Tuesday night was Tranmere Rovers in a nutshell. Fantastic travelling support, signs of promise, flickers of quality, only for the same old problems to re-surface and hopes of three points to be dashed.
Here were the key take outs from the game.
Eddie Clarke – Anyone who has witnessed young Eddie’s progression through the youth teams at Tranmere won’t be too surprised to see how well he has dealt with senior football in his few appearances. Clarke had an excellent game last night and was probably the best player on the pitch for Rovers. He claimed an assist on the second goal with a fantastic run and cross from the left, while his energetic display also put the hosts on the back foot a few times in the second half. Frankly, he put many senior pros to shame.
Andy Cook – When Tranmere get in to the final third, you cannot help but urge them to get the ball to Andy Cook. The big man was superb for the most part last night, working hard and causing problems. Macclesfield ignored the warning signs when Cookie brought the ball down on the edge of the box and fired a shot toward goal early on in the game, and when he got the chance to try it again, he clinically did what he does so often – find the back of the net. He is the most natural goal scorer in the squad.
Counter attacking – Rovers look dangerous on the break, and in the first half especially, they caused the hosts problems by doing so and scored two goals from it. They should have added a hatful in the second half mostly playing on the break too.
Pressing – Macclesfield looked a strong side, their centre backs excellent at bringing the ball out from the back. However, on the occasions when Rovers pressed and harried, the ball would inevitably be gifted back to Micky Mellon’s side, or the hosts would aimlessly punt the ball out for a throw-in.
Ollie Banks – The midfielder on loan from Oldham looks handy. Some really classy play in possession suggests Tranmere have got the services of an excellent player for the next few weeks.
Defending – Make no mistake, since Tranmere arrived in the National League a couple of years ago, they have consistently had one of the tightest defences in the league. However, the hosts created many chances last night and Mellon’s side just fell deeper and deeper as the game progressed. The signs are, the defence now needs some work. We miss pace at centre back, and while Adam Buxton was solid for much of last night, the fact is we don’t have a good enough attacking outlet or pacey right-back to deal with opposition attacks.
Cook and Norwood – In isolation, Cook and Norwood are both popular with TRFC fans, and well they should be. However, the constant tinkering by Mellon of the front two seems to have hampered the understanding between the two. For example, Cook won a load of flick-ons last night that ran through to the keeper because Norwood was 10 yards or more away from his strike partner. They need a run of games together, and some work on the training ground to build the partnership.
Norwood’s finishing – We love Nors, and his goals have been vital since he joined the club. However, last night he should have bagged a hat-trick in the second half and once again came away with no goals to his name – and Tranmere certainly paid for the missed chances. The first of his second half chances saw him take the ball on the half-volley just left of centre, and while hindsight helps, you cannot help but feel he should have taken a touch and then walloped it low. He had the time. Credit the keeper for saving the close-range effort at the back post, but the chip over the keeper that cleared the goal was another miss – yes he earned the opportunity himself, but work the keeper and/or hit the target.
McDonagh and Banks bust-up? – Gerry McDonagh squandered an excellent opportunity last night at 2-2 in stoppage time. Gifted with the ball to the left of goal on his left-foot, the on-loan Forest man tried to cut on to his right foot instead of fizzing the ball goalward or even across the face of goal. It was a huge waste. However, at full-time it appeared as though team mate Ollie Banks angrily questioned McDonagh’s decision which left them both forehead to forehead needing to be separated by teammates. It’s good that it matters so much, but perhaps not want you want to see toward a young striker clearly struggling with confidence already.
Injury time – What is it with this club and conceding late goals? It happened last night, it happened on Saturday – it seems to have been happening for years. Was it down to defending too deep for too long? Lack of fitness? Lack of focus? Whatever it is, it’s unacceptable.
The referee – Dear oh dear, National League referees. Last night’s refereeing display was another of utter incompetence. The most bizarre moment of the night came when a lofted cross-field pass was aimed at Macclesfield’s right full-back. Connor Jennings appeared to push the player as he went tumbling down and the ball sailed over everyone’s heads for a Tranmere throw-in.
It was either a Rovers throw-in or a Macc free-kick, there was no other decision to be made.
Clearly stumped by the situation, the referee blew his whistle very late, gave no indication as to what the decision was, and strolled over to where the players involved were standing, perhaps asking himself exactly why he had blown it. It was almost embarrassing as frankly it appeared as though he didn’t have a clue what to do. In the end, he spoke to the players involved and gave Macclesfield a throw-in. Absolutely perplexing, and summed up another atrocious official.