Tranmere Rovers 0 Colchester United 0: Rovers suffer for lack of cutting edge in draw
THE people who run the Northwest Football Awards did the game a small but valuable service this month by putting the names of Tranmere’s Les Parry and Richie Barker of Bury on the same shortlist as Sir Alex Ferguson.
No football fan in the UK could have escaped reading at least some of the hundreds of thousands of words written last week in tribute to Ferguson’s colossal record of success at Manchester United over the past 25 years. Ferguson is in a category of his own.
But that is no reason why the name of a manager whose team finished below mid-table in League One last season should not also be in the frame for Northwest Manager of the Year alongside the man who lifted the Premier League title for the 12th time in May.
Happily this particular awards panel have not forgotten that context matters in football, even though it is a consideration all too often overlooked in these days of rushed judgements and analysis that doesn’t reach beyond the last half dozen results.
No-one is trying to pretend that Parry’s achievement in keeping Tranmere nine points clear of the relegation places on (probably) the lowest budget in the division last season, or Barker’s work in guiding Bury to promotion from League Two, allows them to be compared to the man who’s been British football’s manager of the past two decades.
But all three did work for their clubs last season that was recognised by fellow managers as outstanding. These kind of regional awards, insignificant as they may seem to followers of the Premier League, allow a little light to shine on men who deliver excellence in football’s unfashionable shadowlands.
One of the best arguments for Parry not winning for his efforts last season is that Tranmere could well do even better in this campaign – on the same tiny budget.
The majority of managers are so focused on the job that they will gladly trade this kind of recognition for an extra point or two on the board. Parry would no doubt have preferred to see Tranmere claim a victory over Colchester United on Saturday instead of settling for a draw.
Even so, an engaging contest at Prenton Park showcased many of the qualities making Rovers a more successful team this season than last – as well as a more attractive one to watch.
This was the kind of game that gives goalless draws a good name.
The fact that Tranmere could not convert one of a good ration of scoring opportunities into a winner pointed to the issue keeping them just outside the play-off zone instead of in the top six.
With Andy Robinson looking keen and sharp on his return to the side after two months on the sidelines with a hamstring injury, Rovers lost none of their creative force in the absence of the suspended Jose Baxter.
But too many goal attempts missed the target, several more did not stretch Colchester goalkeeper Ben Williams and when Williams was seriously tested, he responded with a handful of outstanding saves.
The home side’s cause was not helped by referee Graham Salisbury, who turned down several penalty claims, most of them for pushing in the box.
Colchester’s well organised and disciplined resistance wasn’t entirely passive. Every now and then John Ward’s team mounted dangerous raids on the counter-attack. Tranmere goalkeeper Owain Fon Williams had to make two excellent saves within 60 seconds late in the second half to deny the visitors a smash and grab victory.
Tranmere took no more than 10 minutes to show they had shaken off the defensive jitters of the previous weekend’s 4-2 defeat at Scunthorpe. Wide attackers Adam McGurk and Lucas Akins were the first to pose a threat, but it wasn’t long before Robinson was creating the best of Tranmere’s attacks from his role just behind central striker Mustafa Tiryaki.
A well measured cross from the right by Robinson presented Ash Taylor with a close range invitation to put Tranmere ahead on 27 minutes but the young centre-back got his body into an awkward position at the far post and headed the ball down with such force that it bounced over the yawning goal.
Four minutes later Tiryaki, who played the central striker’s with growing confidence, claimed he was pushed in the back by Matt Heath. Mr Salisbury gave the benefit of the doubt to the Colchester defender, as he did when Robbie Weir, John Welsh and Taylor made similar claims in the second half.
The home supporters made some rousing noises to lift Tranmere for the final 20 minutes and Robinson in particular looked to benefit, finding renewed energy to chivvy and probe at the Colchester defence.
Fon Williams made his two important interventions on 81 and 82 minutes, first stretching out a hand to keep Mikael Antonio’s low shot out at the right-hand post, then making an equally resourceful save on the other side of the goal to block Magnus OKuonghae’s header from the corner.
Ben Williams made a trio of outstanding saves at the other end to deny Rovers reward for a strong finish, twice keeping McGurk off the scoresheet before leaping high to paw out a rising shot from Robinson which was heading for the top corner.