Tranmere left it late to grab a well-deserved point at Rotherham United on Saturday as Stefan Payne scrambled the ball home in the fifth minute of stoppage time to secure a 1-1 draw.
Rovers went into the game with an injury and suspension list which is growing by the week. Banks and Blackett-Taylor were suspended while right-back Kane Wilson and striker Morgan Ferrier had joined the list of injured this week.
Tranmere did finally have available Callum Woods and Jacob Maddox who were among the subs hoping to make their debuts, while young Aston Villa loanee Rushian Hepburn-Murphy returned to the squad after a three-match ban. Sid Nelson returned to the starting eleven while Paul Mullin and Stefan Payne started upfront.
The first half was a tight one, scrappy for the most part. The hosts started fairly brightly but picked up an injury within five minutes. The lad who was introduced as a result was certainly lively up the right wing and would keep Liam Ridehalgh occupied for much of the first period.
Arguably, Tranmere created the best chances of the half. Morris was a threat on the right wing, but it was corners and free-kicks that created most of the problems for the Millers. The best opportunity fell to Paul Mullin who raced through on goal after a quickly taken free-kick on half-way. The keeper made a smart save to deny him, but the ref then inexplicably pulled play back to the original incident.
Our referee was a Mr Andy Haines. Recognise the name? He’s the guy who sent James Norwood off in our win over Lincoln last season, while he also officiated games against both Bury and Crawley away last term. He was at his fussy best today, sadly.
Into the second half and it was Rovers’ turn to start strongest. Micky Mellon’s team upped the tempo and spent five minutes or so knocking it around really well. Darren Potter and David Perkins in midfield were excellent, while the first half battling of Payne and Mullin – which had ruffled a few feathers – continued, but the pair would tire as the half went on.
Rotherham came into the game soon enough and began to look the more dangerous. With their tails up and the home crowd buoyed, it made for a really decent atmosphere. The New York Stadium is a great ground as well, by the way. It holds the atmosphere well and somehow has more character than most new stadia. The stands are steeper and have more shape to them.
Anyway, back to it, the hosts were on top. They were having most joy up the wings but the end product was lacking. Manny Monthe was outstanding at the back while Scott Davies was solid as usual in goal. All round, we looked pretty comfortable.
Frustratingly, our resolve was to be broken. A ball in from the left wasn’t quite cleared and was re-worked to Ben Wiles who smashed the ball into the roof of the net. A smart finish and the ground erupted.
We’re not going to pick up on this like sour grapes, but given the comments from Rotherham’s manager and players about our equaliser following the game, it needs to be mentioned. There was a blatant handball in the build-up to the Millers’ goal. Paul Mullin had knocked the ball past Ihiekwe on halfway only for it to hit the defender’s hand and fall back to the possession of the home side.
From there, the move evolved and ended up with the ball in the back of Tranmere’s net. It wasn’t the only thing ref Haines missed on a day when he managed to infuriate both sets of fans.
Mullin was replaced soon after by Hepburn-Murphy. Payne looked shattered too, but he stayed on the pitch and continued to add a physical threat. It was to pay dividends, but not until Rotherham goalkeeper Daniel Iversen had tried to get him sent off with some embarrassing and frankly disgraceful play acting. The officials all looked blankly at each other.
If there’s one thing we know about Tranmere since Micky Mellon arrived nearly three years ago, and that’s that they simply don’t know when they’re beaten.
In the fifth minute of stoppage time, Rovers would clinch what could be a priceless point. Morris wriggled away from his man on the right side, the defender then stopping to claim the ball had gone out of play (the whole ball didn’t – check the replays closely).
From there the ball was crossed back into the box and after bouncing around for a second or so, Stefan Payne prodded the ball in to the bottom corner.
It was the cue for absolute pandemonium behind the goal. Payne ran around the back of the goal and across the jubilant Rovers contingent. He had deserved his goal for his tireless, physical approach.
Few teams celebrate points on the road like Tranmere, and as hordes of fans spilt on to the pitch the rest of the near-1000 following leapt for joy, hugged and made a whole lot of noise. It ended up in the corner, fans, players and a staff member or two celebrating together on the pitch. Yes, we know fans aren’t meant to be on the pitch and all that, sorry. But that’s what this team does to people.
Sid Nelson (who was excellent, by the way, before being subbed) and Paul Mullin legged it down the touchline from the bench to join in, actions which earned them yellow cards. Wonderful yellow cards though. To the few on social media who suggest something isn’t right with the team spirit this season, maybe take a look at the aftermath of the goal and reassess.
There’s been something special about Rovers for a few years now, and when that ball hits the net away from home, we make sure we enjoy it. A 95thminute leveller at a team expected to be in the play-off shake-up is especially rewarding. I’m sure it won’t be the last time we see it this season.
Just to clarify the offside shouts as well, while Connor Jennings is offside, he doesn’t touch the ball nor impede the goalkeeper in any way. Payne is level.
The play finally restarted with stewards still trying to regain what little control they had in the away end. There wasn’t long enough left for anything else to happen and the SWA greeted the final whistle with another massive cheer.
There was a special moment at full-time as well, as each of the players were given a hero’s ovation by the travelling masses.
Micky Mellon stood and applauded for a good while, and while there was no fist pump, there was a brief fist in the air. The only person who stood for longer was Scotty Davies in goal. The Rovers skipper stood gazing toward us while applauding the fans for what felt like several minutes. The admiration was mutual as the SWA sung his name. He is magic after all, you know.
It’s our first point on the road this season and how enjoyable it was. Back to Prenton Park next weekend for a big one against Gillingham.