Tranmere are back at Wembley for the National League play-off final again after twice coming from behind to beat Ebbsfleet United at Prenton Park.
A crowd of around 9,000 attended Prenton Park on a boiling hot day which was filled with anticipation, nervousness, concern and then euphoria. It was a game that left Rovers’ fans exhausted but happy.
Adam Buxton came through training okay on Thursday and returned to the starting eleven. There were no other surprises in the team selection as Tranmere lined-up; Davies, Buxton, Ridehalgh, McNulty ©, Sutton, Hughes, Norburn, Ginnelly, Cole, Cook, Norwood.
Tranmere flew out of the traps and dominated the opening exchanges. Prenton Park was stunned in to silence however after around16 minutes when a lovely move allowed Luke Coulson to brilliantly head the visitors in front.
We may have feared the worst, but the lads weren’t chucking the towel in.
They fought back, and eventually a superb low shot on the angle from James Norwood brought Prenton Park to its feet. Noise levels grew. Game on at 1-1.
Ebbsfleet’s pointless time wasting continued – it would be their downfall.
They did go back in front, Sutton and Davies having a lapse in communication that allowed experience winger Myles Weston to roll the ball in to an empty net from the edge of the box. He ran the full length of the pitch to celebrate.
The lead was short-lived. Ginnelly – enjoying his best performance in a white shirt by some distance – picked up the ball on the edge of the box, skipped a challenge and drilled a stunning effort in to the bottom corner of Ashmore’s net. 2-2.
Game on again, and the fans were lapping it up. Better than most games you’ll see four divisions higher. Entertaining, nervous and frankly brilliant.
As the sun bore down the game visibly slowed, and it allowed Rovers to begin dominating possession. There would be no breakthrough before the end of the 90, and we’d go to extra time.
The pattern continued as Mellon’s team bossed possession, though chances for both teams had dried-up. That was until Larnell Cole was fouled around 25 yards from goal. Step forward, James Norwood.
Nors sent an unbelievable curling effort in to the far corner, Ashmore able to do no more than flick it on to the inside of the post. For the first time, Tranmere led. And Prenton Park was rocking like the old days.
The interval came shortly after, and within a minute of the re-start Wembley was almost in touching distance. More neat passing on the edge of the box allowed Ridehalgh, Norwood and Hughes to link up with Cole, Hughes eventually the one to feed Cole around 30 yards from goal.
The winger danced his way toward the box, dropped a shoulder, cut on to his right and rifled a piledriver at Ashmore. It was fast, powerful and swerving everywhere. Ashmore could do nothing as it hit his shoulder and slammed in to the top corner.
Now we believed. Now Ebbsfleet’s time-wasting disappeared. All it had done was assure the game went to extra-time – in this heat, they were never going to be able to compete following their excerptions on Wednesday. Serves them right.
One flash-point remained, as Dave Winfield reacted to a poor Jay Harris tackle by trying to head-butt the Rovers midfielder. He was rightly sent-off, Harris booked for his reaction. McNulty and Sutton flew in to back their team mate up. This is passion. This is team spirit.
Erix Nixon was sent to the stands following a bust-up in the technical area, Ebbsfleet’s player-coach Aaron McLean also sent packing.
It ensured Rovers would play the remaining 10 minutes or so with a two-goal lead and a one-man advantage.
The final whistle was greeted with joyous scenes in the stands.
On the pitch? Well, polite applause and the obligatory “We’re going to Wembley” flag held up purely for the benefit of BT Sport and the National League title sponsors.
There were no dressing room scenes like last year. This time, it was calm, quiet, focussed. Rovers mean business. They’ve got a shot at redemption, and they’re desperate to take it.
All photos kindly supplied, and copyright of, Richard Ault/talru.com.