Tranmere 0-2 Dagenham: Report

Tranmere missed out on the chance to close the gap between themselves and league leaders with a limp 2-0 defeat to Dagenham.

With Lincoln not playing due to the FA Cup, a win would have left Rovers just two points off top spot.

But they barely got out of first gear in a disappointing display which will have left Micky Mellon scratching his head.

The boss had not previously tasted defeat at Prenton Park as Tranmere manager, but that record went up in smoke after a lacklustre display.

It had been four weeks since Rovers last played a league game, and that was telling as the hosts were sluggish in midfield and ran out of ideas in the final third.

Indeed, after a couple of postponements, some of the squad are probably still licking their wounds from that defeat at Macclesfield on New Year’s Day.

Even a FA Trophy win over South Park has done little to get 2017 going for Tranmere, as several first team players missed that fixture.

Andy Cook, back from a broken finger, and Michael Ihiekwe, returning for the suspended Ritchie Sutton, were both making their first starts in at least six weeks.

And for the likes of James Wallace, the break came at a time when by his own admission he was just building up a head of steam in a quest for match fitness.

Micky Mellon insisted pre-match he had no concerns over his players being rusty, instead saying his squad are well rested for what is a hectic schedule until the end of the campaign.

But they struggled again a much sharper Dagenham side, who put in a solid defensive display as they leap-frogged Rovers in the table.

Rovers actually started brightly enough, dominating possession in the opening 15 minutes.

James Wallace had the first chance, curling harmlessly wide from 20-yards, whilst Andy Mangan saw a deflected shot comfortably saved.

Despite having so much of the ball, it was the decision making in the final third which often a downfall.

But the biggest problem was beating the Dagenham offside trap as Mangan too often making his run just a fraction early.

At the other end, things had been comfortable, bar a Fereji Okinabirhie burst of pace past Lee Vaughan, before Oliver Hawkins fired wide from the resulting cross.

The crowd were sensing a goal might be coming though as Tranmere struggled to clear their lines when Dagenham finally pushed forwards.

The ball had been pinging around the Rovers penalty area for some time, and it was eventually picked up by Corey Whitely on the edge of the box.

He had a look at his options before mishitting a cross which deceived everyone as it looped over Scott Davies and dropped in at the far post.

A frustrating period followed for the hosts, and their fans were getting more and more agitated.

They could push forward at will, but always found a rock solid Dagenham back four patrolling the edge of their 18-yard line.

Indeed, as half-time drew ever closer, Rovers still had not had a shot from inside the penalty area.

But Wallace did have a final chance before the break, forcing a terrific save out of Justham with a low 20-yard drive which was tipped wide.

Mellon looked to shake things up straight away after half-time, with Ben Tollitt replacing Jake Kirby.

The winger had barely had a touch when Dagenham doubled their lead though with just 48 minutes on the clock.

Both Tranmere centre-backs were caught out as a ball forward was controlled by Hawkins.

Ihiekwe had backed off the striker, and that gave him the chance to glide towards the edge of the area and slot past Davies, who dived the wrong way.

The hosts nearly hit back straight away, with Mangan’s header clipping the bar as he met Jeff Hughes’ free-kick, before James Norwood replaced Steven Jennings.

His arrival seemed to give them a bit of momentum. They started to move the ball quicker which was causing a few problems.

Two cynical tackles on Mangan and Tollitt, each earning a yellow when a shooting opportunity was not too far away, suddenly brought the crowd to life too.

Chances were few and far between though, with Hughes curling one straight at the ‘keeper from 18-yards before Norwood saw a shot saved after running onto a long ball.

Time by now was running out. The visitors sapped any excitement out of the game with some professional time wasting, but it would be harsh not to praise them for a brilliant tactical performance.

They did not allow Tranmere any space when they got into the danger zone, and took their chances, albeit one of them with a huge slice of luck, when they came.

Indeed, things could have been worse for the hosts, with Luke Guttridge sliding wide in injury time after beating McNulty.

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