A gritty performance from Tranmere Rovers saw them overcome the odds to beat promotion chasing Peterborough 1-0.
Chris Whelpdale had to be hurried back to fitness much sooner than Gary Johnson would have hoped and took his place in the starting line-up, out of position at right-back, due to an injury to Seth Nana. Grant McCann managed to make it back from Slovenia for 3 o’clock but was only fit enough to start on the bench with Charlie Lee taking his place in the centre of midfield. Jay Davies also took his place on the bench after breaking through from the youth team set-up.
Les Parry started both recent additions Jermaine Grandison, at centre back, and Arnaud Mendy who played in a defensive midfield position. Captain John Welsh missed out due to an injury as Tranmere lined-up in a fairly rigid 4-5-1 formation with Enoch Showunmi expected to use his presence up-front to bring other, deeper positioned, players into action.
The unfavoured hosts almost got off to a flying start when Ryan Fraughan’s cross was met by the head of Adam McGurk but Joe Lewis made a comfortable save, diving to his left. It was an early warning sign for ‘The Posh’ and it did nothing to increase the visiting fans confidence in the team’s ability to start well, with Peterborough’s first half performances so far this season being lacklustre.
The game settled after that. Posh were pressing but Tranmere were well organised and quite content to stay in the game in the early stages. Tranmere were putting Posh under a lot of pressure every time they had a period of possession and the away side were looking for the long ball far too often against a side that looked more like a basketball team than a football team.
‘Rovers’ direct approach almost paid off when Chris Whelpdale’s poor back header left Joe Lewis stranded but McGurk’s effort went straight across Lewis’ goal before Ian Thomas-Moore’s, who returned from injury, cross was headed over by Enoch Showumni who was winning the aerial contest against Peterborough’s two centre backs, Kelvin Langmead and Ryan Bennett.
Enoch Showunmi proved diffucult for the Posh defence to deal with.
An intricate piece of passing football almost created the first goal for Posh as the space appeared to open up for Aaron McLean, who was about eight yards from goal, after a clever back-heel from Arron Davies, but young Liam Darville got across well to block the dangerous front man’s effort.
Davies was then substituted with an injury to his right thigh, which was heavily strapped when he re-appeared on the Peterborough United bench, to be replaced by Dave Hibbert. It was a blow for Johnson’s side as Nana, Little, Mendez-Laing and now Davies, all right sided players, are all suffering from injuries leaving choices limited.
Tommy Rowe, who was performing well in the left-back position, had to do his fair share of defensive duties and when Ryan Fraughan fired a low cross-cum-shot across goal, after Chris Whelpdale was caught out, Rowe made an excellent clearance to turn the ball away from danger.
Tommy Rowe had a good game at left-back.
The game was a little stale with Tranmere seemingly happy at 0-0, still sitting deep and allowing Posh to play the ball around in their own half before pressuring the away team as they played in more threatening positions. George Boyd did have Tranmere goalkeeper, Joe Collister, worried for the first time, however, when his deflected cross looped over him only to hit the cross-bar. From the resulting corner Collister made his first save of the game, tipping a Ryan Bennett header over the bar.
Boyd almost pulled off the spectacular just before half-time but his delicate, long-range, chip went just wide of Collister’s goal. The visitors were becoming a little frustrated now and were resorting to long range efforts to try and break down Tranmere’s impressive resistance.
Tranmere, against the run of play, managed to take the lead on the stroke of half-time through ARNAUD MENDY. Adam McGurk collected the ball from a throw then turned Charlie Lee far too easily and had all the time in the world to calmly slot the ball into the path of Mendy, who was in an attacking position for the first time in the match, to stroke home his first goal in English football.
Arnaud Mendy scored his first goal in English football.
The goal would provide Tranmere with a lead to defend and allowed them to become even more defensive meaning Posh would have to be creative to find any way to break the home defence down.
Posh almost equalised deep into stoppage time when Craig Mackail-Smith latched onto a loose ball, that was smashed down field, ahead of Joe Collister, but Ian Goodison was in the right position to clear the danger with the last kick of the half.
The visitors, always better in the second half, came out with determined attitude and a George Boyd free-kick was drifted into the box but it eluded everyone and went out for a goal kick. Moments earlier Dave Hibbert wasted a chance, volleying wide of the target.
James Wesolowski went close to equalising but Peterborough were looking a little impatient and seemingly were running out of ideas. Gary Johnson needed to change things and therefore brought Charlie Lee off to be replaced by Lee Tomlin in an attacking switch.
Posh had five very attacking players on the pitch now – Tomlin, McLean, Boyd, Mackail-Smith and Hibbert – and the result was that they were unorganised and their attacks were easy to defend against. Grant McCann was next to come off the bench, to try and find an ever elusive equaliser, with Aaron McLean coming off. McCann, indeed, nearly did score with his first touch but the set-piece specialist’s free-kick was inches over the bar.
A flowing move by Posh, who were passing the ball around more freely with the introduction of McCann, resulted in James Wesolowski firing a volley at Collister but the goal-keeper was equal to it and clutched the ball to his chest.
James Wesolowski performed well in midfield for Peterborough today.
In the dying minutes Peterborough were throwing everything at Tranmere who were defending heroically. Dave Hibbert was to have the last chance of the game but his header was poor and went tamely wide of the target when he should have tested the goal-keeper in truth.
The final whistle from referee Steve Rushton, who was awful throughout, was greeted with elation from the Prenton Park faithful and frustration from the visiting fans. If we are to win promotion these are the sort of games we need to be winning with all due respect to Tranmere.
Our away form is becoming worrying, I thought we had solved our away jitters with a comfortable, and impressive, win against Plymouth last weekend but it seems not. This performance was very poor against an awful Tranmere side that just looked to smash the ball downfield at every opportunity.
The Posh need to learn how to battle and develop an ability to break teams down that are happy to defend with ten men behind the ball. Just like in the Championship, where we were found out, the way to play against us is to be physical, put our players under pressure, and counter when we attack after soaking up pressure. We cannot beat teams like this at this present moment in time.
Our first half form is also worrying; it is the worst of any team in the division, meaning we are reliant on our excellent second half form; which is the best in the division. We must start playing for ninety minutes otherwise automatic promotion will be a dream at the end of the season.
Even after this defeat we are only one point off the top of the division, as we were before this weekend’s fixtures, and we still remain one of the favourites for promotion. At the moment we are proving to be a little inconsistent, even within a game with one half’s performance being much better than another, but we will develop and gel as the season goes on. Also let’s not forget at this point, when we got promoted in 2008-2009, we were in the bottom half; we are far better positioned now and all is not lost.
Tranmere Rovers: Collister, Darville, Grandison, Goodison, Cresswell, Blanchard, Mendy, Fraughan, Thomas-Moore, Showunmi, McGurk (Brown 66).
Peterborough United Player Ratings
Joe Lewis, 6 – Did very little all game such was the nature of Tranmere’s performance. He probably touched the ball more times with his feet than with his hands. Stood no chance with the goal.
Chris Whelpdale, 4 – Isn’t a right back and got caught out more than once. Didn’t look match sharp due to his rushed return from injury and struggled throughout.
Kelvin Langmead, 6 – Dealt with Enoch Showunmi well. Wasn’t called upon too often.
Ryan Bennett, 6 – As with Langmead he simply didn’t have too much to do.
Tommy Rowe, 7 – The best Peterborough performance of the day. Defended well and got forward with pace, rarely giving possession away.
Aaron Davies, 5 – Did little before going off injured. Replaced by Dave Hibbert (5) in the 25th minute.
James Wesolowski, 7 – Battled away in the middle and kept possession well. Wasn’t supported by the abject Charlie Lee though.
Charlie Lee, 3 – Wasted Posh’s best chance of the match, firing over. Also was entirely at fault for the goal that allowed Tranmere to maintain a defensive approach which Peterborough struggled with. Substituted for Tomlin (5) in the 56th minute.
George Boyd, 5 – Was never in the game. A few pieces of skill where he had Tranmere’s right back mesmerised but nothing came off for him.
Craig Mackail-Smith, 6 – Ran tirelessly, as normal, and the Tranmere defenders were not comfortable when he was around. Didn’t have a good opportunity to score though.
Aaron McLean, 5 – Was marked out of the game and had no notable impact. Substituted for McCann (6) in the 71st minute.