Feb 17 2014 by Nick Hilton, Main WIR
WHAT you put in is what you get out. Well that’s how the phrase goes but in this case Tranmere didn’t reap the rewards their endeavour warranted.
When Preston visited Prenton Park last weekend they simply outplayed the home side in every department and ran out 2-1 winners; a defeat deserved.
Ronnie Moore’s men looked to bounce back at Ashton Gate and went in search of their second consecutive away win.
And on the balance of play, with the chances created and their use of possession, it ought to have been all three points Rovers were taking back North.
A victory was deserved this time but a point is all they would get in an otherwise entertaining game.
City boss Steve Cotterill labelled this their biggest game of the season, a sentiment shared by Moore as only goal difference separated the two sides at the tail end of League One.
Traditionally, Rovers have struggled at Ashton Gate but having won five of their eight victories this season on the road, there was reason to be hopeful.
Moore reverted back to a 4-5-1 formation and this allowed Steve Jennings, Jason Koumas and James Wallace to flourish. It worked well initially.
The visitors dominated in the early stages as Koumas was given the time to pick his passes.
City on the other hand were lethargic, slow to press and wasteful in possession – a start worlds away from the one that dismantled Leyton Orient 3-1 in midweek.
However, in a similar fashion to the Ashton Gate surface, Tranmere’s hopes quickly dissipated.
Sam Baldock, albeit in fortuitous circumstances, put the home side ahead on 13 minutes with his 17th goal of the season.
A long diagonal ball from Marlon Pack picked out the 24-year-old and, with a burst of acceleration, he was away from Liam Ridehalgh. What followed can only be described as a fluke. The skipper’s fierce cross travelled the length of the crossbar, over a helpless Owain Fon Williams and into the back of the net via the back post.
In the past, Rovers may have hit the panic button but what experience gives you is a sense of composure and with Koumas, Tranmere have that in abundance.
The former Welsh international kept Rovers in the tie with his precise passing game and another sharp ball released the lively Matthew Kennedy on the left.
After skipping the attentions of Karleigh Osbourne, the youngster slipped the ball to Wallace. At first it appeared the skipper had skewed the cross but it fell kindly to Jake Cassidy. The striker’s first touch was excellent and it gave him the space to carve out an opening. Dutifully, he smashed his effort high into the net from close range to hand Tranmere an equaliser six minutes after conceding.
A boisterous home crowd fell silent and it could have been worse for the Robins.
Tyrone Barnett almost gifted Cassidy a second in the 44th minute as he quickly intercepted the City forward’s wayward back pass. But the striker’s first touch was poor and the chance was wasted.
Nonetheless, Rovers were on top. Kennedy looked dangerous and in the closing stages of the first 45, his cross fell to Ryan Lowe at the far post.
So often the attacker scores the important goal but this time he fluffed it wide after Cassidy’s flick-on.
Moore’s side emerged from the break and struggled to replicate the tempo displayed in the first half. City attempted to inject some much-needed pace and with the introduction of Wes Burns, they contrived to go back in front.
Jennings added that necessary steel in front of the back four and received a nasty bump on the head for his efforts. While he was bandaged up, the break in play allowed Rovers to regroup.
The experienced midfielder epitomised the visitors’ determination and desire with a series of crunching tackles that raised the noise levels considerably.
But the ball was locked in midfield for much of the second period as the game looked like it would flicker out.
Derrick Williams ignited the flame once again as he grabbed his first senior goal.
Baldock turned provider as he slalomed his way into the box. Standing up a cross to the far post, former Aston Villa defender Williams was in the right place to nod home in the 78th minute.
Head in hands, it looked like the game would end in defeat for Tranmere.
But seconds later, Rovers surged forward and Kennedy again illustrated the rousing rawness that has excited many supporters this season.
With a shimmy to the right and a couple of slick step-overs, he carved out a cross. The ball was only half cleared and fell to Koumas 20 yards out.
The midfield maestro opened up his body and caressed the ball into the top right corner, giving Moore no chance. Cue delirium in the away end.
It was Koumas’ first goal since returning to Rovers and it was one richly deserved given his gallant display.
In the final minutes, Lowe could have sealed a remarkable turnaround when he cut in from the left but he was unable to find the far corner as his effort drifted disappointingly wide.
Separated by goal difference beforehand, it’s as you were in the battle to beat the drop but Rovers showed they have the stomach and nerve for the fight ahead.
If they can continue in this vain, Moore’s men will get what they deserve come May.