Tranmere were beaten for the third time this season having gone down to a 2-0 defeat at Bristol Rovers tonight. That doesn’t begin to tell the full story though.
Micky Mellon’s men matched the hosts in the first half in what was a scrappy, stop-start game thanks to some questionable officiating. Referee Gavin Ward ruined the game as a spectacle giving some bizarre decisions for and against both teams.
Tranmere had the first good chance of the game as Corey Blackett-Taylor’s through ball seemed to play Connor Jennings in, but the forward stayed on his feet despite being clipped in the box and the chance went begging. This was a match that if you did not go down, you weren’t getting a decision.
That’s the one area of the game were the hosts did look competent, Clarke-Harris consistently drawing free-kicks by falling to the ground with the merest of contact. While the official was too soft to see what was happening, you have to also apportion blame to Tranmere’s back four who just did not wise up to it and continually gave the ref the opportunity to give decisions, which he took.
The home team missed a fine chance around about the half hour mark as a striker headed wide from a right-wing cross when totally unmarked. Tranmere’s left side seems to be a regular weakness, and again, lessons were not learned.
On 39 minutes, another cross was fired in from that side and Clarke-Harris was left all alone to head smartly across Davies in to the far corner. It was probably the only time in the game when the forward didn’t waste possession in the final third.
It knocked the stuffing out of Tranmere and Mellon’s men couldn’t muster a response before half-time.
In to the second half, and Mellon had a tinker with the system. Morris seemed to have moved to the left with Blackett-Taylor joining Ferrier up top. It could have been interesting.
However, another nothing foul awarded by the ref on the halfway line bizarrely brought a stupid reaction from Blackett-Taylor who pushed a Bristol Rovers player on the forehead. Unsurprisingly, the player leapt backward to the floor dramatically. There’s no debating, it was a blatant red card and highly unprofessional.
Unfortunately for Tranmere, things would only get worse.
Ollie Banks had not enjoyed a good night, regularly giving the ball and soft free-kicks away. He’d been booked in the first half and within minutes of the first red card, the midfielder clumsily went in late on a Bristol Rovers player. Again, the opposition player hit the deck embarrassingly. Again though, it was a nailed-on second yellow. Not the first time Banks’ petulance has hurt Tranmere (see Mansfield away last season).
There were remonstrations after the event that the booking he received in the first half should have gone to Kane Wilson and that it was in fact shown to the right back, so it may change in the coming days. Unlikely though, you’d have thought.
With Banks and Blackett-Taylor out of the way, Tranmere took a couple of minutes to settle before really growing in to the game. Bristol Rovers looked a poor team, and their lack of quality and confidence afforded Rovers time on the ball.
Ferrier was constantly outnumbered four or five-to-one upfront, which made it difficult. That said, inside the last ten minutes Rovers wasted a golden opportunity as Monthe somehow headed well over the top despite being unmarked from a Ridehalgh free-kick.
A couple of late tackles on Tranmere players went without even a free-kick because they stayed on their feet, one was particularly late on Perkins. While it’s commendable that we’re trying to do things right, clearly we’re going to have to wise up and begin to ‘win’ some free-kicks as the home team did when officials are as bad as tonight’s.
Scott Davies pulled off a great save when the hosts broke and went clear on goal in the closing stages, but there would eventually be a second goal late on after George Ray’s clumsy tackle gifted a penalty to Bristol Rovers which was converted.
Big lessons to learn for Tranmere and still some concerns in most areas of the pitch. We need to sort the defence out as a priority while we seem to lack any sort of help in central midfield for Perkins. You cannot help but think we need an Andy Cook-type target man to hold the ball in the final third more effectively too.
The one positive from tonight is probably Bristol Rovers. On this showing, they seem to have illustrated that there are teams at this level who are pretty poor, something which should give us confidence that we will keep our heads above water. However, we ourselves need improvement, not least on the disciplinary front.