Sion Spence’s extra-time double secured Bristol Rovers’ passage into the FA Cup second round with a 4-3 comeback victory over League One Oxford United in a brilliantly bonkers and exhilarating evening at the Memorial Stadium.
After 18 months of slow decline, this was a game and performance that breathed new life into the Gas as Spence’s winner ensued utter chaos with fans on the pitch almost in disbelief at what had unfolded.
Rovers old boys Matty Taylor and Billy Bodin had threatened to decide the tie as the Us took a 3-1 lead in extra time but their contributions worked a mere footnote on an occasion that will live long in the memory.
Traffic delays in Filton meant a bottleneck of fans were piling their way into the Thatchers Terrace moments before kick-off and any grumbles at being late were intensified as Taylor joined the Oxford substitutes making their way to the dugout before kick-off.
He was roundly jeered, booed and everything in between by three sides of the Mem as an arm injury sustained against Ipswich Town on Saturday meant he occupied a spot on the bench.
That was one of seven changes made by Us boss Karl Robinson who had stated in the build-up to the tie he didn’t intend to select a full-strength team due to the importance of League One.
A brisk opening, saw the Gas play with some confidence, moving the ball swiftly and with real purpose, winning free-kicks and stretching the Oxford midfield.
However, after that early flurry, the visitors began to assume some control as Mark Sykes cleverly nutmegged Cian Harries and then advanced on the Rovers goal, trying to pick his spot in the corner, only for James Belshaw’s outstretched arm to deny him with a smart save.
Harries then nearly handed a chance on a plate to Daniel Agyej who robbed the Gas defender on halfway but Connor Taylor did fantastically well to get back and although not make a tackle, manoeuvre the Oxford striker into a position where he misplaced his intended pass across goal .
That scare reawakened the Gas who once again applied some pressure at the right end of the pitch without fashioning anything of note. What was also pleasing for the quarters was the same was true of their League One opponents as the half-time whistle blew.
The slightly subdued end to the first 45 minutes was quickly revered as Rovers took the lead with first Thomas running at the Oxford defense only to be shuffled into traffic and forced to rebuild again, going backwards.
As the ball was then returned, Evans ran with intent committing defenders as they backpedalled towards their own goal with the player then perfectly timing his lay-off to the advancing Finley who slotted into the corner with real finesse.
Robinson reacted by making a triple substitution including the arrival of Taylor greeted with a din and familiar chants and within three minutes he made an impact, Ryan Williams tripped by Harry Anderson and the former Gas striker then stroking his low penalty to Belshaw’s right.
Rovers responded with a Zain Westbrooke drive full into the chest of Eastwood which then led to a bizarre passage of play with Belshaw sprinting fully to the half-way line to Taylor a clear run on goal from a huge boot forward.
The Thatchers Terrace rose at the prospect of a second when Evans scampered down the right and timed an inside pass to Nicholson to perfection with the Scot taking it first time but aiming his effort straight at Eastwood.
Nicholson was replaced by Aaron Collins who almost instantly set up Evans but then the Us broke with Steve Seddon’s arrowed attempt was deflected wide by Connor Taylor.
There was a late, last chance for Rovers as Collins broke from a corner, cut inside to feed Westbrooke who teed up a cross to the back post but Evans headed wide with extra time then arriving.
The additional period was barely a minute old when Oxford claimed the lead as a Josh Grant cross was cleared and two passes later found Bodin in space who took his time to pick his spot and then roll a finish past Belshaw, declining to celebrate.
With the Gas wounded, Oxford looked to have killed the tie off via the impressive Seddon but having spurned a one on one, substitute Spence then connected with Nick Anderton’s cross with a brilliant header to fire the game up again.
Further heat was then added with Collins’ outstanding strike, ripping a shot from 25 yards straight into the top corner for his first goal for the club.
Pandemonium soon ensued with Spence’s winner as a hanging cross by Anderson looked to have drifted long but Grant kept it in play, with Eastwood totally misreading the flight and the loanee finished into an empty net.
Scroll down to see how the match unfolded