Tranmere Rovers FC’s FA Cup run ends with 5-0 defeat to Derby County
IT TAKES a certain kind of person to remain determined to enjoy themselves when everything goes wrong on their big day out.
Around 1,700 of such stoical souls turned up in support of Tranmere at Pride Park on Saturday, and it was just as well they could find alternative ways of keeping themselves cheerful.
The football did not offer much joy on an afternoon when Rovers went out of the FA Cup by pressing the self-ejector button.
A third round tie that was closely-contested during the first-half became a comfortable stroll for the Championship team after Tranmere gifted them three goals in 21 minutes either side of the interval.
The resistance of the League One leaders dissolved after that and Derby helped themselves to further goals, including one by a 16-year-old Mason Bennett.
“We are going to win 6-5!” chanted the throngs in the visitors’ enclosure in the 89th minute, chins up to the last.
The bottom line for Tranmere followers was that league points were not at stake on Saturday. Nothing matters more to the hearts and minds now than prospect of their team achieving promotion for the first time in more than 20 years.
So the damage to morale, inside and outside the dressing room, from this heavy defeat should be less severe than from the 5-0 hammering Rovers took in the League at Swindon Town during the week before Christmas. Certainly the team performance was not a shambolic as that unhappy night at the County Ground.
Indeed, there was much to satisfy manager Ronnie Moore and his coaching staff in the 42 minutes before Tranmere conceded the opening goal, as they effectively held in check a Derby team standing three points off a Championship play-off spot, by virtue of some assured and diligent defending.
The wheels began to come off when goalkeeper Owain Fon Williams made an uncharacteristic handling error to serve up the opening goal on a plate to Ben Davies, three minutes before the interval.
Hesitation and misunderstandings in clearing balls from inside their own box surrendered further goals to Conor Sammon on 54 minutes and John Brayford on 63 and suddenly Tranmere looked the part of naive visitors from a division below. Further goals by Jeff Hendrick on 73 minutes then Bennett on 87 encouraged the home fans to taunt the visitors by chanting: “Championship? You’re having a laugh”.
Moore will want to be sure his team can recover their defensive poise as effectively as they did in the three games following the Swindon defeat, which yielded three straight wins with just one goal conceded. The sequence of matches in January pitches Tranmere against some of their keenest rivals in the promotion race: Crawley Town, Coventry City, Brentford and a return date with Swindon.
Tranmere do have some form for yielding to opposition from higher divisions in the major cup competitions this season. They lost 3-0 at Villa Park in the League Cup, when they were unable to live with Aston Villa’s slick passing and movement.
Derby presented them with no such problems at first. With Ash Taylor and Donervorn Daniels coping impressively at the heart of the defence, Liam Palmer and Max Power working effectively in midfield and Michael O’Halloran and Cole Stockton running hard up front, Tranmere could claim to be marginally the more impressive side in the opening 45 minutes.
But goals change games, especially uneventful ones.
There looked to be little pressing danger when Paul Coutts drove in a low shot from the right hand corner of the box that Fon Williams seemed to have covered. But the Welsh goalkeeper allowed the ball to squirm under him and Davies followed in to force it home.
Nine minutes into the second period Daniels got himself into a tangle attempting to clear from the goalmouth, explaining afterwards that he was afraid of kicking defensive partner Taylor in the head and ended up offering the tall centre forward Sammon a free shot, which was thrashed home.
Nine minutes later Zoumana Bakayogo got himself into similar difficulties attempting to clear a corner and Derby right-back Brayford helped himself to a third goal.
Tranmere’s attempts to create openings at the other end of the pitch were rendered immaterial by that stage. O’Halloran put in a typically unstinting front-running effort and Stockton, replacing the departed Jake Cassidy, fired a couple of fierce efforts narrowly wide after turning his marker.
But Rovers were not able to carve out a clear-cut opening or test goalkeeper Adam Legzdins.
While Derby had better players than Tranmere will come up against most weeks in League One, there were times when the hosts may have been shown little too much respect.
Fon Williams will not have been happy about allowing Hendrik’s shot on the turn from the edge of the box to run across him and find the bottom corner for the fourth on 73 minutes.
The final insult was delivered by substitute Bennett, although the teenager’s goal was the best of the five.
He was too quick for Tranmere’s defenders in breaking through the inside right channel to drive a fierce low shot into the far corner from 25 yards.