Reds will be in the draw for the third round of the FA Cup for the fourth year in a row although their passage isn’t secured just yet after a goalless draw at Bristol Rovers in a lively second round tie at the Memorial Stadium.
John Gregory’s first game in charge wasn’t without incident and Reds had to defend solidly throughout to earn a replay, the home side enjoying the best opportunity when Oliver Norburn hit the bar from 25 yards on the hour.
The new boss made two changes to the side that lost 1-0 at Crewe last week, bringing Gary Alexander in for his first start since he was sent off in the 3-2 win over Gillingham three months ago.
Skipper Josh Simpson was injured in the warm-up so Andy Drury came in as a very late replacement and with Mike Jones out with a groin injury Reds could only name five subs. Dannie Bulman wore the captain’s armband.
Reds nearly made the ideal start with Nicky Adams’ powerful drive missing the target by inches in the first minute.
Rovers responded brightly and midfielder Ollie Clarke fired wide from a good knockdown by Matt Harrold, the tall No.9 whom the hosts based much of their attacking play around.
Rovers’ Steve Mildenhall comfortably held headers from Billy Clarke and Gary Alexander, who then had appeals for a penalty turned down after some push and shove when Reds won their first corner.
With 20 minutes gone neither side had really settled while a succession of free kicks didn’t help and neither did a bobbly pitch that made a god first touch crucial.
Reds then had a good spell and a defender headed the ball clear as Clarke tried to volley home a cushioned header from Alexander, who was making a good contribution on his return to the starting XI.
Paul Jones was forced to save Mitch Harding’s low drive as the game started to open up while Adams volleyed wide at the other end before Reds had their best opening two minutes before the break. Adams’ corner was flicked on to Connolly on the corner of the six-yard box and Mildenhall brilliantly kept out his first-time volley.
Jones made the first save of the second half, getting down to his right to hold Oliver Norburn’s angled drive. The Rovers’ midfielder was booked moments later and then exchanged passes with a team-mate before lifting his shot over from just inside the box as the home side began to find some momentum.
Norburn was clearly in the mood and on the hour he was inches away from breaking the deadlock when his volley from 20 yards crashed out off the underside of the bar. It was a let-off for Reds who had a good chance of their own two minutes later but Alexander on the run volleyed Sinclair’s header down over the bar under pressure from a defender moments after Mildenhall had parried Bulman’s half volley.
Rovers made the first change midway through the half when Alefe Santos replaced Dave Clarkson and with six minutes to go Jones had to dive full stretch to his left to push away Norburn’s swerving drive from 25 yards.
By now Jamie Proctor had replaced Sinclair but it was the home side who looked the more likely to break the deadlock and there was relief when Tom Lockyer headed over a free kick from a dangerous position as the game entered stoppage time. Reds withstood some injury-time pressure and will fancy their chances of finishing the job at The Checkatrade.com Stadium.