Dec 30 2013 by Nick Hilton, Main WIR
OF the many loan players to have pulled on the Tranmere shirt in recent years, few are regarded as highly as Jose Baxter – but yesterday, almost inevitably, the 21-year-old was a central figure in his former club’s demise.
Bootle-born Baxter scored the killer second goal at Bramall Lane as the Blades carved out a home win which saw them leapfrog Rovers in the League One table, leaving Ronnie Moore’s men uncomfortably close to the drop zone heading into 2014.
It had been an even contest for much of the first period but Baxter, who played 14 times for Tranmere during a successful spell on loan from Everton in 2011-12, helped tip the balance in favour of the hosts when he scored early in the second half.
The goal – Baxter’s fourth in five games – settled the home crowd’s nerves and allowed Nigel Clough’s team to go on and see out a deserved win.
Rovers had fallen behind as early as the eighth minute when a Baxter corner was headed into the path of Jamie Murphy eight yards from goal.
Murphy, with his back to goal, did well to fend off Evan Horwood and wriggle into a position to fire a low shot beyond keeper Owain Fon Williams.
Two minutes later, Ryan Flynn fizzed a right-footed shot from long range just past Fon Williams’s far post.
But as the half wore on, the visitors grew in confidence, with Jason Koumas and Andy Robinson getting on the ball at every opportunity.
The Blades were indebted to centre-back Harry Maguire on 20 minutes when Ryan Lowe threatened to level the score.
He nipped in ahead of keeper George Long on the right-hand edge of the area and tip-toed his way into the box, only to see Maguire block his goal-bound effort on the line.
There was a brief scare for Rovers soon after when Murphy’s cross from the right was sliced by Liam Ridehalgh on to his own crossbar.
Luckily for the on-loan Huddersfield defender, the ball smashed against the woodwork and bounced away to safety rather than over the line.
A fine through-ball from Robinson presented Lowe with another clean sight of goal on 31 minutes.
The veteran striker made solid contact with a right-footed shot but his effort lacked direction and Long was able to push the ball away.
The Blades rallied toward the end of the first period and pinned Rovers back.
Ash Taylor was in the right place at the right time to block a header from McGinn before Danny Holmes picked up a muscle strain and had to be replaced at right-back by midfield man Max Power.
The second half was only two minutes old when Rovers had a chance to draw level following another piece of uncertain play by Long.
The keeper chipped a clearance to an under-pressure Robinson, whose hurried left-footed lob drifted wide.
The next goal was always going to be crucial – and it was the Blades who got it.
Baxter made no mistake from a dozen yards when Chris Porter broke free down the right wing and rolled an inch-perfect pass into the path of the former Everton man.
Fon Williams had his palms stung by a fierce drive by Michael Doyle two minutes later as United went in search of more goals.
Their third of the afternoon duly arrived on 67 minutes when Flynn set off on a rampaging run down the left. He drove into the penalty area and pulled the ball back for Murphy, who made no mistake with a crisp finish that gave Fon Williams no chance.
Tranmere’s Welsh goalkeeper was called into action 10 minutes from time, diving to his right to produce a fine one-handed save from Porter’s powerful drive.
There was still time for Rovers to grab a consolation when Taylor seized possession of a loose ball following a Koumas free kick and smashed a low shot past Long for 3-1.
With a minute remaining, substitute Jake Kirby shaved the top of Long’s crossbar with a 25-yard volley – but the fightback had begun too late for Rovers and the hosts saw out the subsequent five minutes of added time with ease.