A late Jack Vale equaliser from the penalty spot helped maintain Rovers’ six point gap over the relegation places in Premier League 2.

Rovers had led through a stunning Ben Paton strike and were good value for their half time advantage.

But the game turned in the second half, with Saints equalising, and then taking the lead, within three minutes just after the hour.

Victory would have seen second-bottom Southampton cut the gap to Rovers, who ended the night in seventh, to just three points.

However, Vale converted a penalty he won with just four minutes to play to leave Rovers with a good cushion over the bottom two with five games of the season remaining.

The big news of the night was that Charlie Mulgrew was given a run out in central defence and played the full 90 minutes.

Mulgrew cut short his loan spell at Wigan Athletic last month to return to Rovers but is yet to feature in a matchday squad at senior level.

The 33-year-old, who hasn’t featured since December 7 because of a calf injury, has been training with the senior side for the last two weeks.

And he was given chance to build his fitness further with an outing for Billy Barr’s side.

Mulgrew partnered Louie Annesley at centre half, with the Gibraltar international returning from an injury of his own. Tyler Magloire, back from his loan spell at Rochdale, didn’t feature because of injury, while Brad Lyons was also absent.

There was a first start at Under-23s level for D’Margio Wright-Phillips, son of former England international Shaun, who is on a youth loan from Manchester City.

And Rovers enjoyed a bright start to the game, creating several opportunities in a bright opening quarter.

Stefan Mols’ quick thinking from a throw put Jack Vale in, but he was denied by the Jack Bycroft at his near post with just four minutes on the watch.

Wright-Phillips was seeing plenty of the ball on the right, and pick a good moment to slip in the overlapping Dan Pike whose shot was also saved by Bycroft at his near post.

Jared Harlock, expected to feature for the Under-18s in their FA Youth Cup game with Preston on Tuesday, was busy in midfield on his first start at this level as Rovers enjoyed plenty of the ball.

Luke Brennan, another scholar, almost put Rovers ahead in the 14th minute as his effort beat Bycroft, only to come back off the post from the right edge of the box.

Much of Rovers’ play was down their right, but it was some one-touch football down the left that presented Lewis Thompson with a crossing opportunity and he picked out Mols, but his header was too close to Bycroft.

And it was one way traffic as the Saints ‘keeper had to show strong hands as Wright-Phillips thumped an effort goalwards which was palmed behind for a corner.

It was going to take something special to beat Bycroft on this form, and that came on the half hour as Ben Paton took aim from 30 yards. He advanced forward and powered a rocket that nestled in to the top corner.

Joe Hilton had been a spectator at the other end, but did have to be alert to tip over a Daniel N’Lundulu strike.

Hilton was also equal to a shot from Kornelius Hansen, at his near post, as Rovers went in to the break, leading by Paton’s strike.

A quiet start to the second half saw Hansen denied again by Hilton, while Brennan blasted over from a Mulgrew free kick.

The equalising goal came in the 64th minute through as Will Ferry finished off a flowing move before N’Lundulu netted just three minutes later to put the visitors ahead after Hilton had denied Kpohomouh.

Rovers were in need of a response, but a deflected Paton shot saved by Bycroft apart, they were struggling to create the level of opportunities they had in the first.

The left boot of Mulgrew, so often Rovers’ saviour, came close with seven minutes remaining, a free kick flashing narrowly wide.

But within a minute the hosts were awarded a penalty, with Vale sending the goalkeeper the wrong way.

Five minutes were added, and Rovers sensed a winner, with sub Zak Gilsenan firing over the bar late on.

Rovers take a break from league action next week as they face Burnley in the Premier League Cup, already assured of a place in the knockout round.

Rovers: Hilton, Pike, Annesley (Boyomo, 63), Mulgrew, Thompson, Harlock, Paton, Mols, Wright-Phillips (Gilsenan, 76), Brennan (Saadi, 68), Vale

Subs: Eastham, Durrant