Dover 0-0 Tranmere: Report

Tranmere failed to reward the loyal 385 fans who made the long journey to Dover as they played out a 0-0 draw on the south coast.

Rovers huffed and puffed, as did their opponents.

But this was truly a game of very little quality that highlighted the visitors’ flaws, as much as it did the standard of the division they play in.

They can reflect though on a strong defensive performance and another point collected as they strive to make it back to the Football League.

There can have been few moments in the last few years when Tranmere expected a game against Dover to hold such magnitude.

Yet here they were, clinging on to a National League play-off spot, knowing they could not slip up at the Crabble Athletic Ground.

Rovers went into the game on the back of a three game unbeaten run.

But they were facing a Dover side just three points below them in the table – and with three games in hand.

It was not exactly win or bust. But defeat could leave them with plenty of catching up to do over the remaining weeks of the season, whilst a victory would leave that place in the top five looking much more rosy.

In the end, a draw probably did neither team any favours in their race for promotion.

The importance of the fixture then was not lost on Gary Brabin and his players as they made the long trip to the south coast.

And the visitors had added incentive too. They had lost the reverse fixture at Prenton Park earlier this season, a heated and controversial affair that angered players and fans alike.

The manager named an unchanged side from Tuesday’s 2-2 draw with Guiseley, despite the tiring legs of some of his players.

That meant Steve McNulty had recovered enough to take his spot in the heart of the Rovers defence, despite limping off midway through the second half.

It was the hosts who started strongest, quickly applying some pressure to Scott Davies’ goal.

Sean Raggett fired over the bar from a left wing corner that Rovers failed to clear.

In truth though, both teams struggled in the final third, with the two defences determined not to relinquish their clean sheet.

Adam Mekki and Jake Kirby were carefully marshaled at one end, quickly closed down whenever in possession, whilst Michael Ihiekwe won his fair share of headers at the other.

Stefan Payne did come close for the hosts, beating McNulty to a long ball over the top, before stabbing wide when through one-on-one.

Rovers though were finding no joy with the long ball against a sizeable, bullying Dover defence, who frustrated Michael Higdon in the first half.

That led to Gary Brabin making a switch at the break, with the striker replaced by Jay Harris.

The midfielder came into the game straight away, as the ball fell to him from a partly cleared corner.

However, he was unable to add to his two goals so far this season as he awkwardly hooked over the bar from the edge of the box.

That really was it for a good twenty minutes though as the insipid football continued, with neither side able to build any momentum.

The pitch did not help, providing plenty of unpredictable bounces and bobbles.

But then neither did the refereeing, with dubious fouls constantly given in favour of both teams.

That particular period was perhaps best summed up by Mekki linking up with Liam Ridehalgh on the left, only for the latter to miss the ball altogether with a back heel as he tried the return pass.

Chris Kinnear finally had the first shot on target with 72-minutes on the clock, but it dribbled into Davies’ waiting arms from 20-yards.

The hosts had their best effort yet minutes later, and it again fell to Raggett from a set-piece.

Once again, Rovers could not deal with the physical presence of their opponents, and the defender rattled the crossbar before Davies collected the rebound.

Tranmere then had a chance themselves, with Norwood deftly flicking on a free-kick, but it was straight at Mitch Walker.

Raggett continued to pose a threat at the other end, heading over harmlessly before Tranmere had their best chance.

Jeff Hughes eyed goal 20-yards out and saw his low effort palmed clear. The rebound fell to Kirby who could only skew right across the face of goal.

Norwood then had another go, firing a 25-yard free-kick straight at Marsh who comfortably beat away.

Tranmere were now outstaying their opponents, and looked most likely to score.

Jennings saw another low shot awkwardly saved, before Ridehalgh got down the left and floated a cross into Norwood who flicked wide.

That though was the final chance as Rovers had to settle for their fourth 0-0 draw on the road this season.

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