There are games during the football season that you look at as being pivotal, and ahead of Tranmere’s trip to Exeter this weekend, the game was certainly one of them.
Make no mistake about it; every Tranmere fan and player would have almost certainly settled for a point before the match but coming away with all three has now put Rovers in an outstanding position going in to the final 11 games of the season.
Micky Mellon made one change to the starting line-up with Jonny Smith coming in for Kieron Morris who was presumably injured.
Tranmere started the match on the front foot, perhaps catching their hosts a little off-guard. For some years, Exeter have been a footballing side – it started under Paul Tidsdale and has continued under current manager Matt Taylor. However, it means they try to get the ball down and play from the back and through midfield.
Rovers did not let them settle on it for the first 10-15 minutes and so we found ourselves on the break and gifted possession regularly. There were a few early chances, a Mark Ellis header, a succession of shots blocked after a corner and a ball flashing across the face of goal inches away from the toe of Norwood.
Around the half-hour mark, Tranmere got the goal they deserved. Centre back Mark Ellis picked up possession midway inside the Rovers half and floated a beautiful through ball in to the path of Norwood. The former Exeter forward took a shot early on his left foot and saw the ball deflect off the defender and totally wrong-foot the City keeper.
There were no more chances of note in the first half for either team, although the home side’s introduction of Jonathon Forte before the break did liven their frontline up.
In to the second half, and the game changed. City finally got in to their grove and played out from the back. Despite their possession, they didn’t really show any signs of harming Rovers. Probably through until the 75th minute, Monthe and Ellis were comfortable. McCullough in the heart of midfield was the proverbial fire blanket, dousing any hint of danger before Exeter could even think about their next move.
The introduction of Nicky Law and Hiram Boateng did make things more interesting and brought the best out of the hosts. Their build-up play was still a little laboured which allowed Tranmere to get behind the ball and in to shape, however, Boateng did add some urgency.
Mellon replaced Smith with Gilmour in what looked like a switch to 4-5-1. While it invited pressure, it also ensured Tranmere’s shape remained solid.
After playing for so long without troubling the Tranmere centre backs, Exeter seemed to target Bakayogo and Caprice for the last ten minutes. It brought some joy as the home side forced a lot of corner kicks and a few free-kicks.
Rovers were more than equal to it. The back four were brilliant, Ellis and Monthe the shining lights with monumental displays.
Their spotlight was somewhat taken off them by the man behind them though. Scott Davies has been in outstanding form once again recently, but he would produce two saves in the closing stages that secured the victory. One of the saves in particular would be in the world class bracket if it happened in the Premier League.
Rovers eventually saw the game out for a huge three point. Four clean sheets in five and now back-to-back home games to come. Things are getting incredibly interesting.