The Premier League 2 title looks set for Manchester City after Rovers suffered just a fourth defeat of the season.

Rovers Under-23s were beaten 2-1 at Everton and as leaders City beat Liverpool, that leaves them eight points clear at the top with just four games remaining.

The positive in defeat for Rovers was the return of Dan Butterworth, the attacker coming through 72 minutes on his latest injury comeback, having not played any football in the calendar year, returning to training during the international break.

Sam Burns was on target again, his sixth goal in five games, that coming after Nathan Broadhead and Charlie Whitaker had put the hosts into a two goal lead.

Rovers couldn’t find an equaliser during their second half pressure in what was an entertaining affair at Southport’s Pure Stadium.

Rovers started much the brighter, and after Joe Nolan and Sam Durrant failed to hit the target with efforts, central defender Sam Barnes went within inches of handing them what would have been a deserved lead. He picked his spot from the edge of the area, his curling effort coming back off the inside of the post, with Burns unable to turn home the rebound.

Billy Barr had named an attacking side, including the return of Butterworth, as part of a front four, but that left gaps in defence that Everton punished twice in the space of seven minutes.

Josh Bowler led the break in the 22nd minute, after Jake Garrett was robbed off possession, the ball played wide into the path of Nathan Broadhead who shot across Jordan Eastham and into the corner.

And Eastham was left exposed just before the half hour, this time Charlie Whitaker running clear of the Rovers defence, his shot deflecting over the Rovers ‘keeper and into the net.

From there it looked a long way back, despite the enterprising attacking play Rovers had shown. And those efforts were rewarded with a goal back five minutes later.

Burns will claim what would be a seventh goal of the season, pouncing on a loose ball to run clear, and although Ouzounidis looked to have got back on the line, the ball made it over the line despite his best efforts, with the likelihood of it going down as an own goal.

That buoyed Rovers who threatened twice more before the break, efforts from distance, both from Butterworth saw Harry Tyrer at full stretch.

There was a let off however, the referee initially pointing to the spot on the stroke of half time as Lenny Cirino tripped Bowler, but after consulting his assistant, that was downgraded to a free kick, the foul coming just outside the box.

Rovers emerged unchanged, and the high tempo of the game continued.

Just before the hour mark Rovers thought they had levelled, Burns’ shot on the turn finding the corner, but not before the linesman had raised his flag for offside. That came after a fine Butterworth, while within seconds, Durrant went within inches of an equaliser, flashing a shot across Tyrer that narrowly missed the far corner.

Everton were still posing a threat, Cirino escaping a penalty appeal for what looked a trip on Bowler, while Eastham saved well twice to stop the hosts finding a third.

Thierry Small squandered an excellent chance to put the game out of reach, shooting too close to Eastham from eight yards from a Mallon cut-back, and when the play was pulled back for an earlier foul, Whitaker curled the free kick over the wall, but was denied by the crossbar.

Rovers’ struggled for opportunities, despite their raft of changes in attack, Burns' injury-time shot dragged wide theri final shot of the game as they succumbed to just a fourth defeat of the season.

Rovers: Eastham, Pike, Barnes, Annesley, Cirino, Garrett, Nolan, Durrant (Baker, 78), Butterworth (Whitehall, 73), McBride (Harlock, 68), Burns