Aug 12 2013 by Nick Hilton, Main WIR
Last-gasp Ryan Lowe strike can’t paper over all the cracks for Tranmere
RYAN LOWE nudged Tranmere off the League One starting line with his last-gasp equaliser but no-one at Prenton Park could miss the flashing warning signs for roadworks on the journey ahead for Ronnie Moore’s new-look team.
After three games in eight days they continue to look like a project under construction rather than the finished article, with the essential foundation of a solid defence not yet in place.
The problems lie not just with the back line but in the way players from all areas go about their defensive duties, most particularly in defending set plays.
The Achilles’ heel from last season is as much of a problem as it ever was.
Moore kept his players locked in the dressing room for half an hour after they snatched a draw with Crawley, who probably thought they had done enough to merit all three points.
Crawley centre-back Joe Walsh scored goals following a free-kick and a corner and the second of them, on 81 minutes, looked like winning the game.
However, the men from Sussex have frailties of their own at the back, witnessed by nine goals conceded in three games so far this season. They were 30 seconds away from negotiating four minutes of injury time when Lowe produced a deft and instinctive finish at the far post from Evan Horwood’s deflected left-wing corner to hook the ball into the top corner of the net.
The home fans roared their relief but no one in the dressing room was in the mood to celebrate as Moore catalogued the flaws in Tranmere’s performance.
It was a match neither manager enjoyed because too many of the six goals and to many of the exciting moments were down to errors and failings at the back.
Crawley’s Richie Barker complained that his blood pressure is “going through the roof”. He added: “It was a fantastic advert for League One and entertaining I’m sure. But it does not do my health any good.”
Both teams, it should be said, played some bright and enterprising attacking football at times. Crawley have matched every goal conceded so far this season with one at the other end. Tranmere have overcome the chronic absence of a creative spark that afflicted them in the final weeks of last season and look capable of scoring goals in any company. But they have lost the discipline and resilience at the rear they showed through most of 2012/13.
The mixture of new arrivals and players from last season isn’t binding yet. The cracks and leaks are being exploited.
Tranmere conceded a goal from a set-play barely one minute into the new season at Walsall. This time it happened after 10 minutes, when Andy Drury swept in a free-kick from the right and centre-back Walsh escaped his marker to guide a powerful header into the top corner of the net. Rovers found an equaliser on the quarter hour, via route one. Goalkeeper Owain Fon Williams’ long clearance was flicked on by Akpo Sodje, cleverly chested down under pressure by Lowe and Joe Thompson took the ball comfortably in his stride, running past a defender before firing a low shot into the bottom corner from a dozen yards.
The success did not deflect Tranmere from their purpose of attempting to open up the visiting defence with passing and movement. Andy Robinson was at the heart of their efforts, roaming across the midfield. Thompson, a more confident and ambitious player than the one we saw last season, worried Crawley down the right.
Even so, Tranmere lived dangerously. Fon Williams had to make a good save from Drury’s 25-yard shot on the half hour then saved resourcefully with his feet after Billy Clarke exploited a mistake by centre-back Stephen Foster to get clear on the left of the box.
It Crawley felt a little aggrieved at going behind on 44 minutes they could not blame anyone but goalkeeper Paul Jones for conceding the goal. Jones, put under pressure by Lowe, miss-hit a hurried clearance straight along the ground to Thompson 35 yards from goal. The winger’s first touch took the ball past full-back Matt Sadler and his low finish beyond the reach of the advancing Jones from the edge of the box was clinical.
Crawley created and wasted two chances in first-half injury time, first when Sadler broke clear on the edge of the box but could not get any power behind his shot, then when Clarke got his feet tied up moving on to a low cross from the right by Drury that required nothing more than a tap in for a goal.
Tranmere failed to heed the warning and drifted deeper at the start of the second half, inviting the visitors to take the initiative. They exploited Rovers’ weakness down the flanks when right-back James Hurst got behind Max Power’s challenge to cross low from the byline on the right in the 55th minute, giving Clarke the easiest finishes from two yards. Moore introduced Jean-Louis Akpa Akpro for Sodje on 58 minutes and Jason Koumas on 64 as Tranmere attempted to regain control of the contest.
It was Crawley who looked more likely to score from open play. Ash Taylor, the more assured of the two centre-backs this time, twice made important blocks as Drury got behind the defence on the right.
Barker’s team got their noses in front on 81 minutes from another set-play, this time a right-wing corner.
Tranmere could clear only as far as Walsh on the edge of the box.
The centre-back was able to make space for himself and threaded a right foot shot through the throng of bodies and just inside the left-hand post.
Tranmere found the spirit to press Crawley hard in injury time. Koumas, finding a pass from his prime, curled diagonally over a line of defenders, gave Akpa Akpro a shooting chance which the Frenchman fluffed on 93 minutes. A minute later Horwood’s corner glanced off the heads at the near post and drop towards Lowe, lurking at the far post. It was the first clear-cut chance the striker has seen in three games and was in the roof of the net in a flash.
The afternoon could still have gone horribly wrong for Tranmere had Crawley substitute Gary Alexander not lost his footing just when he looked like he might exploit a misunderstanding between Fon Williams and Foster on the edge of the box.
TRANMERE ROVERS (4-4-2): Fon Williams, Holmes, Taylor, Foster, Horwood, Thompson, Atkinson, Power (Koumas 64), Robinson, Sodje (Akpa Akpro 58), Lowe. Not usded: Mooney, Goodison, Baggie, Rowe, Stockton. Goals: Thompson 16, 44, Lowe 90+4. BOOKINGS: Horwood, Power, Robinson.
CRAWLEY TOWN (4-4-2): P Jones, Hurst, Walsh, Connolly, Sadler, Drury, Simson, M Jones, Adams (Bulman 90), Clarke (McFadzean 84), Proctor (Alexander 76). Not used: Maddison, Rooney, Torres, Essam. Goals: Walsh 10, 81, Clarke 55.
REFEREE: Keith Hill (Herfordshire). ATT: 4,763
NEXT MATCHES: Saturday, League One, Crewe Alex v Tranmere (3pm); Saturday, August 24, League One, Tranmere v Peterborough Utd (3pm).