Bristol Rovers boss Joey Barton highlighted his side’s bravery after hat-trick hero Aaron Collins’ added-time winner secured their place in the Sky Bet League Two play-offs with a 4-3 win at Rochdale.
The Gas were trailing 2-0 and 3-1 at various stages of the game and were out of the play-off positions at one point – but the win left them level on points with third-placed Northampton going into the last game of season.
Automatic promotion remains a possibility but they have at least guaranteed a play-off place and Barton said: “I was being kept abreast of results – which wasn’t very helpful because we were out of the play-offs, then we were in in the play-offs. As I said all all along, it was just about us.
“We knew this was a tough place to come, they had nothing to play for so it was strange to see a team about to finish 17th or 18th running down the clock, but they wanted to win the game themselves and do as well as they can for their football club.
“But our lads overcame that and showed they weren’t happy with 3-3, because 3-3 would have meant we controlled our own destiny next week, so it would have been easy to take the point. But we didn’t, we felt we could win it and we kept pushing on and got our reward.
“The key for us was getting the three points – whether that was a scabby 1-0 or the most entertaining 4-3 win in recent memory for Gasheads!”
Luke Charman’s brace of goals on nine and 17 minutes gave Dale a 2-0 lead by half-time. Sam Finley reduced the arrears within eight minutes of the restart but Corey O’Keeffe restored Dale’s two-goal advantage on the hour mark.
Collins netted his first on 66 minutes to give Rovers hope and his leveller came in the 89th minute. The visiting supporters were in raptures when he netted the winner from close range in the fifth minute of stoppage time.
Rovers skipper Paul Coutts was dismissed three minutes later for raising his hands to an opponent during a penalty box melee, but that hardly took the gloss off Bristol’s victory.
Rochdale boss Robbie Stockdale said: “I’d have been disappointed to only draw the game, so to lose it in the manner that we did is not good enough on our part.
“I thought performance-wise the players were very good in the main and the game plan worked. We should have scored more goals with the chances we had.
“Every goal you concede is preventable and some more than others – we did gift them a couple of goals, the first one was offside, mind.
“People suggested we were a team with nothing to play for but I don’t buy into that and I thought the players proved it – we were battling and fighting for every scrap out there.”
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