Upbeat Tranmere Rovers off to a flyer against Leyton Orient
WINNING with something to spare is a good way to open a league programme, especially when the paying customers leave the ground with smiles of satisfaction that say they were well entertained.
Tranmere’s performance in overcoming Leyton Orient wasn’t without a blemish or two. But you won’t find many managers who would turn down a start as upbeat as this one.
The most satisfying feature of Saturday’s success was how the 90 minutes showcased some of the positive characteristics of the team Ronnie Moore has reshaped for the new season.
The Prenton Park faithful could see why Moore attached such importance to making James Wallace a permanent recruit following his loan spell from Everton last season. And why he made the 20-year-old the skipper.
Wallace was a driving force in midfield with an insatiable appetite to be at the heart of the action. If an ambitious pass went astray – as one or two sometimes did in the early stages of the game – he was never discouraged from looking for the most positive option in the next moment. The captaincy sits well on such broad shoulders.
Andy Robinson, equally important to the side in providing guile and invention, is looking sharp and as fit as he has ever done since returning to Prenton Park. He earned a standing ovation when withdrawn on 77 minutes.
The fresh ingredient Moore added to the squad during the summer is pace. They have it down the left with Zoumana Bakayogo, down the right with Joe Thompson and through the middle with Jean-Louis Akpa Akpro, who marked his League One debut in a Tranmere shirt by scoring two well taken goals in the second half. Moore believes Akpa Akpro can turn around his modest career scoring record in a Rovers shirt. And this was certainly an encouraging start.
If Moore sees the use of pace on the counter-attack as the key weapon in improving Tranmere’s record on the road, the first goal on 34 minutes showed the tactic can be just as effective at home.
Orient were sliced open by the speed with which goalkeeper Owain Fon Williams delivered an accurate clearance down the left, the skill of Jake Cassidy in controlling the ball, turning and playing it into the path of the overlapping full-back Bakayogo.
The visiting defenders could not catch the Frenchman with the nickname Zoum. Bakayogo’s low, left footed finish inside the near post caught goalkeeper Jamie Jones flat-footed.
The goal gave Tranmere a timely lift at a point of the contest when they were beginning to lose some of their early rhythm.
Tranmere merited the single goal advantage at the interval, largely because they were the side showing most initiative. Even so, they held on to the lead thanks to a fingertip save from Fon Williams in touching out a low shot on the turn from David Mooney seconds before the whistle.
The home side, slow to start after the resumption, were not doing well enough to merit a second goal as early as the 57th minute. The quality of the strike was irresistible, however. A succession of short passes involving Thompson, Ben Gibson and Bakayogo set up the opportunity and Akpa Akpro’s curling shot from the edge of the box found the top right-hand corner of the net.
The strike knocked the stuffing out of Orient’s resistance and there was no doubt about where the points were going after that.
A third goal followed eight minutes later, created by the quality of Wallace’s curling cross from deep on the right to the far post, where Akpa Akpro headed through Jones’ flailing hands.
Only at that low point did Orient rouse themselves into mounting more positive resistance.
The introduction of on-loan striker Ryan Brunt in place of the ineffective Kevin Lisbie gave the visitors more clout in attack and belatedly tested the solid defensive partnership of Ash Taylor and Gibson.
Brunt, a strapping young target man who spent time on loan with Tranmere last season, threatened on a couple of occasions, as did midfielder Mathieu Baudry.
Orient’s consolation came from the penalty spot after referee Geoff Eltringham ruled that Wallace had tripped Jimmy Smith in the box. Michael Symes converted.
A more positive approach earlier in the game might have helped Orient’s cause but for most of the afternoon they could not put their passing moves together because Tranmere were too sharp in hustling and hounding them out of possession.
The home side, although misfiring at times, produced some slick and incisive sequences of their own.
Orient’s experienced manager Russell Slade conceded: “I did not think we deserved to take anything out of the game. We felt we stepped up our performance level at the start of the second half and the second goal, which came against the run of play, was a killer for us.
“We played well towards the end of the game but it was too little, too late and overall we did not have enough good pockets of play in the game. We kept on giving Tranmere a lift by conceding goals.”