Aug 26 2013 by Nick Hilton, Main WIR
Tranmere 0-5 Peterborough
TRANMERE’S first brush with strong, well resourced opponents who can be expected to challenge for promotion demonstrated how far they have to travel to be competitive in League One this season.
Rovers were outclassed and embarrassed by a Peterborough United team with quality to spare.
There was no shame in being second best to visitors who were in the Championship last season, and have won five out of five games so far, who have a wage budget three times the size of Tranmere’s and can field a couple of attacking players in Britt Assombalonga and Tyrone Barnett who were bought for transfer fees in excess of £1 million apiece.
The embarrassment felt around Prenton Park came from the way the home side gave away the decisive early goals through defensive errors and lapses, then, with the honourable exception of Andy Robinson, took their mauling with a whimper rather than a fight.
There were some mitigating circumstances. The home side were a man down for more than half the game after losing their right-back to a red card for the second Saturday in succession.
Andrai Jones’ 37th minute dismissal, for bringing down Barnett as the striker galloped clear in the box, was a straight red card, which carries a three match suspension.
It also resulted in a penalty, converted by playmaker Grant McCann, which put the visitors 3-0 up.
There was no realistic prospect of the 10 men mounting a comeback against opponents as talented and efficient as the Posh.
However, the damage limitation exercise of the second 45 minutes wasn’t robust enough to satisfy many fans, who began heading for the exits from the moment Rovers conceded the fifth goal on 68 minutes.
An inevitable round of booing from those supporters who remained until the final whistle sent the players into a fiery dressing room inquest.
Peterborough manager Darren Ferguson described his team’s performance as “very professional.” He went on: “Goals do change games and we were very clinical with the first two opportunities. It is very rare that you get one of these sorts of days at Tranmere.”
Ferguson talked about the need to reduce his large squad in numbers, in order to give developing young players a chance to progress. Tranmere, by contrast, did not have enough fit senior professionals to fill the bench, naming six substitutes rather than seven.
The problem at the heart of Rovers’ heaviest defeat since they lost by five at Swindon last December is the same one that’s been surfacing through all four games of the new League One campaign. The back four is porous.
It is not so much a defensive unit as a line of disconnected individuals who are taking it in turns to commit errors. Peterborough punished them with ruthless efficiency.
Manager Ronnie Moore, frustrated in his efforts to sign a centre back on loan last Friday, gave Ash Taylor and Stephen Foster another chance to show they can form an effective partnership at the heart of the back four.
Neither has looked comfortable on the left side of the pairing since the competitive games began. Foster, the more experienced of the two, started on the left and made a mistake that led to Peterborough’s opening goal on 30 minutes.
He was withdrawn at half-time and replaced by Ian Goodison.
Moore indicated afterwards that the 40-year-old Jamaican will be playing in tomorrow’s Capital One Cup tie against Bolton at Prenton Park.
Tranmere were also opened up down the flanks as the full-backs struggled to cope with the pace of their opponents and some penetrating long passing.
No-one battled against the tide with more commitment than Andy Robinson.
The skipper set an example in chasing, closing down and tackling that wasn’t matched elsewhere in the team, on an afternoon when Tranmere really needed the 33-year-old midfielder to be the creative force rather than the hardest working labourer.
Yet during the first half hour of the contest, Rovers looked like they would give the Posh a run for their money.
Indeed, in the 20 minutes between the first and second Peterborough goals, Rovers looked the more dangerous side and missed a couple of clear-cut chances.
The opening goal, on 13 minutes, was a calamity.
Foster had time to choose his pass as he took the ball out from the edge of the penalty area.
But he delayed so long that Lee Tomlin was able to close in and charge down his clearance. Tomlin then ran down the loose ball and crossed it back into the box.
Peterborough had players to spare and Assombalonga was able to step over the ball and allow Tommy Rowe to apply the finish into the top corner from a dozen yards.
Soon afterwards Ryan Lowe, chipping over an unguarded goal after Peterborough keeper Bobby Olenik mishit a clearance and Jean-Louis Akpa Akpo, with two stabs at Robinson’s left-wing cross, threatened an equaliser.
The game began to move out of Tranmere’s reach on 34 minutes when Peterborough’s burly centre back Michael Bostwick was allowed to galloped forward from the halfway line, skip past two tame challenges on the edge of the box and lay a pass to the left for Barnett to rifle into the far corner of the net.
Three minutes later Craig Alcock’s long ball from the back found Barnett running goal side of the pursuing Jones.
The full-back’s desperate tackle sent Barnett tumbling.
It was a cast-iron penalty although the red card brandished by referee Jeremy Simpson may have been a little harsh. McCann, who ran the game from midfield, converted the spot kick with a shot driven snugly inside the right-hand post.
Tranmere, with Max Power deployed as an emergency right back, survived a couple of close shaves before Danny Kearns’ deflected free-kick broke kindly for Assombalonga to walk into the net on 58 minutes.
Peterborough substitute Mark Little arrived to heap more misery on Tranmere.
The full-back’s exceptional pace ripped through the left side of the defence and he finished with a blistering low shot into the far corner of the net on 68 minutes.