Rovers produced a late show to stay top of their Premier League Cup group as they beat Middlesbrough 3-1 at Leyland.

Billy Barr’s side were second best for much of the evening, but turned the game around in the final 14 minutes.

Dan Butterworth drew them level, before Joe Rankin-Costello appeared to have stolen the victory when heading home with five minutes to play. Jack Vale added a third to put the gloss on the victory as Rovers made it two wins from two.

The visitors had deservedly led through Joseph Gibson’s 11th minute strike, and but for some poor finishing, and fine Joe Hilton saves, would have put the game to bed before Rovers were able to storm to victory.

Rovers named a strong side, including Ben Brereton, playing his first game since August having undergone on surgery for a knee injury.

Dominic Samuel, who scored six times in four Under-23s games earlier this season, and twice turned out for the senior side after 13 months out with a knee ligament injury, also featured having struggled with a groin problem of late.

Middlesbrough started much the brighter though, and their pacey front three caused Rovers problems from the off.

They should have led inside two minutes as although trialist Timi Sobowale was able to clear the initial danger from Djed Spence’s pull-back, the follow-up from an unmarked Isaiah Jones should have brought the opening goal, only to fire wide of the target.

Rovers were creators of their own downfall in the sixth minute, with Sobowale gifting possession to Boro who broke quickly to create space on the left for Joseph Gibson, with Joe Hilton quick off his line to smother his effort.

Gibson, up against Joe Rankin-Costello on the Boro left, was causing problems with his trickery, but it was his pace that proved to be Rovers’ undoing as they took the lead in the 11th minute. A sweeping move allowed Gibson to break clear of the defensive line and toe-poke home before the onrushing Hilton.  

Central striker Samuel, and Brereton, operating from the right, were starved of service, with the Rovers defenders forced to play hopeful balls forward in a bid to get themselves up the pitch.

Samuel showed some neat bits of hold-up play, while captain for the night Stefan Mols was tenacious in his midfield work, but it was slim pickings when it came to positives for Rovers in the first half.

There was a brief moment of life just before the half hour mark as a Harry Chapman backheel freed Dan Butterworth to play in Samuel, but goalkeeper Zach Hemming denied him with his outstretched right leg.

With Rovers suffocated for space, Boro were finding plenty of pockets to drive in to, none more so than the lively Gibson who drifted inside Sobowale before dragging his shot to the near post that a motionless Hilton was thankful to watch wide.

Both sides emerged unchanged after the break but it remained the visitors having the better of things.

Gibson curled wide from a similar angle to Wearne whose 51st minute shot also failed to trouble Hilton but sounded another warning to Rovers.

Samuel and Brereton, as planned, were replaced on the hour mark, but not before Rovers had threatened an equaliser. Rankin-Costello’s low shot, after chaos in the Boro box, saw Hemming forced in to his first save of the night.

Only an excellent recovery run from Djed Spence denied Chapman a certain tap-in from Samuel’s cross, but another Middlesbrough effort from distance, this time from Hayden Hackney, wasn’t too far away.

The double switch allowed Rankin-Costello to push further forward but Rovers were struggling to build any momentum in the final third.

And the game should have been put beyond them as Middlesbrough launched another brilliant counter-attack through Isaiah Jones, with Rumarn Burrell looking certain to apply the finishing touch, only for Hilton to deny him with a flying save.

While ever the score was just 1-0, Rovers remained in the game. And they were to level with 14 minutes to play as Dan Butterworth made it four goals in three games since his return from injury as his 20-yard shot took a deflection off a defender before finding the back of the net.

That made for an open finish, with neither side happy to sit on a point. Rovers were actually enjoying their most sustained spell of pressure all evening as the game ticked in to the final 10 minutes.

And it was the hosts who were able to find a second goal as Rankin-Costello was able to plant a header from Whitehall’s ring-wing cross in to the bottom corner with five minutes remaining.

The scoreline was given a one-sided look when Jack Vale thumped home a third at the far post in the dying stages, as Rovers kicked off a busy period of game, that will see them play five times in 21 days across three competitions, with a victory.

Rovers Under-23s: Hilton, Rankin-Costello, Barnes, Sobowale, Thompson, Mols, Davenport, Butterworth, Chapman (Paton, 73), Samuel (Whitehall, 61), Brereton (Vale, 61)

Subs; Eastham, Carter