Tranmere manager LES PARRY: "It was disappointing because of the goals we gave away but we can only take positives from that performance. I am just gutted for the lads because of the amount of effort they put into the game.
Preston manager PHIL BROWN: "When 17,500 fans turn up you want to win in style. It was certainly exciting in the second half when Tranmere decided to play attractive football which stifled us. Our lads showed real character and we ground out the result. That's a string to our bow.”
THE Tranmere Rovers Supporters Trust see affordable football, linked hand-in-hand to vigourous engagement with fans and the community, as central elements to their vision of how they would run the club - should Peter Johnson be willing to sell it to them.
Anyone looking for an illustration of how it all might work could have found one at Deepdale on Saturday.
The principal attraction of Preston’s “PNE Day” promotion was to cut admission prices for all: £10 for adults, £5 for concessions, £2 for juniors and free for under eights. They threw in entertainment by local dancers, gymnasts, rock groups, boxing clubs, junior football clubs and rugby league clubs before the main event and during the half-time interval.
The low prices and the extra attractions pulled in a crowd of 17,282 that was up by around 50% on the season’s average of 11,000 and generated a terrific atmosphere.
The home side may have taken the points, and fortuitously at that, but every one of the paying customers enjoyed a cracking day out.
The attendance was a throwback to the days either side of the Second World War, illustrated in black-and-white images on the stadium’s big screen, when watching live football was affordable for all in even the most difficult of economic times.
This crowd was a little different. Only a few men wore cloth caps and there were many more women, children and family groups. But they came in large numbers because in the midst of today’s economic squeeze, a visit to the match wasn’t going to blow a hole in the household budget.
Preston are good at going the extra mile with their PNE Days and took pride in topping the highest home attendance figure neighbours Blackpool were able to record during their time in the Premier League last season.
Tranmere found, when doing cut-price promotions of their own in recent seasons, that the extra numbers through the turnstiles can often generate an overall increase in gate receipts.
Preston’s special offer and the relatively short travelling distance involved encourage more than 1500 Tranmere fans to pack the visitors’ section, no doubt members of the Trust among them. They witnessed a defeat but could not have been disappointed with what they saw from Les Parry’s team.
Tranmere delivered a performance that measured up in many ways to the 2-0 win at Brentford at the end of August.
Preston, it could be argued, were more formidable opponents but this time Rovers were not able to convert territorial advantage over the home side into a result.
They were beaten by a debatable penalty and a ruthlessly executed goal on the counter-attack.
It was a measure of Tranmere’s threat to the last that more than 15,000 Preston fans roared a huge sigh of relief at the final whistle.
None of the Lilywhites’ six wins in a row could have been as difficult to dig out as this one.
Tranmere won many of the battles in midfield thanks in part to strong contributions from skipper John Welsh and Robbie Weir in the centre. Jose Baxter, the 19-year-old beginning a loan from Everton, was both comfortable and effective in a role just behind striker Enoch Showunmi.
Baxter netted Tranmere’s equaliser from close range after Lucas Akins, the visitors’ most impressive player, forced the opening.
Akins is emerging as a danger man in his wide midfield role, growing in confidence in his ability to muscle past defenders.
He gave Preston full-back Paul Parry a torrid time. Booked early in the first half, Parry resorted to a clumsy tackle to bring Akins down as he burst past him in the 73rd minute. A second yellow card, and with it a red, were inevitable.
Preston’s undoubted quality was evident in flashes of virtuosity. There were a couple from Iain Hume, who enjoyed the rare accolade of being cheered to the rafters by both sets of fans.
A long through pass for Neil Mellor, played first time with the outside of the foot, reminded the Rovers followers and why they regarded him as such a class act.
Tranmere succeeded in their mission to give the home supporters little to get excited about early in the contest. They did it by keeping hold of the ball for long periods and created a succession of half chances that McGurk, Akins and Baxter could not capitalise on.
It was 27 minutes before Preston threatened but they should have scored when striker Jamie Proctor run clear into the box from Paul Coutts’ through pass, took the ball around goalkeeper Owain Fon Williams then, losing some balance, sliced his shot over open goal.
The miss marked the start of a 10 minute period when Preston took the initiative. Even so, the 37th minute goal was a lavish reward. Mellor, the former Liverpool front man, made the most of the situation when Ian Goodison got closer to him than he needed to on the left-hand side of the box. Mellor tumbled, referee Paul Tierney was convinced an offence had taken place and pointed to the spot. Captain Graham Alexander converted by sending Fon Williams the wrong way with his kick.
Baxter was denied an equaliser by a sharp save by Andreas Arestidou just before the visitors deservedly levelled on the hour. Akins, cutting in from the right, fired a shot that took a deflection off a defender and ran against the foot of the right-hand post. Baxter got ahead of a couple of teammates and defenders to put the rebound into the roof of the net.
At that point Tranmere looked the side with the momentum to go on and win the game but they were punished for overreaching themselves on 71 minutes.
They lost possession from a throw-in on the Preston half and smart work by Hume and Coutts sent substitute Danny Mayor galloping clear of an overstretched defence to apply a cool finish. Three minutes later Mayor was hauled off because Brown required defensive cover for the dismissed Parry.
Tranmere had to throw caution to the winds and Ian Goodison into the attack in the closing minutes. A mistake by Weir allowed Mellor to gallop clear in injury time but Fon Williams’ blocking save prevented a third goal and a scoreline that would have mocked Tranmere’s efforts.
PRESTON (4-3-3): Arestidou, McLaughlin, Carlisle, McLean, Parry, Coutts, Nicholson, Alexander, Hume (Ashbee 81), Proctor (Mayor 65, Gray 84), Mellor. BOOKINGS: Arestidou, McLaughlin, Parry. Not used: Comrie, Tsoumou.
TRANMERE (4-4-2): Fon Williams, Raven, Goodison, Taylor, Buchanan, McGurk, Weir, Welsh, Akins, Baxter, Showunmi (Tiryaki 83). Not used: Coughlin, Kay, Bakayogo, Labadie.
GOALS: Alexander (37 pen), Mayor 71; (Baxter 60)
CARDS: Booked – Arestidou, McLaughlin, Parry; Welsh, Buchanan.
REFEREE: Paul Tierney (Lancashire)