Tranmere are mauled at Prenton by the Lions
TRANMERE arrived at the 10-game mark for the League One campaign by showing they have not lost the capacity to confound the hopes and expectations of supporters and management alike.
One week after humbling Carlisle in front of their own fans, Rovers had to endure a similar fate at the hands of Millwall at Prenton Park.
All of the discipline and composure Ronnie Moore’s team showed at Brunton Park melted away in the face of an enterprising opening burst from the Londoners. Millwall scored twice in the first 13 minutes and remained in control of the game thereafter. Tranmere’s response was so tame that they did not force Millwall goalkeeper David Forde into a serious save until three-quarters way through the contest. A perplexed Moore confessed he had not seen such a performance coming. His surprise was understandable.
While Rovers’ results so far have been unpredictable to say the least, performances over the last month suggested they were making progress to finding the consistency that is the Holy Grail at this level.
But here they stumbled back to the uncomfortable territory of the opening day defeat at Swindon. More than half of the side were some way below their best at the County Ground and a similar blight afflicted Saturday’s line-up.
It is clearly more than a coincidence that defensive strongman Ian Goodison was absent on each occasion. While the 35-year-old Jamaican was on the other side of the Atlantic, playing in a World Cup qualifying game against Mexico in Kingston, Tranmere’s defenders were all at sea in their own backyard.
The reshuffled back-line gave Millwall’s front players too much space and opportunity to build attacks. Tresor Kandol, a tall and pacy striker on extended loan from Leeds United, revelled in the freedom and marked his return from a three-game suspension by plundering the two early goals that knocked the stuffing out of the home side.
It would have been easy to point the finger at Goodison’s inexperienced replacement, Godwin Antwi, but the problem ran right through the home team’s defensive work. Even full-backs Ryan Shotton and Andrew Taylor were out of sorts.
Going forward Rovers could not find the cohesion to seriously test the resilience of the Millwall defence. The home side’s hopes of salvaging something from the wreckage disappeared in a three-minute spell just before the hour mark. Substitute Gareth Edds fluffed a chance to halve the deficit in the 57th minute, then Jimmy Abdou scored a killer third goal for the Lions on 60 minutes while the majority of people on the pitch and in the stands waited in vain for an offside decision.
As cruel as the moment was, Tranmere didn’t have the spirit to rouse themselves into a fightback. Supporters were muted and understandably grumpy, having watched three successive home defeats in the league.
There was merit in Tranmere’s narrow reverses to Oldham and Colchester, but not much to cheer this time. Bas Savage’s injury-time minute reply was nothing more than a well-taken consolation.
Moore insisted his players were forewarned that Millwall were liable to come flying out of the blocks after a 4-0 home defeat to MK Dons the previous weekend.
Even so, Rovers looked surprised to find the visitors taking the game by the scruff of the neck. There were eight minutes on the clock when Millwall cleverly worked an opportunity for midfielder Lewis Grabbon to outflank the home defence down the right and swing in an accurate cross for Kandol to head firmly beyond the reach of goalkeeper Danny Coyne.
Five minutes later Gary Alexander had time to control a long ball on the edge of the box and touch a delicate pass through for Kandol to fire into the bottom corner from 15 yards.
Rovers raised a couple of flashes of retaliation. Chris Greenacre miss-hit a half chance wide from the edge of the box after escaping the offside trap on nine minutes and the hard-working Savage had a shot deflected for a corner after turning sharply on the left-hand edge of the area. But Tranmere could not find the confidence going forward to mount a sustained threat.
Alexander could easily have added to Millwall’s tally before the interval with a 20-yard shot that crept just wide.
Edds had been on the field for barely a minute, as a substitute for Steve Jennings, when Greenacre’s square pass presented him with Tranmere’s best chance of the afternoon. The midfielder sliced his shot wide from a dozen yards. With a few extra minutes to grow accustomed to the wet, greasy surface, Edds might have made a steadier job of finishing.
Kandol had no trouble keeping his feet when galloping clear of Tranmere’s defensive line on the hour. A sideways glance betrayed the striker’s expectation of being halted by an offside flag but he was allowed to run on into the box, draw Coyne from his line and roll the ball inside for Jimmy Abdou. The midfielder looked like he too might be offside, but the flag remained down as Abdou prodded the ball into the net and Tranmere’s players argued in vain with the officials.
Forde made a sharp save from Chris Shuker’s crisp shot from a dozen yards when Tranmere finally put a threatening effort on target with barely 20 minutes remaining.
Savage’s goal, a powerful glancing header from Shuker’s right-wing free-kick in injury time, rewarded Tranmere’s most determined performer.