TRANMERE Rovers’ eventful run in the Johnstone’s Paint Trophy was brought to a dramatic and bitterly disappointing end by John Sheridan’s struggling Spireites last night.
On more than one occasion during a seesaw contest, Rovers looked to be on their way into Saturday morning’s draw for the northern area semi-finals. But they repeatedly allowed Chesterfield – languishing in the lower reaches of League One and without a home win since September 17 – to claw their way back and had no answer to Craig Westcarr’s injury-time winner.
The Wirral visitors had needed penalties to see off Port Vale in the first round before accounting for Accrington Stanley in a second round tie which had to be played twice when an opposing player was seriously injured in the initial game.
The final chapter in Rovers’ JPT story for this season was written last night as the Spireites capitalised on some uncharacteristically slack defending from Les Parry’s team.
The first goal of the evening arrived on nine minutes from the trusty left boot of Adam McGurk. The Irish forward blasted home a classy volley from 25 yards after collecting a neat header from Mustafa Tiryaki.
The early goal paved the way for an entertaining night of football – although the excitement often came from defensive mistakes, rather than high quality play.
On 32 minutes, home defender Dwayne Mattis was fortunate to escape with only a yellow card, rather than a red, when he cynically hauled down McGurk on the edge of the penalty area.
ŠThe resulting free-kick came to nothing but Ole Soderberg was called into action three minutes later when Robbie Weir’s piercing pass played in Lucas Akins, who cut inside from the right wing and hammered in a low left-footed shot which was parried to safety by the Chesterfield stopper.
Having been the dominant force for much of the first half, Rovers were forced to go into the break on level terms as the Spireites equalised just before the interval.
The goal came out of the blue, Alex Mendy picking the ball up in midfield and weaving his way towards goal before shooting low into the bottom corner from 20 yards.
Chesterfield’s second goal arrived just nine minutes into the second half. McGurk surrendered possession inside his own half and the hosts broke upfield quickly. The move ended with Westcarr swinging in an inch-perfect cross for Jordan Bowery, who made no mistake with a close-range header.
Parry’s response was to introduce Enoch Showunmi from the bench and the tall striker netted Rovers’ equaliser in the 68th minute, rising highest in a crowded penalty area to nod home after Ash Taylor had headed on John Welsh’s searching free-kick.
With the hosts rocking, Tranmere took full advantage and moved into a 3-2 lead just three minutes after Showunmi’s equaliser.
The goal was probably the luckiest Rovers have scored all season. Tiryaki, picking the ball up on the left-hand side of the penalty area, sent in a weak shot at Soderberg’s goal. But as the Chesterfield keeper reached up to catch the ball, he somehow let it slip through his gloves and into the back of the net.
The drama did not end there, however, as the Spireites got themselves back on level terms with 11 minutes to go. Striker Bowery was the man on target, profiting from another left-wing cross and beating Owain Fon Williams with a downward header from point-blank range.
Tranmere keeper Fon Williams was then caught out by Danny Whitaker’s injury-time free-kick. The Welshman missed the ball as it was swung into his penalty area, allowing Westcarr to head in to make it 4-3 and end Rovers’ dreams of reaching the Wembley final of the Trophy early next year.