Goals from Wayne Carlisle and David Gilroy in the second period of extra-time settled a marathon FA Cup first-round replay last night in favour of the Nationwide Third Division side, in spite of the most dogged of defensive efforts from the team from the UniBond League.
It was not until Runcorn were reduced to 10 men by the sending off of Lee Parle in the first half of extra-time that the League side made their status tell. The midfielder was one of a glut of bookings earlier in the game and, when he lunged in on Rovers' Latvian international, Vitalijs Astafjevs, the referee Mike Cooper had little hesitation in showing the red card.
Nine minutes after his departure, Rovers, struggling near the foot of the Third Division, made their breakthrough. Trevor Challis whipped the ball across from the left, Paul Tait saw his shot parried on to the post by Tony McMillan and Carlisle was there to force in the rebound. That would have been enough to ease them through into a second-round tie with Rochdale, but their substitute, Gilroy, made absolutely sure when he scored as time ran out.
It was rough justice for a Runcorn side that had kept them goalless in their first match and made life thoroughly difficult for them again.
In a game delayed for 10 minutes while an unaccustomedly large crowd of 2,434 queued to get into the ground in neighbouring Widnes more noted for its rugby league, Runcorn had to defend for long periods, but always looked capable of producing a surprise on the counterattack.
The tie produced its first goal after 17 minutes, the impressive Astafjevs crossing from the left and Giuliano Grazioli meeting it with a glancing header at the near post.
The lead lasted less than two minutes and again a Rovers header was responsible. There was no real threat when Adam Barrett, chased a long ball into his penalty area, but he managed to leave his goalkeeper helpless for the equaliser.
After that, Rovers had the bulk of the chances, with Carlisle's free kick and Tait's angled shot both hitting a post, although the Runcorn player-manager, Liam Watson also struck the woodwork.
Runcorn (4-5-1): McMillan; Carragher, Tomlinson, Ellis, Ness; Parle, Lunt, Morley, Gamble, Leadbetter; McNeil (Watson, 21). Substitutes not used: Baines, Winstanley (gk), Dacey, McGinn.
Bristol Rovers (4-4-2): Howie; Boxall, Barrett, Austin, Challis; Carlisle, Bryant (Hogg, 100), Quinn, Astafjevs; Tait, Grazioli (Gilroy, 69). Substitutes not used: Clarke (gk), Gall, Shore.
Referee: M Cooper (Walsall).
* The new Hartlepool United manager, Mike Newell, went out of the Cup in his first home match in charge as his team let slip a 1-0 lead in the last two minutes to lose 2-1 to Southend. Marcus Richardson gave Hartlepool the lead after 63 minutes. Tesfaye Bramble equalised in the 88th minute. Seconds later Leon Cort scored the winner to set up a home tie with Bournemouth.