Normal service was resumed as far as Tranmere’s away form is concerned as they lost 3-0 at high-flying Mansfield yesterday.
The result leaves Tranmere five points adrift of the play-offs and with a defence that shows no signs of improvement on the road.
Adam Buxton returned to the starting eleven yesterday with Mark Ellis on the bench having struggled with a neck injury all week. New signing Ben Pringle was among the subs.
Mansfield started brightly, but Tranmere soon found their feet and it was a tight game. While the hosts had a little more quality perhaps, Tranmere matched them in most areas. We could have taken the lead as well with a couple of half chances, while Perkins was causing problems every time he ran at the Mansfield backline.
However, the game was to be dominated by the referee. He clearly wanted to be centre of attention, and he made the match all about himself. He had already given Micky Mellon a ticking off for something within minutes if the game starting.
Mansfield took the lead thanks to a softly awarded free-kick. It was brilliantly curled home by Jorge Grant, although questions may be asked of Tranmere’s wall.
Every decision went to the home side, with several Mansfield players going to ground easily. A strong ref would have got to grips with it early on and dealt with it, but as the man in the middle continued to give every single appeal or shout from the stands the way of the home team, Tranmere’s task grew harder.
Still, we were right in the game and we needed eleven men who were strong enough and disciplined enough to keep us in the contest. Ollie Banks was neither.
Around 30 minutes in, he flew in to a tackle which some refs may have been tempted to show a red card for. He was booked. Again, given the standard of the officiating and the home crowd’s tendency to sway his every decision, Banks needed to think about what he was doing and not give any opportunity for the ref to book him again.
Instead, the midfielder launched himself in to another crazy tackle under the nose of the official. It was unprofessional and plain stupidity from Banks. The ref couldn’t get the red card out quick enough – surprisingly, it was a second booking rather than a straight red. Mansfield’s players had crowded the ref and had a moan at every opportunity, and they circled around Banks and waved him on his way – literally, waved him.
Tranmere had a wonderful opportunity to equalise shortly before the break as Norwood headed well over from a corner when unmarked at the back post. The referee missed the fact that Manny Monthe was being fouled on this, and every other, set piece Rovers got.
As half-time drew nearer, the reffing got worse. Connor Jennings was penalised for controlling the ball with his shoulder, a decision of handball given. After the same player was pulled up for something else a short time later, both he and Norwood just laughed with disbelief in the direction of the referee.
Rovers remained in the game until after the hour mark when the hosts scored twice in three minutes on 64 and 67 to secure the points. Walker scored the first, tapping home after Davies had parried an earlier shot – McNulty literally stood by and watched the player run in to put past Davies.
Moments later, pretty much the same happened again. Jorge Grant – whose conduct was laughable throughout, a point picked up on by Mellon after the game – scored his second, tapping home after another Davies save. No defence in sight.
On Grant, there can be no doubt he is a real talent. He was brilliant on loan for Notts County at this level last season and has been performing well for Mansfield. But he needs to cut his diving out. When opposition managers are calling you out for it, you know you are earning yourself a reputation to not be proud of, and eventually you’d expect referees to begin taking note. That’s when it will be damaging to him and Mansfield.
As for this ref today, he wasn’t taking note of anything the hosts were doing. Perkins was smashed to the floor from behind when winning a header only for the ref to give nothing, while Jennings was repeatedly tripped and was maybe awarded only one free-kick.
However, while the ref made the game tough, Tranmere simply were not good enough. They need to improve defensively so they have a platform to build off in games. For all the effort and desire yesterday, there weren’t many chances in front of goal. Mansfield, to their credit, were good. They were better at Prenton Park earlier this season, but you can see why they’re competing in the top three.
Ben Pringle came on for a debut in the closing stages and showed some decent touches, not much to judge him off though. Man of the match for Rovers was David Perkins – the best player in a white shirt by a country mile.