Tranmere Rovers 1 Notts County 1: Rovers have to settle for point after being pegged back
TRANMERE Rovers have become specialists at drawing strength from adversity this season and they had to dig deep into their reserves of willpower and resourcefulness at Prenton Park last night.
The point they took against Notts County may seem like one of the least remarkable scorelines of Rovers’ campaign so far, particularly as it arrived just four days after Saturday’s 5-1 win at Colchester United. But in the overall scheme of the season, it may prove to be a valuable result as it came on a night when many of Tranmere’s top-six rivals suffered a wobble.
Ronnie Moore had already been dealt a pre-match blow with the news that Stoke City loanee Mamady Sidibe – who performed so well at Colchester – had been ruled out for a fortnight with a hamstring injury. So the last thing the Tranmere manager needed last night was to lose his two most experienced campaigners – Andy Robinson and Ian Goodison – to injuries inside the opening half-hour.
The hosts fought bravely for the remainder of the game with a youthful line-up and came close to taking all three points, only to be denied by a County equaliser 16 minutes from time.
The draw kept Rovers third in the League One table, just two points from the summit. What a difference to this time last year, when Moore arrived at Prenton Park to replace departed boss Les Parry with Tranmere facing a battle to avoid relegation.
Moore kicked off his reign with a 1-1 home draw against County – so there was a perfect symmetry to last night’s result, which came just a week shy of the first anniversary of the manager’s return.
Livewire forward Michael O’Halloran had the first sight of goal in last night’s encounter. His pace took him in behind the County defence but the on-loan Bolton striker’s shot from a tight angle was pushed away to safety by keeper Bartosz Bialkowski.
The Magpies were fresh from beating Bury 4-1 in front of the Sky Sports cameras on Friday evening and they had their share of chances.
After a scramble in the Rovers penalty area on 22 minutes, Paul Corry was required to produce a superb last-ditch block to deny the dangerous Francois Zoko from opening the scoring.
The first goal of the afternoon arrived seven minutes later. It was O’Halloran who did most of the hard work, turning sharply on the halfway line and running at the County defence before playing a perfect pass for Abdulai Bell-Baggie. The former Reading winger – handed a start in the absence of the injured Sidibe – did the rest, sliding in to beat Bialkowski with a neat finish.
The goal drew a determined response from the visitors, who spent much of the remainder of the half on the front foot. Alan Judge curled a free-kick towards the top corner of Owain Fon Williams’ goal on 37 minutes but the Welshman was equal to it, diving high to his left to palm the ball away for a corner.
A minute later, Zoko wriggled past Donervorn Daniels – on as a sub for Goodison – on the right and pulled the ball back for full-back Julian Kelly, whose shot was blocked by Fon Williams.
The final say of the first half was had by Tranmere forward Cole Stockton, pressed into service from the bench following Robinson’s departure. The teenager muscled his way past a defender and fired a 20-yard effort inches wide with Bialkowski well beaten.
The first chance of the second half also fell to the feet of Stockton. He collected a stray pass in midfield from Judge and raced towards the County goal. But with Jean-Louis Akpa Akpro running into acres of space to his right, Stockton chose to shoot from 20 yards and saw his effort blocked by a defender.
County enjoyed the majority of the territorial advantage and possession for the closing stages.
They found the goal they had been striving for 16 minutes from time. Judge – an expert at dead-ball situations – whipped in a fantastic cross into the box and Neal Bishop glanced a header past Fon Williams into the far corner of the net.
The away side – who harbour outside chances of making the play-offs – finished the game in command and spent the last 10 minutes pushing for a winner.
They almost got it when sub Jeff Hughes found space in the box and curled a left-footed effort off the outside of the post.
TRANMERE ROVERS: Fon Williams, Kay, Taylor, Goodison (Daniels 26), Bakayogo, Bell-Baggie (Black 78), Corry, Power, Robinson (Stockton 11), O’Halloran, Akpa Akpro. Subs: Holmes, Harrison, Amoo, Mooney. Booked: Power. Goal: Bell-Baggie 29.
NOTTS COUNTY: Bialkowski, Kelly (Hughes 63), Liddle, Leacock, Sheehan, Judge, Boucaud, Bishop, Campbell-Rice, Zoko (Bencherif 90), Cofie (Arquin 63). Subs: Smith, Waite, Spiess, Blyth. Booked: Judge. Goal: Bishop 74.
REFEREE: Scott Duncan (Newcastle).
NEXT MATCH: Yeovil Town (A); Saturday, March 2 (3pm); npower League One.