Aldershot 0-0 Tranmere: The Verdict

The form of Steven Jennings and Tranmere seem to go hand in hand.

When the captain is playing well, so is his team, but when he is faltering, inevitably the pattern continues with Rovers.

So it was perhaps unsurprising that in his absence at Aldershot on Saturday, Gary Brabin’s side stumbled to a 0-0 draw.

Indeed, Jennings has not always been so valuable to the side at some stages of the season.

He received vehement, and at times unjustified criticism from some sections of the fans earlier in the campaign, but has, by his own admission, turned his form around in 2016.

Coincidently, that timeframe matches with when Rovers started their relentless run towards the play-offs with four successive wins, and just one defeat in seven.

However, after accumulating ten yellow cards this season, the midfielder sat out the first of a two-match ban at the Recreational Ground.

Tranmere were troubled in his absence.

There is no natural replacement in the squad who can do that “dirty” work that often goes unnoticed; mopping up in front of the back four and giving Lois Maynard and Jay Harris the freedom to venture forward.

Jeff Hughes slotted into a central position to cover for him, but the system was lacking something – a bit of bite or poise.

The Northern Irishman did not have a particularly bad game; he just does not do the same job.

Instead he prefers to push forward and get in and around the box, a role that was stifled by his new role.

It is a measure of how far Tranmere have come in recent weeks, mind, that Gary Brabin describes a point at Aldershot as “not the end of the world.”

And he is right. A result that extended Rovers’ unbeaten run to five and consolidates their place in the top five certainly cannot be sniffed at.

But at the same time, the manager branded the performance as “tatty” and “disappointing” as his side struggled in the final third.

It is a fair assessment of a display that did feel like a step back for the visitors.

They lacked intensity and cutting edge of recent weeks, and no matter how much they huffed and puffed, the ball just would not fall for them.

Lois Maynard managed the only effort on target, slapping low towards the near post in the 47th minute, only for Phil Smith to comfortably save.

There were a handful of other efforts, with the visitors certainly growing stronger in the closing stages.

Hughes really should have done better when cutting inside on his weaker right foot, only to fire over the bar.

Meanwhile substitute Gary Taylor-Fletcher nodded wide late on after being picked out by Lee Vaughan’s whipped cross.

But there is perhaps a sense of irony in Rovers playing a side with the word “shot” in their name, yet having so few of them.

One plausible explanation for this was the positioning of James Norwood, shoved out wide in the first half to accommodate debutant Michael Higdon.

The striker has made a habit of creating chances for himself in recent weeks, playing on the shoulder and making menacing runs in behind.

But he had much less freedom on the flank and struggled to burst into the game.

Once pushed up top after the break, the top scorer became more involved and had a hand in creating Maynard’s chance.

However, the forward himself was unable to find any shooting opportunities for himself.

Whilst Rovers rarely threatened themselves though, things were not much better at the other end.

Aldershot took a scattergun approach to shooting as they struggled to test Scott Davies.

His only real save came on the half-hour mark, comfortably blocking Charlie Walker’s drive from the edge of the box.

Walker then wasted another chance, clipping over the bar from a cross from the right, before Omar Beckles repeated the feat.

After the break, the hosts resorted to desperate pot-shots from distance that were more threatening to the supporters than the goal.

Indeed, the ball boys were somewhat busier than Davies, rushing into the empty terrace separating the fans to retrieve wild efforts from Rhys Browne and Nathan Ralph.

But credit must go to Tranmere’s backline for that as they rarely afford their opposition time and space in the final third.

So a draw was probably the fair result – defence came out on top in a game that will be quickly erased from the memory.

The point, though, is another one to add to Tranmere’s push for promotion – one that could prove telling come the end of the season.

And if they are going to extend their campaign beyond April, Gary Brabin will welcome everything that helps the cause.

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