Tranmere eased to a 2-0 win at Chester on Saturday, a result that condemned our Cheshire neighbours to relegation and cruelly kept our lingering dreams of winning the title just about alive.
There was much talk pre-match of what a great atmosphere there would be. A derby of old with two teams going blood and thunder with everything to lose. Rovers’ large following of around 1800 fans, the possibility of Chester being relegated and Tranmere’s promotion chances all adding to the excitement.
By 3pm on Saturday, it was like someone forgot what was on the line. The atmosphere was nowhere near that of last season. The home stands were sparsely populated and there was barely a peep out of them all game. You cannot help but feel sorry for the Chester fans given their current situation, but at least bring a touch of enthusiasm to the game.
Rovers were not exactly loud either, but the travelling support was excellent in terms of size. Despite being sold out, there were still seats available in the Tranmere stands.
On the pitch, it’s been a while since Tranmere played a game, so much so I have no idea whether this was an unchanged team from the last game or not. Rovers lined-up with Davies in goal, a backline of (R-L) Buxton, McNulty, Sutton, Ridehalgh, the midfield of Tollitt, Norburn, Hughes and Jennings with Cook and Norwood up top. Tranmere’s two frontmen have a good record against Chester, and you’d have predicted this continue in this one.
Sadly, the home side looked beaten before the game had even kicked-off. They did okay in the first half, Craig Mahon probably the most lively, while James Akintunde showed sparks of quality, but nothing threatening if the truth be told. There were no signs that this was a team ready to fight for survival.
Rovers didn’t get out of first gear all game, and despite a quiet first half, they were comfortable for the most part. Norburn and Hughes were exceptional in the middle, Buxton his solid best at right back. Twice Micky Mellon’s team went close to taking the lead in a first half not exactly awash with chances. Norwood headed against the post after a good ball in from Ridehalgh on the left, while Andy Cook also hit the post.
In first half stoppage time, Rovers did breakthrough, Jeff Hughes provided a typically precise cross to the back post for Cook to expertly guide a looping header across goal and in at the far post.
It was a lead we deserved at the break.
The second half was a continuation of the first. The home side offered little, and Rovers were safe – still no real increase in tempo, though it was strong and professional.
Tranmere doubled their lead midway through the half, Ridehalgh with a great ball forward toward Cook who was yards offside. However, he made no attempt to play the ball, and instead Chester defender Astles got a touch and set Norwood through on goal, the Rovers marksmen rounded the keeper and coolly slotted home before going to celebrate with the Chester fans, and then the Tranmere following.
As the second half went on, things opened up a touch. Tollitt sparked in to life with some outstanding runs up the right, cutting in and beating players at will. Buxton stung the keeper’s hands with a piledriver of a free-kick from 35 yards while Tranmere looked dangerous with every corner and set-piece.
There were no further goals as the game played out to a 0-2 success for Rovers, Chester’s fans silently ebbing away just as their National League status did thanks to a late winner for Solihull at Hartlepool.
Next up, Gateshead at home on Tuesday.