Tranmere 1-0 Southport: Report

James Norwood made Southport pay the penalty as his spot kick secured Tranmere a 1-0 win at Prenton Park.

The striker’s second half goal was enough to secure the three points and lifts Rovers up into fourth place.

Gary Brabin’s side are well and truly on the march in the National League and have now won six of their last seven games.

And although the score may not be that convincing, they were good value for the victory.

This was the revival of a derby match that has not happened at Prenton Park since 1975.

Back then, a struggling Southport side came to the Wirral at the foot of Division Four, and they left empty handed as Johnny King’s side won 1-0 to stay top of the table.

Competitive meetings between the two sides were not so rare up until the 70s though, at which point the Sandgounders started slipping down the pyramid.

There have of course been plenty of pre-season fixtures dates in the intervening years, with Rovers regularly making the short journey to Haig Avenue in the summer months.

It has though taken until this season for the “Merseyrail Derby” to take place once again.

Perhaps the history between the two sides though, as well as the locality, is why a slightly larger than normal crowd was in attendance.

Southport brought a strong, vocal group of fans themselves, and they spent some of the early exchanges barracking Gary Brabin.

The Rovers boss has twice managed the Sandgrounders, and the club’s fans are still unhappy at the way he left to take up a role at Everton little over a year ago.

Now, he was forced into one change from the Tranmere side that beat Torquay last week, with an ill Adam Mekki replaced by the fit again Jeff Hughes.

The hosts started well and really should have been ahead within the opening two minutes after two great chances.

Lois Maynard had the first, running on to Gary Taylor-Fletcher’s beautiful lobbed pass only for Max Crocombe to rush off his line and save.

Michael Ihiekwe then headed over from the resulting corner before Mike Phenix came close at the other end, slapping wide across goal after slipping past Liam Ridehalgh.

There was then a lull in the action as each team made up for misplaced passes with a string of fouls that broke up any flow.

It was not until the 27th minute that Rovers created their next opening, but Hughes fired too close to the ‘keeper with a low effort from inside the box.

Southport then proceeded to finish the half the stronger of the two sides, but could not find a way past Scott Davies.

Twice he saved long range efforts, firstly a 25-yard free-kick from Adam Blakeman before beating away Paul Rutherford’s shot as the break approached.

Rovers started the second period in the same manner that they finished the first.

James Norwood thought he had won a penalty early on, only to be booked for diving after taking a tumble under pressure from Thompson.

Hughes then had another chance, slipped in by a delightful outside of the foot pass by Vaughan before shooting straight at Crocombe’s legs.

With their next attack, Tranmere finally got that spot kick.

The hosts did really well to keep some pressure on the Southport defence as they quickly worked the ball from left to right.

Lee Vaughan then swung in a cross and a clear shove on Taylor-Fletcher saw the referee award a penalty.

Norwood stepped up to take it, and he resoundingly thumped home into the bottom corner as the ‘keeper dived the wrong way.

That was just the break Rovers needed, as their fans were beginning to get restless.

They pushed for a second, with Maynard setting his sights on the bottom corner from 25-yards, only for Crocombe to palm away.

He had another go a few minutes later, this time from Vaughan’s cross, but he could only shoot over the bar from near the penalty spot.

Rovers had a huge let off with six minutes left when Liam Nolan blasted over the bar.

The midfielder was picked out in space near the penalty spot, but with all the time in the world, he leant back and failed to hit the target.

That was the signal for plenty of Southport pressure in the closing exchanges though.

Dino Maamria, the manager who has changed the club’s fortunes since taking charge in mid-November, threw men forward in search of a point.

But Tranmere’s defence is one of the more sturdy in the National League, and they were once again proving impregnable.

Steve McNulty had a superb game at the heart of it all, and he gobbled up any long ball that came his way.

And that helped Rovers hang on for a fourth win in a row for the first time in over three years.

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