LIKE everything with the Checkatrade Trophy, nothing is straight forward.

Rovers put in a spirited showing at Rochdale, playing the final hour with 10 men, but defeat on penalties leaves their participation in the competition undecided.

Bury and Stoke City Under-21s meet this evening when Rovers’ fate will be sealed with any result other than a draw and a Stoke win on penalties sending Tony Mowbray’s men out.

But the Ewood youngsters and fringe players should take heart from their showing at Spotland.

Rovers, who made eight changes from the weekend’s FA Cup win over Barnet, handed a first start to Joe Nuttall while Scott Wharton was named in a starting line-up for the first time this season.

Dominic Samuel returned after suspension to partner Nuttall in attack and the pair looked to have the beating of the Rochdale centre backs for pace from the off.

Some neat Rovers play failed to yield an attempt on target in the opening 20 minutes but the visitors were looking the more assured in possession.

Andrew Fisher had shown some good handling to deal with some early Rochdale crosses in to the box, before Rovers threatened through Richie Smallwood midway through the half. Captain for the night, Elliott Bennett whipped in a cross from the right which reached Smallwood at the back post, but his goalbound effort was well blocked by Oliver Rathbone.

Then came the big talking point as Wharton dangled a foot towards the ball just inside the Rovers half, but only made contact with the chest of Joe Bunney and referee Sebastien Stocksbridge had no hesitation in brandishing the red card.

While clumsy, it was by no means malicious and left Rovers facing the prospect of playing more than an hour a man light.

Mowbray responded by bringing on Matty Platt, but opted to replace Samuel rather than Nuttall, and the youngster rewarded that faith with the opening goal three minutes before the break. Bennett broke down the right and picked out Nuttall who volleyed home with a fine left foot finish.

The striker had missed a good chance just prior to that, glancing wide a Bennett corner.

However, Rovers’ lead was threatened three times in the closing minutes of the half with Kgosi Ntlhe, former Rovers striker Jordan Slew and Bunney all missing good opportunities.

Ntlhe blazed over at the far post after a right-wing centre made its way across the face of the area, while Bunney headed over a left-wing delivery.

The best chance fell to Slew who was presented with an open goal after Fisher and Elliott Ward were involved in a mix-up on the edge of the box, only for the striker to side foot wide.

Rovers regrouped at the break and reached the hour mark with their lead intact as they soaked up Dale pressure. Nuttall was an isolated figure in attack, but continued to have the beating of the Rochdale backline, as he proved 16 minutes into the half when he raced on to a long kick from Fisher, only to drag his effort wide of the near post.

But having defended so resolutely, Rovers’ resistance was broken with 18 minutes to go. Moments after putting a free-kick out of the ground, Slew levelled against his former club as he tapped home from inside the six-yard box after Ntlhe headed across goal.

To their credit, the Rovers heads didn’t drop after the equaliser in what turned in to a rather scrappy end to the game.

The closest either side came to nicking it was a drive across goal from Slew which narrowly missed the far post.

And so to penalties where Rochdale scored all five spot-kicks, and despite Hart, Ward and Bennett netting for Rovers, Smallwood’s miss saw Dale take the extra point.