A GOAL of stunning quality from teenager Dale Jennings saw Tranmere pocket three valuable points at a rain-lashed Memorial Stadium last night.
Striker Jennings, a 17-year-old trainee making only his third first-team appearance, sent a 20-yard rocket flying into the Bristol net in first half injury time.
Tranmere, who had started the night bottom of the League One table, defended Jennings’ maiden League goal heroically during the second half, with goalkeeper Peter Gulacsi pulling off some fine saves to preserve a well-earned clean sheet. Boss Les Parry had gone into the game fearing a long line of selection problems would leave him with no option but to select a team “so young they should be doing their homework”.
Jennings would have fallen firmly into that category – and injuries to Ian Thomas-Moore and Adam McGurk meant the young forward was again pressed into service, just as he had been on Saturday when Tranmere went down 3-1 at Colchester.
The Pirates, enjoying a four-match unbeaten run through September, were quickly into their stride, pinning the visitors in their own half for long periods during the early exchanges.
With just four minutes on the clock, a sharp right-wing cross by Carl Regan fell perfectly for Jo Kuffour, whose volley from 12 yards was tipped over by keeper Gulacsi. There was another scare for Tranmere on 10 minutes, when John Akinde’s thumping 20-yarder had to be clawed out by on-loan Liverpool keeper Gulacsi.
Moments of respite for the visitors were few and far between in the first 20 minutes, but Max Blanchard went close with a speculative 30-yard volley that whistled over the bar with home keeper Mikkel Andersen rooted to the spot.
Tranmere were slowly finding their feet, winning a succession of corners and free-kicks, including one that Aaron Cresswell flashed past Andersen’s far post on 30 minutes.
Two minutes later, Tranmere squandered the best scoring opportunity of the half. Cresswell glided in a low corner kick from the right and Blanchard, unmarked as he made a late charge into the penalty area, sliced wide from eight yards when he really should have put his side 1-0 up.
As John Welsh and Joss Labadie strengthened their grip on the midfield battle, the home crowd became increasingly frustrated. Š
And they ended up booing their team off at the break as Tranmere stole into the lead in first half injury time. There seemed to be little danger for Bristol when Blanchard took a pass from Lucas Akins and rolled the ball into the feet of Jennings 22 yards from goal. But in a split-second, the diminutive striker swivelled and unleashed an unstoppable left-footed shot into the top corner of Andersen’s net.
It was some way for the teenage trainee to open his League account – and a goal that none of the 117 Tranmere fans in the ground will forget in a hurry.
Both keepers were called into action early in the second half as heavy rain began to sweep across the Memorial Stadium.Š Andersen dived to his left to repel Cresswell’s free-kick and Gulacsi tipped over Kuffour’s dipping long-range volley.
Then it was Jennings’ turn to take centre stage again, cutting inside on to his favoured right foot and firing a fizzing low shot into the side-netting .
With play switching from end to end, Gulacsi had to make an improvised save with his chest as Will Hoskins’ shot from the edge of the box took a late deflection.
The Tranmere keeper also kept his cool during a scramble late on, saving well from Hoskins as the away side hung on bravely for their only their second League One win of the season.
BRISTOL ROVERS (4-3-3): Andersen, Regan, Coles, Anthony, Sawyer, Lines, Campbell (Brown 68), Hoskins, Hughes, Akinde, Kuffour. Subs: Green, Tunnicliffe, Blizzard, Richards, Reece, Pell. Booked: Regan.
TRANMERE (4-3-3): Gulacsi, Blanchard, Goodison, Grandison (Wood 46), Cresswell, Welsh, Labadie, Mendy, Jennings (Bakayogo 90), Showunmi, Akins (Cathalina 82). Subs: Collister, McLaren, Fraughan. Goal: Jennings 45+2. Booked: ŠJennings, Blanchard, Cathalina.
Attendance: 5,589 (117).
Referee: Chris Sarginson (Staffordshire).
Up next: Brighton (H), Saturday.