Tranmere Rovers striker James Norwood is enjoying quite the season so far. We’re only three months in and the Tranmere number 10 is already up to a dozen strikes to his name in League Two after he bagged another brace to see off fellow promotion chasers, and one of his former clubs, Exeter City at Prenton Park.
Quite a feat for a player who, before this season, had barely kicked a ball at this level. But it certainly doesn’t look that way after he found himself in the right place at the right time to get on the scoresheet again on Saturday.
After a 5-1 win over Crawley last weekend, unsurprisingly, Micky Mellon opted for the same 11 players in the same system to go up against the high-flying Grecians.
Larnell Cole, who impressed so much last week, was again in the ‘number 10’ position behind Norwood, with Connor Jennings and Paul Mullin running the flanks.
It was a fairly even start to the game, both sides trying to get the ball down and play and the first chance of the game fell to the visitors.
City’s number seven Lee Martin got through down the right and was through on goal. Scott Davies came out and made himself big and produced an excellent block from a powerful effort by the diminutive winger.
That would be the first of a number of crucial saves the Rovers number one would make during the game.
A few minutes later, there was a great chance created at the other end of the pitch. Jake Caprice got himself forward and whipped in a delightful cross to the back post. Jennings was there and steered the ball goalwards only for Exeter ‘keeper James Hamon to produce a good save to prevent the ball from crossing the line.
A number of dangerous crosses from the left followed, as Adam Buxton was joining in the play in attacking areas. But his far post deliveries were slightly too high for Paul Mullin coming in from the wing to get his head on to.
Mullin then had an effort from distance on his left foot, cutting in from the right, he tried his luck but couldn’t get the direction on his shot and it went into the stand behind the goal.
The number nine was at the heart of the action again on 31 minutes when Tranmere took the lead.
He picked up the ball on the right hand side and sent over a lovely cross which Norwood got his head to and with a delicate flick header, diverted the ball into the corner of the net despite Hamon getting his fingertips to it.
Rovers controlled the remainder of the half with no real goalscoring opportunities created, the sides going in at the interval with Micky Mellon’s men a goal to the good.
It was a quick start to the second half, Tranmere going for the second goal to give themselves a bit of breathing space.
They have an opportunity to double the lead on 51 minutes when Caprice again bombarded down the right at pace, he pulled the ball across the penalty area when Jennings found himself in a bit of space. He took a touch and then fired a low, powerful shot on goal which Hamon superbly parried away down to his left.
At the other end, Davies made another smart save to deny Matt Jay who had tried his luck from fully 25 yards with a low daisy cutter which the Rovers goalkeeper saved low to his right.
But soon after, Rovers did double the advantage.
Larnell Cole picked up the ball in midfield and tried his luck from 30 yards with a rasping effort. It was a superb strike from the former Manchester United man, but just inches away from scoring himself, instead, the ball bouncing off the post and straight into the path of Norwood who had the simplest of tasks to steer the ball into an unguarded net with the goalkeeper stranded on the floor. Statuesque defending by the Grecians allowed him the freedom of Prenton Park, a strange move given his prolific start to the season.
The visitors still looked a threat and didn’t let their heads drop despite the deficit they faced.
Good play down the right resulted in a low effort firing across the face of goal, once again, though, Davies was on hand, literally, to palm the ball away from danger with another good stop.
With 17 minutes remaining, their task of getting back into the game was made a lot harder as they were reduced to 10 men.
Already on a yellow card, Dean Moxey put out his arm to stop the ball flying past him as Caprice set off on another rampaging run down the channel. The referee had no option but to hand out a second yellow card and the experienced full back had an early bath.
Manny Monthe, a rock at the back as usual alongside skipper Steve McNulty, broke out of defence with the ball. He went unchallenged until midway inside the Exeter half when he produced a superb cross-field pass to find substitute Jonny Smith. Smith jinked his way past a couple of challenges before firing a shot on goal, but it lacked a bit of zip and Hamon made a comfortable save.
Davies was determined to get another clean sheet, still after goalkeeper coach Eric Nixon’s club record, and he produced another excellent save just before the end to keep the clean sheet in tact.
It was a powerful strike which seemed destined for the back of the net, but the former Morecambe and Fleetwood man was quick with his reactions and somehow parried the ball away from goal.
Another three points, then, for Rovers, and another excellent display against a good side who will be up there challenging.
From 1-11, it was an excellent performance and lifts Tranmere up to fourth in the league table. And with just one defeat against the current top seven (we’ve played all of the other six teams currently occupying those places), who knows where the season may take us?