Sep 9 2013 by Nick Hilton, Main WIR
Adam Dugdale’s assured debut helps Tranmere Rovers ndefence stay firm against Stevenage
ADAM DUGDALE made a solid and assured debut at the heart of the back line on an afternoon at Prenton Park when Tranmere were able to take a positive view of just about everything except the result.
Rovers played well enough to merit a first home win of the League One campaign and had to settle for a single point largely because their persistent efforts to break Stevenage down resulted in two strikes against the woodwork but no goals.
The result left Ronnie Moore’s team still needing to make up some ground to move away from the bottom end of the early-season table.
But the big upside to the performance was the improvement in the defending, which has caused Tranmere most concern over the last six weeks.
Those concerns were reflected in two unforced changes to the back four from the side beaten 2-1 by Fleetwood Town in the Johnstone’s Paint Trophy last Tuesday.
Ash Taylor found himself left out of the line-up in favour of Dugdale, who made a belated start to his loan from Crewe Alexandra alongside Ian Goodison at centre-back.
There was also a change at right-back, with Danny Holmes replacing another loan player, Andrai Jones, while Jason Mooney pulled on the goalkeeping gloves in place of number one Owain Fon Williams, who was absent on international duty with Wales.
Dugdale, a 25-year-old Liverpudlian with close to 100 games behind him, settled quickly. He did the simple things well and won most of his headers.
Significantly, after Goodison was forced to come off feeling the twinges of a hamstring on 59 minutes, Tranmere looked just as secure with Taylor and Dugdale in partnership.
The Prenton Park regulars, who have become used to watching games with their hearts in their mouths this term, were able to enjoy a largely stress-free 90 minutes.
Mooney, keeping a clean sheet in his second senior outing, as he did in the first against Bournemouth last April, did not have a difficult save to make.
He was grateful on one occasion for a resourceful block by Dugdale and by Luke Freeman’s failure to find the target with a shot on the turn in the second half that represented Stevenage’s best opportunity of the game.
Otherwise, Tranmere snuffed out any threats to their goal with reassuring efficiency.
Next Saturday’s visitors Brentford may ask a few more questions of the defence than Stevenage, who made their ambitions obvious with a 4-5-1 formation and went home with the point they came for.
They were disciplined, diligent and dull. Manager Graham Westley said: “We worked hard to get a clean sheet. Our organisation on the whole was good. The work ethic was good. Our attacking football was probably lacking on the day.”
Tranmere, it should be said, were sometimes less than exciting themselves. But they were mostly positive and never anything less than energetic and determined in their efforts to find a way through, or around, the layers of cover in front of them.
The sluggishness of the midweek performance against the Cod Army was replaced by football of a more urgent tempo, established by the industrious midfield trio of Chris Atkinson, James Rowe and Max Power.
Recalled winger Joe Thompson, operating wide on the right, took a little time to settle into the pace of the game but caused Stevenage some problems in the second half.
Tranmere made the first of three penalty claims in the 19th minute when Ryan Lowe nicked the ball off Jon Ashton inside the box. Ashton’s retrieving tackle caught Lowe but the video replay suggested the centre-back won the ball.
Six minutes later Rowe’s close range shot from a right-wing cross from Lowe was blocked by a defender.
Striker Jean-Louis Akpa Akpro, making wriggle room on the left-hand edge of the box, thought he had made the breakthrough with a curling right foot shot in the 33rd minute. But the ball struck the foot of the right-hand post and bounced to safety.
Goalkeeper Chris Day could not hold a fizzing 30-yard shot from Atkinson and was grateful to see another effort from the midfielder fly just wide. Evan Horwood narrowly missed the target with a 20-yard free-kick on the stroke of the interval.
Stevenage’s best response was a shot driven narrowly wide by Freeman, following a run from the right.
Full-back Horwood rattled a 20-yard shot against the foot of the upright 13 minutes after the restart.
Tranmere’s second-half pressure was sometimes let down by a disappointing final ball. None of the loose balls or ricochets dropped the way of the attackers.
Referee Craig Pawson was unimpressed with a couple of penalty appeals late in the game, first from Lowe, who went down under a challenge from Michael Doughty, then when Taylor toppled over in a sandwich between two Stevenage defenders in trying to reach a corner from Atkinson that was too high for all of them.