Tranmere kept up the pressure on Macclesfield Town and Sutton United at the top of the National League, as two goals from Andy Cook inspired them to a 3-1 win over Eastleigh on Saturday.
It was a lunchtime kick-off at Prenton Park as the BT Sport cameras screened live coverage. Micky Mellon made several changes from the team that performed so poorly at Boreham Wood last week, with Monthe, Traore, Harris and Ginnelly all replaced. The latter two did not make it on to the bench.
Jeff Hughes, Ollie Norburn, Ben Tollitt and Ritchie Sutton came in to replace them, and it was Sutton who landed the first blow after only five minutes.
A corner from the right was aimed directly on top of the goalkeeper. A quick game of pinball saw the ball ricochet off Connor Jennings toward Sutton, who shoved the defender out of the way to hook the ball home from close range.
The visitors then had the best of the game in terms of possession, and some superb goalkeeping from Scott Davies kept them at bay. After the criticism Davies has had in recent weeks, it’s also worth noting he pulled off a fine double save when the game was still at 0-0.
Tranmere’s attacking threat for the next hour was offside – be it Norwood, Cook, Tollitt or Mangan when introduced, they were all flagged as being offside in numerous occasions.
Rovers sealed the three points – or so they thought – on 78 minutes, Cook converting at the second attempt after a great through ball fro sub Mangan. Cook did have the ball robbed from him by the defender, but when he was clattered by his own goalkeeper, the Rovers man was able to take a touch and smash the ball in to the roof of the net.
Typically, it wasn’t plain sailing as it should have been. The visitors got a slice of luck when a low ball in to the box from the right pinged off Sutton and Buxton to give veteran striker Chris Zebroski a tap-in from close range. It was his first goal of the season.
As Eastleigh throw a defender upfront and pushed for an equaliser, again Davies was called in to action with a smart save down to his left.
The game entered stoppage time with Tranmere struggling to get out of their own half, but when they did, that man Cook made the points safe. The ball was forced back to the Eastleigh keeper on the edge of his own box. His aimed to kick long upfield, but his clearance was shanked somewhat. It dipped on to the halfway line for Jeff Hughes to knock back in to the path of Cook.
The striker out-muscled a defender and took one touch before hitting the bouncing ball with tremendous power and accuracy from all of 35 yards. The half-volley was heading in one place – the top corner. The keeper (former Arsenal man Graham Stack) back-peddled a few yards but had no chance of getting near it.
Points safe, and what a way to hit a 20th goal of the season for Cookie.
The faintest of faint title hopes remain there, as Mellon’s side moved back to third place.