Rovers Return – Successfully…
Tranmere Rovers visited the Globe Arena this afternoon for the first time since returning to the EFL this year from the National League. Micky Mellon’s side were in tenth position before the match, within touching distance of the Play-Off places and buoyed by their win over table-topping Lincoln City at Prenton Park last Tuesday. At the same time, Morecambe conceded a goal with the last kick of the game at Cheltenham to only draw instead of winning their third match on the bounce. This was only the fifth time the two clubs have played each other, with the Shrimps winning two and losing one in the past. The Rovers Return also meant the return of old faces such as Cole Stockton (not available today), Scott Davies and Paul Mullin to their former club. However, Tranmere had League Two’s leading scorer James Norwood suspended after netting his eighth league goal against Lincoln and then being sent off. Morecambe were without the services of injured Alex Kenyon and Andy Fleming and there were concerns about the fitness of both Aaron Wildig and Steven Old right up until kick-off- and the Kiwi defender failed to make the squad.
It had rained earlier by the North Lancashire seaside but by three o’clock, the sun had come out and it remained dry and bright throughout the match. Tranmere are a physically big team – several of them (Adam Buxton and Connor Jennings for instance) perhaps TOO big to be brutally honest. In Captain Steve McNulty you had a man mountain who looked more like a professional wrestler than a footballer and returnee Paul Mullin was unrecognizable from the quite slight forward who departed this parish just a couple of years ago. But whatever they looked like, nobody could fault Tranmere’s approach to this game. They had obviously come to win and the opening 45 minutes were the best I have personally seen at the Globe for quite some time. Rovers probably just about shaded it for the first ten minutes or so. But if they had gone ahead from Mullin’s header after three minutes, it would have been a travesty: he was clearly miles offside. This turned-out to be one of several poor decisions by today’s referee, Trevor Kettle, whose performance was unacceptably poor throughout. He missed a succession of hand balls and bad tackles by both teams as well as minor infringements galore and it was no surprise when his lack of consistency contributed to a bit of handbags right at the end of the game where punches as well as insults appeared to be thrown. What a shame, particularly as the game itself had been played in a good spirit. With a name like referee’s, though, maybe you actually get off on it when things boil over… But, going back to the third minute, Barry Roche saved the referee’s blushes by producing a fine save to keep former team-mate Mr Mullin out. Morecambe, meanwhile, were constantly probing, mostly with the ball on the deck. Rhys Oates has scored in his last two matches for the Shrimps. Today, it took him just fourteen minutes to make it three in three. He made progress to the left of centre, sold a clever dummy to a defender, turned the other way and beat Scott Davies in the visitor’s goal with another tremendous shot low to his right. A fantastic block by the Rovers’ defence stopped the hosts going further ahead after 22 minutes but five minutes later, the team from the Wirral were level. Adam Buxton drew a questionable free kick on the Tranmere right by the penalty area; the ball was slung over by Harvey Gilmour and an unmarked Ollie Banks plonked it past Big Baz with his head far too easily. Shortly afterwards, the visitors could have gone ahead but Mullin’s low shot was deflected just to the left of Roche’s left post for a corner. But after forty minutes, Gilmour himself put Rovers ahead, placing a well-aimed header from low down from Zoumana Bakayogo’s excellent run down the Tranmere left which was followed by an even better cross. In injury time, Scott Davies was at full stretch to keep out a cross which almost dipped-in over his head but the half ended with the visitors probably just about deservedly in the lead.
The second half carried on in the same vein as the first – end to end with some cutting football by both sides. Tranmere went further ahead after 52 minutes when Jonny Smith (who I thought was their best performer throughout the contest) worked space for himself on the Rovers’ right, swerved in towards the penalty area and beet Baz all ends up with a fantastic shot which swerved round the huge Irishman to his right into the corner of the net. The huge travelling support went mad – as well they might. Tranmere might have gone even further ahead when a deflected shot only just missed the target after an hour with Roche helpless to do anything about it. With sixty-eight minutes on the clock, Mullin pulled the ball back cleverly but Banks blasted it wildly over the bar from close-in. The hordes of blue-clad fans were quietened, however after 72 minutes. Zak Mills did well on the Morecambe right and put over a lovely cross which Vadaine Oliver dispatched with aplomb with his head to reduce the arrears. And as a silence continued to blanket the away end, the Shrimps pulled themselves level after 79 minutes. Substitute Kevin Ellison’s first welcome to the game was a foul. He was cynically fouled again after 71 minutes for which Buxton was rightly shown a yellow card. Liam Mandeville and Andrew Tutte stood over the ball to the left of the Tranmere penalty area discussing what to do; Mandeville made a short pass to his co-conspirator; he stuck a quick cross into the centre of the goal and the merest flick from A-Jay Leitch-Smith’s head guided it into the net. The Shrimps were well and truly fired-up at this point but they were caught again by a sucker-punch right at the death as substitute Franklin Akammadu beat Mills on the Morecambe right far too easily. He ran powerfully into the penalty area as if the full-back wasn’t there and set-up Gilmour perfectly to joyously smash the ball into the net in front of his ecstatic supporters and win Tranmere the game.
So Morecambe were disappointed for the second match in a row right at the end. Tranmere must be congratulated for their never-say-die attitude which finally won them the game. But there were lots of positives for Morecambe as well. Their heads didn’t drop when they went two behind and they battled their way back into the match with some constructive and effective football. On another day, they would have got the draw they probably deserved against a team which gave the impression they are going to be there or thereabouts at the end of the season. Tranmere’s victory put them into the Play-Off positions at seventh in League Two. The loss, meanwhile, means that the Shrimps fell to twentieth, just above the drop zone.
Morecambe: 1 Barry Roche (C); 2 Zak Mills; 16 Sam Lavelle; 3 Luke Conlan; 14 Josef Yarney; 18 Rhys Oates (Y) (11 Kevin Ellison 77 mins); 15 Aaron Wildig (24 Joe Piggott 92 mins); 6 Andrew Tutte; 14 Liam Mandeville; 28 A-Jay Leitch-Smith (78 mins) ; 9 Vadaine Oliver (12 Jason Oswell 86 mins).
Subs not used: 21 Mark Halstead; 27 Jordan Cranston; 20 Lamine Jagne; 19 Carlos Mendes-Gomes; 25 Ben Hedley.
Tranmere Rovers; 1 Scott Davies; 2 Adam Buxton (Y); 5 Steve McNulty (C); 6 Emmanuel Monthe; 24 Zoumana Bakayogo; 11 Connor Jennings (Y) (26 Mark Ellis 92 mins); 12 Luke McCullough (Y); 28 Oliver Banks; 18 Johnny Smith (17 Dylan Mottley-Henry 77 mins); 9 Paul Mullin (19 Franklin Akammadu 84 mins); 22 Harvey Gilmour.
Subs not used: 40 Paddy Wharton; 7 Dan Tollitt; 14 Jake Caprice; 29 Larnell Cole.
Ref: Trevor Kettle.