Saturday, 12 November 2011

Taking the biscuit

On the album Achtung Bono, by the greatest band to come out of Birkenhead - Half Man Half Biscuit - there is a track called 'Depressed Beyond Tablets' (lyrics here http://www.chrisrand.com/hmhb/achtung-bono-2005/depressed-beyond-tablets/)
If I was a Tranmere fan, which singer Nigel Blackwell and the boys are, I would be just that after witnessing their performance.
But I am not, so quite frankly I am delighted they rolled over and kicked their legs and helped us to earn probably the easiest 18 grand we will get for a long time.
Tranmere were seventh in League One, so one of the toughest draws we could have pulled out.
They have only conceded four goals in their nine home league games, with only Sheffield United, Carlisle and Walsall managing to score against them.
We have now won six away games in a row, the last four without conceding a goal, and I would say that this was the best of the lot.
Yes, Tranmere were poor and very one-dimensional, but once again let's not detract from our performance, which was the usual away mix of commitment, quality and resilience.
There had been a few worries before the game that the loss of our loanees Jack Butland, Jimmy Spencer and Luke Garbutt would weaken us. Not the case. Jack who? Luke wotsit? Jimmy thingymebob...
These worries were also based on the limp JPT exit to Barnet, which maybe exposed our squad as not being as strong as we thought it was, but this result refutes that again.
As we have have seen at Rovers, Accrington, Burton, Wycombe and Bradford, the win was based on our solid back four, our fantastic midfield trio, unpredictable wide men and hard working striker.
Keith Lowe came back in, and it was like he had never been away. Solid as ever, offering an option going forward, causing trouble and corners and not giving anything away.
Sido switched sides and didn't let that affect his performance, while Steve Elliott and Alan Bennett just get better and better.
The midfield trio were all imperious, but none more than Luke Summerfield.
He had been in the spotlight all week with his dad sat in the opposite dugout, and he must be as proud as punch deep down after seeing his son's performance.
He was, quite simply, everywhere. Late in the game, he was our furthest attacker making a chance in their box, and seconds later he was making another biting tackle on the edge of our box to keep Tranmere at bay.
Russ Penn and Marlon Pack were not far behind as we collared the midfield from the off and never released our grip.
Having three in the middle to their two, there was always a pocket of space for one of them to drop into, meaning we always had an option in possession and just managed to play around Tranmere - toying with them at times.
There was one passage in the second half where we must have put 20-plus passes together, just keeping the ball, frustrating the opposition and taking the sting out of the game.
Out wide, Josh Low came back into the side, and while he didn't provide an attacking threat bar a second half header which nearly crept in, his defensive work was superb as he backed up Keith Lowe superbly.
Kaid on the other side was a threat at times and it is to his credit that Tranmere doubled up on him straight away and were very keen not to let him have any space to run into.
Up front, without Jimmy Spencer, there had been worries that Darryl Duffy could not play the central role on his own. Worry no more. He was a right royal pain for Ian Goodison (38, but played like he is 58) and the Tranmere back four.
His penalty was perfect, and he never stopped running or forcing Goodison and co into little niggly fouls which the referee was not picking up, and finally went off injured.
Behind them all we have Scott Brown. Oft-criticised but always reliable for a brilliant save when one is needed, and he delivered from Andy Robinson's free-kick just after half-time.
But it was testament to the 10 in front of him that that stop was just about the only one he had to make all game.
So into round two we go, and tomorrow at about 2.40, all eyes will be on number 17.
On paper, there will be some teams in the draw we might not want to pull out, but let's face it after this win, on grass we shouldn't be worried about anyone, should we?
But can we please have Salisbury, Totton, Redbridge or Oxford City, Sutton United or Hinckley or Tamworth at home please?
Thanks - and with Huddersfield going out, Jimmy Spencer may get the nod - if he can get in the side, that is...
Before that tie, we have the first of a tough run of league games, starting with Port Vale at home and Oxford away.
Yes we have won six away games in a row, but at home we have lost our last two without scoring a goal, and the win before that came with two late goals against a young side who ran out of steam.
That may sound a bit churlish, but the task for Yatesy now is to translate that away formula into one which can work at home.
He has to work out how we can combat sides who come to the Theatre of Shattered Dreams and play like we do on the road, ie adopting a 'contain and destroy' policy.
If he can do that, who knows what we can achieve this season...

Player-by-player
Scott Brown - One fantastic save from a free-kick was all he had to do. Protected well by the players in front of him, and confidence will be helped by clean sheet.
Keith Lowe - Almost like he has never been away. Didn't miss a header, tackle or interception all game. Proved he is still a steady, committed performer.
Sido Jombati - Moved to left back, but it did not affect his performance at all. Good in the tackle and got forward well to help link play in the opposition half.
Alan Bennett - Usual display from the skipper. Won every header and every interception which came his way.
Steve Elliott - See above. Having Benno alongside him has brought the best out of Stevie. Just a rock at the back.
Josh Low - Back in the side and worked very hard up the right hand flank. Nearly scored with a header in the second half.
Russ Penn - Up and down the field as usual, winning tackles and spraying passes as he went. All that is missing from his season so far is a goal.
Luke Summerfield - Man of the match and his best game in a ruby shirt. The guy was everywhere.
Marlon Pack - The third member of what is becoming the best midfield we have had in years. While his  minders win the tackles, he sprays the passes.
Kaid Mohamed - Tranmere doubled up on his from the off, but he still managed to provide an outlet for us. Nearly scored with a bicycle kick and a header from 20 yards.
Darryl Duffy - Asked to play that lone role, and was superb. Always a pain for the Tranmere defence, and the penalty was never in doubt.

Substitutes
Jeff Goulding (for Darryl Duffy 76) - Put himself about very well as soon as he came on and so close to a second goal for us at the end.
Junior Smikle (for Josh Low 84) - Did what he always does. Came on and gave his all as we closed the game out.
Harry Hooman (for Russ Penn 90) - Hardly touched the ball.