of the half in the 34th minute when front-running midfielder Frecklington found a rare hole inside the penalty area only to see his attempt to lob a bouncing ball over Steve Mildenhall clear the crossbar as well.
Evans' side did manage to carve through the Rovers defence one final time before the referee brought first-half proceedings to an end – but Kieran Agard's ball back across the face of the six-yard box was badly executed to dash Alex Revell's hopes of converting a simple tap-in.
Both managers made substitutions to their respective teams ahead of the second half. Ward swapped Ryan Brunt for David Clarkson, while Evans introduced Odejayi in place of Daniel Kearns.
Clarkson made an immediate impact with a vicious drive from distance that forced Rotherham goalkeeper Andy Warrington into his first real save of the night.
Odejayi, meanwhile, served notice of his potential threat by seeing a close-range header cleared off the line by Mark McChrystal before the 50th minute was showing on the stadium clock.
Rovers went on the offensive for the next few minutes – but were almost badly caught out on the break after Clucas had conceded possession cheaply just outside the Rotherham penalty area following a corner.
Agard raced almost the length of the pitch and only a well-timed intervention by Lee Brown to hack the ball prevented Clucas paying the ultimate price for his mistake.
Minutes later, however, Rovers were finally behind when Revell capitalised on some shoddy Rovers defending to nick the ball out on the right flank. The striker advanced on the penalty area before letting fly with a low drive that could only be parried by Mildenhall.
The loose ball fell kindly to Odejayi, who, standing by the penalty spot, showed excellent composure to pick a spot before stroking the ball clinically in to the corner of the net.
A roar went up inside the ground – but Rovers supporters were soon silenced as Rotherham doubled their advantage less than three minutes later when Frecklington was allowed time and space to score with a volley from close-range.
Ward moved to change things up immediately by introducing a striker in the shape of Tom Hitchcock from the bench in place of midfielder Oliver Norburn – but it was Clarkson that went closest again with an effort from distance that forced Warrington into another fine save.
Warrington, however, was no match for Anyinsah's dipping and swerving consolation effort from the corner of the penalty area that halved the deficit in the 80th minute.