Aug 19 2013 by Nick Hilton, Main WIR
NOTHING is going according to the script for Tranmere. Manager Ronnie Moore recruited some much-needed defensive cover by signing Andrai Jones a few hours before kick-off at Gresty Road and after little more than half an hour had to send the Barnsley defender on in an emergency caused by Danny Holmes’ dismissal for two bookable offences.
Rovers, having more than held their own in the early phase of the afternoon, conceded the all-important first goal to Ryan Colclough three minutes before the break and were thereafter in the unenviable position of trying to chase the game with 10 men.
They made such a good job of it that Crewe Alexandra were grateful to hear the final whistle.
Moore, critical of the way his team performed in the first two League One games of the campaign, had few complaints this time.
It wasn’t just the spirit Tranmere showed in the face of adversity that pleased the manager. The defending was more disciplined and composed than in recent matches and there was plenty of determination and resourcefulness on display in the way the visitors took the game to Crewe during the second 45 minutes.
Rovers conceded a second goal to talented teenager Colclough on 85 minutes, seconds after Jean-Louis Akpa Akpro came close to equalising.
The blow prompted many of Tranmere’s 800-plus travelling fans in the Ice Cream Van Stand to head for the exits. So they missed Jones making an overlapping run down the right to set up Tranmere’s goal for Akpa Akpro on 87 minutes. They also missed Akpa Akpro flashing a volley just wide in injury time that so very nearly rescued a point the visitors.
Ultimately the handicap of playing with a man short for around two thirds of the match proved too much for Tranmere.
They could not have any complaints about Holmes’ dismissal. The first yellow card for a challenge from behind on Byron Moore came after eight minutes. Holmes survived another foul tackle on Moore with a telling off from referee Andrew Madley shortly afterwards but he was walking on eggshells.
When the right-back caught Anthony Grant with a late tackle on 34 minutes, there was never any prospect of Mr Madley showing leniency again.
If Tranmere’s best chance of taking some reward from the contest was dashed by the red card, then Holmes’ own cause was also damaged. Jones, who is on loan for a month, will take the right-back spot for the next match, a League One encounter with Peterborough United at Prenton Park next Saturday, when Holmes is suspended.
Jones looks like a full-back with a natural inclination to push forward in support of the attack. He also has a long-ish throw, which proved a useful alternative for a team reduced to 10 men.
Tranmere may have been a goal or two to the good by the time Jones joined the action.
They were agonisingly close to taking a sixth minute lead when Crewe centre-back George Ray back-headed Andy Robinson’s corner against the underside of his own crossbar. The ball bounced down close to the line before being cleared and there were no appeals from the visiting players that it had gone in. In the absence of goal-line technology, which won’t be available in the lower divisions, we can never be sure.
Tranmere had one or two moments of discomfort at the back early on and gave away more free-kicks than the manager would have been comfortable about. Joe Thompson picked up a yellow card for tackle from behind on Matt Tootle, so it was no surprise the winger was the player sacrificed when Jones was introduced.
Rovers could not capitalise on a clear-cut opportunity to take the lead on 33 minutes when Ray allowed a long clearance from Owain Fon Williams to bounce over his head, giving Akpa Akpro a clear run on goal. The Frenchman’s low shot was blocked by the legs of advancing goalkeeper Alan Martin. Seconds later Holmes was dismissed and the 10 men went behind on 42 minutes.
They were punished for their failure to close down Colclough as the winger made space on the edge of the box to fire a rising shot which brushed the fingers of the goalkeeper on its way into the roof of the net.
Moore restructured the shape of his team in the second half, keeping both Ryan Lowe and Akpa Akpro up front and moving Andy Robinson to the heart of a three-man midfield. Substitute Jason Koumas took on Robinson’s role for the final 20 minutes.
The ploy, made workable by a lot of hard graft, helped Tranmere to take an unexpected initiative. There was so much on top that Crewe did not have a second-half shot at goal until the 67th minute.
Akpa Akpro worried the home side with his pace and tenacity and began to link up with striking partner Ryan Lowe to some effect.
Tranmere took their turn to be rescued by the woodwork when Crewe substitute Max Clayton clipped Kelvin Mellor’s cross from the right against the right-hand post on 78 minutes.
If Akpa Akpro been able to direct his header a yard either way when meeting Evan Horwood’s corner, Rovers might have been level. As it was the ball sank into the goalkeeper’s midriff and Crewe broke to score a second goal on 85 minutes.
The visitors were undone by Moore’s cross from the right and Colclough had time to steady himself and apply a crisp finish from 10 yards.
Tranmere’s response was swift. Substitute James Rowe found Jones in space down the right and the full-back’s sharp, low cross was turned on by Akpa Akpro at close range.