Tranmere Rovers 4 Colchester United 0: Jake Cassidy’s hat-trick helps take Tranmere back to the top of the League One table
TRANMERE pitched camp at the summit of the League One table after setting Prenton Park abuzz with a compelling display of high-speed attacking football.
The enthusiasts on the Bebington Kop launched into choruses of “we are going up” during the second half, as Colchester United were swept aside by a Jake Cassidy hat-trick in a spectacular finish from Zoumana Bakayogo.
It was easy for those supporters to get a little carried away by the excitement of seeing Rovers roll over opponents who can usually be relied upon to provide dogged resistance.
Some context and perspective were provided by the two experienced managers. Tranmere’s Ronnie Moore pointed out that this was merely game four of 46 in the league campaign while opposite number John Ward reckoned Colchester’s tame resistance in the second half made it too easy for the home team to look like world beaters.
“The second half was one-way traffic,” conceded Ward. “We were pulled apart by a very good display from Tranmere. Our opponents played good, fast football but we did not respond with anything really positive.”
Ward made his dissatisfaction clear to the Colchester players behind a closed dressing room door for 20 minutes after the final whistle.
So let’s pause for a moment and bear in mind that any judgement about what this Tranmere team might be capable of achieving over the course of the season has to take account of the fact that the budget for players at Prenton Park is amongst the lowest in the division. Last season’s final table demonstrated that spending power can be as dominant factor in establishing the pecking order in football’s third tier as it is in the Premier League.
Even so, the early-season evidence from three wins and a draw suggests Moore is putting together a Tranmere team capable of punching above their weight and entertaining at the same time.
That is a potent combination at any level. Moore’s judgement in picking his signings and fitting players into a team pattern reminds you that he served nine years as assistant to Johnny King. The most successful manager in Tranmere’s history was a master in such arts.
Moore introduced extra pace and youthful energy into the squad during the summer by signing players such as Jean-Louis Akpa Akpro, Abdulai Bell-Baggie and James Wallace and made a priority of keeping his talented playmaker, Andy Robinson.
It was the pace and invention of those players, harnessed to the clinical finishing of teenage prospect Cassidy, that destroyed Colchester’s resistance.
Wallace and Liam Palmer decisively won the battle in midfield after an evenly balanced first half.
Bell Baggie, enjoying his first start on the right wing on a day when Jo Thompson was attending the birth of his child, worried the visitors’ defence to distraction. Akpa Akpro, though missing out on a goal, showed he has creative flair as well is pace while Cassidy fulfilled a pre-match prediction that: “I just need one goal to get me going.”
With left-back Zoumana Bakayogo marauding forward at every opportunity, Tranmere were able to get around the flanks of Colchester’s back line and through the middle where centre backs Magnus Okuonghae and Matt Heath struggled. The winning margin could have been more emphatic.
A rout did not look a likely outcome oat half time however. Tranmere lead at the interval thanks to Cassidy’s 40th minute strike but they could easily have fallen behind early on when Anthony Wordsworth headed wide of the near post and then saw his close range shot blocked by the body of goalkeeper Owain Fon Williams. It was an edgy start for the new centre-back pairing of Ben Gibson and Roman Golobart, a 20-year-old Spaniard who sign on a month’s loan from Wigan on Friday.
It took Rovers more than 20 minutes to find a rhythm. And in spite of Akpa Akpro going close with a header from Robinson’s free-kick and Wallace heading a Robinson corner against the upright, the concern lingered that a 3-0 Capital One Cup defeat at Aston Villa in midweek might have taken some edge off the team’s confidence.
The first gold changed of pattern of the game completely. Robinson, accelerating onto Wallace’s pass on the left, was fortunate to get a second chance to cross after his first was blocked. The delivery, sharp to the near post, was anticipated by Cassidy, who ran in front of his marker to glance a powerful header past goalkeeper Mark Cousins.
Four minutes after the restart, a pass from Wallace took a deflection that sent Cassidy running between Colchester’s centre backs to fire a low shot from the edge of the box into the bottom corner.
Akpa Akpro narrowly missed finding the net at the near post after Robinson sliced open the visiting defence on the right but a third goal arrived on 58 minutes. Akpa Akpro was the creator with a run down the left and a ball worked back inside for Bakayogo, who came charging through to drive a shot into the top corner from a dozen yards.
When Akpa Akpro cut through the visitors defence with another run from the left on 60 minutes, his low shot struck the post.
Then Robinson, creating more havoc from the right, drove a shot across the face of goal.
Colchester were looking shell-shocked by the time Wallace, pulling down a high bouncing ball and charging forward in the 77th minute, forced his way past two challenges, then played in a low ball to the near post for Cassidy to apply a crisp finish.
Colchester, it should be noted, made a couple of counter raids during the second half when Freddie Sears and Marcus Bean forced saves from Fon Williams.