A standout performance from Tyler Smith lit up the Memorial Stadium on the first midweek game of the season. His close-range finish in the first half was complemented by a superbly composed 2nd half effort and a smart assist to find Jonson Clarke-Harris to lead Rovers to a 3-0 victory.
Graham Coughlan used this midweek window to rotate the squad somewhat, making five changes from the side that started against Wycombe Wanderers. Alfie Kilgour was given his first start of the 2019/20 season in the centre of defence, whilst Josh Hare was allowed to kick on from his impressive showing on Saturday after he replaced Mark Little.
Finally, it was all change up top, as Coughlan elected to maintain the two-pronged attack but with new faces to fill the positions, as Jonson Clarke-Harris and Tyler Smith started their first games of the campaign.
Rovers started brightly as Ollie Clarke neatly turned a pass goalwards, intending to thread it through to Tyler Smith. However, the loanee striker was beaten to the ball by the onrushing Scott Flinders, who managed to push it clear.
However, Cheltenham Town also had a half-decent early chance as a corner was clipped in towards Jaakkola. The Fin opted to punch the ball clear, but his two-fisted effort only went as far as Charlie Raglan who’s half volley was struck with venom on goal. Fortunately, Jaakkola was up and aware of the strike, and blocked it away with his feet.
Ollie Clarke was once again at the centre of a good move for the Gas as he demonstrated the phenomenal vision to dink a clever lofted through ball towards Clarke-Harris, who perhaps showed signs of rustiness as his touch allowed the ball to escape his grasp and roll into the keeper’s.
Clarke managed to carve out a chance for himself as the 20th minute approached, leaping well to make it to a Josh Hare delivery. He headed the ball towards goal but watched it get blocked by the Cheltenham Town defender. However, not to let a good chance go, he reacted well as he fell to the floor to get a touch on the deflected ball and knock it back towards the net, where Flinders stood strong for Cheltenham and tipped the ball away.
On the 30th minute all of the Memorial Stadium thought Rovers had put themselves in front as Kyle Bennett played a brilliant one-two with Smith inside the area. In a race to the ball, Bennett managed to make contact before Flinders in the Cheltenham Town net, but the keeper was able to get just enough of a touch to flick the ball narrowly over the crossbar.
A well-weighted cross from Clarke-Harris almost found Smith perfectly on the 35th minute, but once again Flinders was there to thwart the chance, as he got out well to claim the ball.
Minutes later, Smith got his goal.
A thunderbolt strike from Kyle Bennett arrowed towards the keeper, too powerful to be caught. Surely enough, Flinders palmed the ball away, but only into the path of an alert Tyler Smith who galloped towards the ball and smashed it home. The Gas’ first goal of the season and the last bit of action before half time.
The second half started as the first ended, with a Tyler Smith goal. This time Ollie Clarke was the architect as he picked up a loose Cheltenham Town ball, before looking up and playing a perfectly weighted ball through to Smith. He takes a touch and fires it into the roof of the net, leaving the keeper with no chance.
Smith thought he had a debut hat-trick inside the 53rd minute as Liam Sercombe hit a powerful effort on goal from around 25 yards out. The keeper can only palm the strike away, and in an almost exact repeat of his first goal, Smith was there to tidy up, only this time, the linesman’s flag was up, and the goal was ruled out.
As the hour mark approached, Josh Hare whipped an accurate ball towards the six-yard box from the right flank. It found Clarke, but the captain couldn’t get enough turn on his header to flick in back towards goal, instead watching it go high and wide.
Tyler Smith continued his brilliant display on the 66th minute as he latched onto a through ball, brilliantly taking it down and into his stride. Whilst he could have shot, being inside the area towards the right side, he elected to look up and find teammate Jonson Clarke-Harris, who stroked home from close range.
Moments later, both Smith and Clarke-Harris were substituted, to a huge standing ovation from the Rovers supporters.
From this point, changes made to the Rovers side stunted their momentum, meaning the game began to fade out towards the full-time whistle, and confirmation of the Gas’ place in the 2nd round.
The Gas now look forward to their game on Saturday, away to Coventry in the league.
Rovers: Anssi Jaakkola, Josh Hare, Alfie Kilgour, Tom Davies, Luke Leahy, Liam Sercombe, Abu Ogogo, Ollie Clarke (Alex Rodman 75′), Kyle Bennett, Tyler Smith (Tom Nichols, 70′), Jonson Clarke-Harris (Victor Adeboyejo 65′).
Subs: Jordi van Stappershoef, Tony Craig, Ed Upson, Tom Nichols, Victor Adeboyejo, Alex Rodman, Luca Hoole
Cheltenham Town: Scott Flinders, Sean Long, Ben Tozer, Charlie Raglan, Conor Thomas (George Lloyd, 65′), Chris Clements, Alex Addai (Tahvon Campbell 46′), Josh Deboyo (Dan Bowry 75′), Jake Doyle-Hayles, Jacob Greaves, Luke Varney.
Subs: Rhys Lovett, Dan Bowry, Tahvon Campbell, Archie Brennan, George Lloyd, Grant Horton, Tom Chamberlain
Attendance: 2909 (347 Away)