Sheffield Wednesday 2 Tranmere Rovers 1
A FRANTIC late charge was not quite enough for Tranmere Rovers at Hillsborough as they emerged empty-handed from a gripping game which bordered on the bizarre.
Sheffield Wednesday blazed their way into a 2-0 lead after just seven minutes. They then proceeded to squander enough chances to take their tally close to double figures, with only Paul Rachubka’s heroics in the Tranmere goal keeping them at bay.
It was the most one-sided half of football you will ever see.
Incredibly, the match was turned completely on its head by some astute substitutions by Rovers boss Les Parry. After spending the first 45 minutes on the back foot, the visitors belatedly began to find their rhythm and substitute Ian Goodison’s late headed goal set up a stirring late rally which almost saw Tranmere steal a point.
It was thrilling stuff – all played out in front of a vociferous 24,000 crowd.
The drama began to unfold after just 90 seconds.
Ben Marshall’s corner-kick was only partially cleared by the Rovers defence and Chris Lines returned the ball to the heart of the penalty area. The midfielder’s left-wing cross was met by Reda Johnson, whose towering header sailed past Rachubka.
The Owls wasted little time in doubling their lead.
Lines, who had scored against Rovers when the sides met at Prenton Park in November, got his name on the scoresheet again, turning a low shot past Rachubka after the ball was pulled back to him by James Tavernier.
The players in the blue and white stripes continued to pour forward. Marshall – a talented winger on loan from Stoke City – sent a scissors-kick into the side-netting on 22 minutes.
Rovers boss Parry introduced skipper John Welsh from the bench for the second period. The club captain has been struggling with a knee injury recently but he was pressed into service in place of Tiryaki, with Lucas Akins moving into the central striker’s role.
The result was a far more composed second-half display by Rovers.
The tension in the stands stepped up a notch when makeshift centre-forward substitute Goodison headed home Danny Holmes’ right-wing free-kick with nine minutes to go.
Rovers kept pressing forward and the excellent Welsh almost snatched a spectacular equaliser when his left-footed volley from the edge of the penalty area was saved by Weaver.
Sheffield Wednesday (4-4-2): Weaver, Otsemobor, Batth, Llera, R Johnson, Tavernier (J Johnson 85), Semedo, Lines, Marshall (Preutton 89), Morrison (Watt 70), O’Grady. Subs: Bywater, Lowe. Goals: R Johnson 2, Lines 7. Booked: R Johnson, Semedo.
Tranmere Rovers (4-4-1-1): Rachubka, Holmes, Taylor, McCrystal, Buchanan, Akins, Weir (McGurk 70), Labadie, Bakayogo (Goodison 76), Baxter, Tiryaki (Welsh 46). Subs: Coughlin, Raven. Goal: Goodison 81.
Referee: Robert Lewis (Shropshire).