Tranmere 1-2 Braintree: Report

If it had not already dawned on Tranmere fans how far they had fallen in recent years, then this game surely rubbed it in, as another limp display led to a 2-1 home defeat to Braintree.

Just three seasons, Ronnie Moore took his Rovers side, flying high at the top of League One, to Essex to take on The Iron in the FA Cup.

The fixture was well and truly billed as a banana skin back then, with the hosts treating it as a cup final and dishing out half and half scarves.

As it was, a young Tranmere side romped to a 3-0 victory.

Now, three years later and with Rovers two divisions lower, some fans still see this as a mismatch.

But Town came to the Wirral one place higher in the table than Gary Brabin’s side, and boasting the National League’s second best defence, having conceded just 18 times in 22 games.

And they were by far and away the better side at Prenton Park, as they put in a solid display that outlined Tranmere’s defensive frailties and attacking shortcomings.

Rovers made four changes from last week’s 0-0 draw with Boreham Wood, three of them enforced by injury.

None of Gary Taylor-Fletcher, Jay Harris and Liam Hogan were fit enough to play, whilst Ben Tomlinson also missed out.

Ritchie Sutton, Andy Mangan, Adam Mekki and Liam Ridehalgh came into the starting line up as Beabin opted for a 4-4-2 formation.

And it was one of the replacements who made an immediate impact as Tranmere took an early lead.

Mekki was the scorer – though he certainly did not mean it after finding acres of space on the right.

The winger danced past two defenders before whipping in a deep cross.

The ball into the box was overhit and nowhere near an attacking white shirt, but it deceived everyone as it cannoned off the far post and bobbled into the net.

Going ahead so quickly was just what the doctor ordered and so often what the hosts have struggled to do this season.

But it did not last long, as barely two minutes later Braintree equalised.

Danny Sparkes found plenty of space on the left hand side of the box, and he lashed home across Scott Davies.

For the remainder of the half, chances were few and far between.

But the Rovers defence always looked prone to being cut open, and so it proved on 24 minutes when Braintree took the lead.

The ball, via a delightful dummy, was worked imaginatively to Sparkes from a quick free-kick on the half way line.

He in turn played it to Simeon Akinola who leathered home from then yards.

The reaction from the crowd was inevitable. Boos rang around Prenton Park, whilst every failed pass or cross was met with growing frustration.

Many were left with heads in hands when Sutton skewed wide when it was easier to hit the target from a deep corner shortly afterwards.

And then Norwood also had a great chance to level as the break approached, teeing himself up after a neat one-two with Lois Maynard.

However, as has been all too familiar this season, the forward fired straight at the ‘keeper when presented with a one-on-one.

Half-time saw Gary Brabin try and shake things up.

Adam Dawson, who has been greatly missed for his width and trickery over the last two months, made his return from a groin injury, coming on for Liam Ridehalgh.

Yet despite his arrival, it was still Braintree who shaded the action.

The Iron had one great early chance as Michael Cheek beat the offside trap and found space in the box, only for Davies to rush off his line and fist clear the shot.

Dawson did get an opportunity to show what he is capable of though, with one marauding run down the left resulting in a delicious cross into the middle.

Andy Mangan met it, practically underneath the crossbar, but he somehow managed to head over.

The Braintree chances continued to outweigh those of the hosts though.

Cheek could have buried the game when he was put through one-on-one, but he slipped at the vital moment and shot wide.

Alex Woodyard then had a dig from 30-yards, but could only shoot straight at Davies.

At the other end, Norwood had one chance, nodding off target from Matt Hill’s cross, whilst Mangan clipped wide at the near post late on, but that was as close as they came.

Braintree’s defence remained stong, but they were rarely troubled in truth by a side short on both confidence and goals.

And so, even when five minutes off added time were signaled, the visitors were not clinging on.

Instead, they were expertly executing a game plan that led to Tranmere’s eighth defeat of the season – and a fifth on home soil.

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