MAX POWER sparked Tranmere’s surge back into the League One title race as five-star Rovers took their frustrations out on Colchester in some style on Saturday.
Coming into the match on the back of four defeats, Ronnie Moore’s side shrugged off their recent woes and put Colchester to the sword, hitting five for the first time since September.
Power started the rout with a vicious strike and while Magnus Okuonghae levelled for the U’s, Rovers romped home thanks to goals from Jean-Louis Akpa Akpro, Ash Taylor, Cole Stockton and a late Michael O'Halloran penalty.
Travelling Rovers fans were left basking after their side served up this long overdue goalfest, having seen their promotion hopes steadily ebb away after defeats to Swindon, Shrewsbury, Leyton Orient and Carlisle.
Key for Rovers was keeping all 11 men of the field. Against Shrewsbury and Carlisle, Moore was left to rue red cards that had stunted his side’s promotion ambitions and while he has been vocal in bemoaning his injury list, Tranmere are now back up to third after this win, a point behind leaders Sheffield United.
Losing hot-shot Jake Cassidy and Ben Gibson back to their parent clubs hasn’t helped but injuries to captain James Wallace, winger Adam McGurk and Danny Holmes have decimated Rovers in recent weeks.
But now Tranmere are turbo-charged again and it was Power who got them up and running in spectacular fashion on 11 minutes.
Andy Robinson’s corner was cleared only as far as Power and the midfielder returned the ball with interest, firing a right-foot volley through a crowd of players and past hapless U’s keeper Sam Walker.
By that stage Rovers had already threatened with Robinson whipping in a couple of early crosses and new signing Mamady Sidibe causing problems in the Colchester box.
The U’s also had their own bright moments, Ian Goodison was called upon to make a few crucial interceptions, not least to prevent Jabo Ibehre from running through on goal.
After Power’s opener, the U’s responded and Gavin Massey crept in behind Michael Kay on 17 minutes but Rovers keeper Owain Fon Williams was equal to his curling effort.
Sidibe’s impressive debut then continued and he headed goalwards soon after following a good build-up with Akpa Akpro but Freddie Sears almost levelled things up after a swift Colchester break.
Power’s cross-field ball struck Robinson in the face and the U’s capitalised, sending Sears through to the right side of the area but the former West Ham United youngster saw his strike deflected wide.
The warning signs for Rovers were clear though and just before the half-hour mark, the hosts restored parity.
A Colchester free-kick was deflected straight into the path of Okuognhae, who rifled home.
Back came Rovers and Robinson unleashed a fine effort that just fizzed past the top left corner from 20 years while Zoumana Bakayogo raced clear but fired just past an upright.
But Rovers did retake the lead on 41 minutes when Akpa Akpro showed Tranmere just what they had been missing while he was suspended.
U’s defender Josh Thompson allowed a long ball to bounce and the former Rochdale forward hooked the ball past the onrushing Walker and into the empty net.
After the break, Massey fired over when well placed for the hosts before Tranmere got themselves a two-goal cushion on 65 minutes – and it was Sidibe again who played a key role.
The veteran forward won a free-kick and the ball was worked out to Kay who whipped in a cross and defender Taylor powered home a header for just his second goal of the season.
Stockton then replaced Sidibe and he was straight into the action, heading into Walker’s arms moments after coming on and then repeating the trick soon after from a Robinson corner.
Colchester tried in vain to force themselves back into the match but Rovers had Fon Williams to thank for maintaining their 3-1 lead as he kept out Ibehre’s downward header on 82 minutes.
And three minutes later, Tranmere put the match to bed. Stockton turned on the edge of the area and fired in a right foot shot that beat Walker into the bottom left corner.
Rovers weren’t finished there. Freed from the shackles with victory already sealed, they went in pursuit of a fifth and it duly arrived in stoppage time.
O’Halloran ran on to a ball over the top, rounded Walker and after trying to turn back towards goal he was brought down by Thompson.
The Bolton Wanderers loanee dusted himself down and sent Walker the wrong way from the spot to put the finishing touches to a thumping win for Rovers.