How Bristol Rovers achieved their promotion to League One

The story behind Bristol Rovers' miraculous final-day promotion to League One

Bristol Rovers fans pitch invading
Bristol Rovers fans invading the Memorial Stadium pitch following promotion to League One. Photo by Kieran Horn

When Northampton raced into a 3-0 lead against Barrow, few expected Bristol Rovers to net the goals required to steal the third place slot in League Two.

However, a stunning second-half performance saw the Gas score five more goals, building on a 2-0 first-half lead, to take automatic promotion from the Cobblers on goals scored.

Bristol Rovers’ 7-0 victory against Scunthorpe United confirmed one of the most dramatic final-day promotions in the history of the EFL, and here’s how it happened.

League Two’s three automatic promotion places often provide plenty of late-season drama, with multiple teams vying for a spot in England’s third tier.

The 2021-22 final day was no different, with four teams able to join Forest Green Rovers and Exeter City in League One for next season.

Northampton were the team in pole position, requiring a win against Barrow, with the hope that Scunthorpe could hold out Bristol Rovers for a lower margin of victory.

Joey Barton’s men welcomed the EFL’s bottom side, who were playing for nothing but pride, with a group of majority young academy players making the long trip to the Memorial Stadium.

Outsiders Port Vale travelled down to already promoted Exeter City, while Mansfield took on fellow future League One side Forest Green.

The Cobblers started the day off strong, with two goals from Sam Hoskins and a header from Fraser Horsfall seemingly cementing themselves into the automatic promotion places, but a 45th-minute Josh Kay goal gave Barrow slight hope going into the second half.

Rovers expectedly took the lead with a Oliver Lobley own goal and a Connor Taylor strike putting the home side 2-0 up going into the break.

The fact that both sides were winning meant that Port Vale and Mansfield were going to come up short in their promotion hunt, despite both sides going into the break leading.

While that Kay goal proved to be nothing more than a consolation for Barrow, it proved to be so much more for Rovers as they kept pushing to secure the five-goal swing required to pip Northampton at the post.

A Scunthorpe side with nothing to play for struggled to cope with a rampant Rovers side who notched four goals through braces from Aaron Collins and Antony Evans, leaving the home side needing one goal in 10 minutes.

It was meant to be for Barton’s team as Evans’ cross deflected into the aerial path of Elliot Anderson, whose header sent the Memorial Stadium into bedlam, causing a 20-minute delay to proceedings due to a pitch invasion.

The Newcastle loanee’s goal meant that Rovers had overtaken Northampton on goals scored, confirming promotion back into League One at the first time of asking.

Once the final whistle blew, the Bristol Rovers fans pitch invaded once again, this time they were allowed to stay, and the celebrations continued long into the night. 

A visibly delighted Joey Barton backed up his promise that he made after a 4-1 defeat against Exeter in August, where he stated his team will get promoted, while Jon Brady will have to get his players’ minds back on task, as they take on Mansfield in the play-off semi finals.

They will meet the winner of Swindon Town vs Port Vale at Wembley on May 28 to decide who will join the West Country trio of Forest Green, Exeter City and Bristol Rovers in England’s third tier.