TRANMERE squeezed into the second round of the FA Cup thanks to a 69th-minute goal from winger Chris Shuker at Prenton Park last night.
The narrow replay success over League Two battlers Accrington Stanley was less than a feast of football to set before a live armchair audience watching on satellite television.
But if Rovers did not impress even their own supporters, they at least got the job done without the need for extra-time and penalties – the last thing manager Ronnie Moore and his team wanted with a League One fixture against Southend looming tomorrow afternoon.
Their reward is a testing visit to League One promotion-chasers Peterborough at the end of the month.
Accrington proved themselves to be as dogged opponents as they were in last Saturday’s goalless game at the Crown Ground.
They had their moments, particularly with a couple of efforts from former Tranmere midfielder John Mullin that forced Danny Coyne into sharp saves.
But Tranmere shaded the contest of possession and pressure, just as they had in the first meeting and just about deserved their success.
Tranmere, fielding the line-up that dominated the goalless first game last Saturday, were denied a fourth-minute opener by the woodwork.
Gareth Edds sent Ian Moore running into space on the edge of the box and the midfielder’s chip shot left goalkeeper Kenny Arthur stranded and struck the face of the crossbar before bouncing to safety.
Accrington made a positive response eight minutes later when John Mullin, the former Rovers midfielder, cut into the box on a run from the right and drove in a fierce left-foot shot that goalkeeper Danny Coyne pushed out at full stretch.
Accrington brought only a few hundred supporters with them but they managed to decorate large tracks of the Johnny King Stand with their flags and banners and a drummer beat out the rhythm of their songs.
Tranmere threatened again on 29 minutes when Ryan Shotton’s fierce cross from the right was knocked out of the path of Bas Savage by a defender and Moore fired the loose ball over the bar from 15 yards.
Rovers fans had their hands in their mouths a minute later when a low free-kick from James Ryan ricocheted off the heel of a defender in a crowded penalty area and skidded just wide of the left hand post.
With neither side venturing to break out from their 4-5-1 formation during the first half, scoring opportunities had to be worked hard for and there wasn’t a lot of excitement for the audience watching at home.
Ben Chorley, tempted into trying his luck from more than 30 yards, thudded a shot into the chest of Arthur on 41 minutes.
Manager Ronnie Moore made a change of personnel and tactics at half-time, replacing Edds with Ed Sonko. The Gambian took station on the left wing while Moore moved up front to partner Savage in a 4-4-2 formation.
The change of tactics had little immediate impact in opening up the game.
Indeed, it was the visitors who were first to threaten in the second half when big target man Paul Mullin was able to turn on a long throw from the right by Ryan and lift a shot high over the bar from eight yards.
The home supporters were beginning to voice their frustration as the game past the hour mark. It was Tranmere’s turn to be saved by the woodwork on 68 minutes when a free-kick from the left by Ryan bounced through a crowded goalmouth struck the foot of the far post and rebounded to safety.
The let off gave Tranmere the spur they needed to break the deadlock a minute later.
Midfielder Steve Jennings seized on a loose pass in midfield to surge forward.
A well laid ball found Shuker galloping into the box on his left and the winger finished cleverly with a shot lifted high into the net before colliding painfully with defender Kieran Charnock.
John Mullin, attempting a quick reply with a low shot struck on the run from the edge of the box, was thwarted by Coyne’s diving save on 71 minutes.
Two minutes later Shuker limped off to be replaced by Chris Greenacre.
But the striker soon had a penalty appeal turned down after being floored in the box.
With the game moving into extra time Greenacre was thwarted by a fine smuggling save by Arthur after cleverly making space for a shot on the edge of the six-yard box.