This proved to be a glass half-full one, which at least ended the drought. Times are hard when a home draw against Tranmere is something not to be disgruntled about, but at least this time we weren’t beaten and after a disappointing first half managed to raise our game sufficiently to come away with something. We might have even nicked it, which would have been due reward for both the effort made after the break and for an utterly unpleasant Tranmere performance. There’s was a mix of time-wasting from the start, cynical fouls when in danger, and no shortage of shoves off the ball, all of which overall wasn’t punished sufficiently, but the ref or us. But they were coming off a bad run themselves and you can’t moan too much. If anything their lack of ambition when ahead was what cost them the extra two points.
There was no 4-4-3 today. Instead, with Llera getting the start instead of Fortune for the injured Doherty, McCormack returned in central midfield, with Racon moved wide left to replace Reid and Wagstaff on the other flank. Powell squared the circle by dropping Eccleston to the bench, with Benson partnering Wright-Phillips. It was a tighter set-up, one which addressed the problem in midfield against Carlisle, but also one which could be questioned for the choices out wide; we’d seen Racon play wide left before and it hadn’t been great. But most important, having set out a more protective stall, the sin was in still conceding first.
The first half was far from any sort of classic. Tranmere were for the most part content to sit behind the ball, having a central forward and a fast wide guy capable of causing us problems on the break. And with our football far too one-paced (and that pace was very slow) there was a great deal of passing the ball around in our own half to no great effect. It was better than hoofing it forward, but there was seldom any suggestion of sufficient movement to try to pull Tranmere out of position. They sat back and watched most of it. All might have been OK had we made it to the break scoreless, but Francis made the error, being dispossessed as we were moving forward. The ball was played through to their forward. It looked to me like he might have gone too soon and was offside, but it was close and wasn’t given. Instead he moved on to beat Elliot.
Having been gifted the lead, the remainder of the period continued as before, the only incident of note being Elliot getting injured (he seemed to twist his leg/ankle). He made it to half-time, but was replaced by Worner after the interval. Half the game had passed and we hadn’t tested their keeper, with Racon struggling to get involved in any meaningful way and Wagstaff anonymous. Tranmere will have felt very comfortable.
There was no real change early in the second half, although if anything Tranmere seemed even less interested in trying to kill off the game with a second. As they ceded even more ground, and we raised the effort, winning more second balls, we progressively pegged them back, which in turn saw Racon and Wagstaff feature more prominently, with Semedo and McCormack taking a grip on the game. The danger seemed to be a repeat of their first goal gift, as defenders bringing the ball forward occasionally got it badly wrong, Llera giving the ball away in a bad position and even Dailly guilty of the same crime. But the balance of play was shifting in our favour and we managed to level things up. Wagstaff was fouled and Llera strode forward to hit what looked like a beautifully curled shot into the bottom corner, with their keeper not moving. If there was a deflection I didn’t see it.
That encouraged the crowd and lifted the team and the momentum was clearly with us. There were still enough bodies back for Tranmere to limit actual chances, but the rest of the game was about two crosses. First, they worked a position and the ball was squared in the box in the direction of an unmarked player. Fortunately for us, it went a couple of yards ahead of him. Later, Francis delivered the ball of the day, a curling ball in which saw three Charlton players in turn lunge at it and fail to make a decisive connection. McCormack and Wright-Phillips had by then been taken off for Reid and Eccleston (with Racon moving back inside) and the niggling thought was whether if SWP had still been on the pitch he would have been there to score. That’s what he’s in the team to do – and what he has done to date.
Eccleston broke forward on the right side in a promising position, given his pace, and was hacked down. We had a late shout for a penalty as the ball seemed to strike an arm in the box, but while I screamed as well, and would have welcomed it being given with open arms, it would have been harsh, with no obvious intent. Four minutes of stoppage time and some curious final decisions by the officials ensured the ref being booed off, but more important the players deserved and received applause, for the effort and application if nothing else.
Only a point, but we have to see it as if not a real step forward at least not another one backwards. Two more games coming up in short order and, while there are going to be tired limbs, the one on Tuesday night is looming large if we are to retain serious play-off ambitions. Today we were without Jackson, Anyinsah, Doherty, Bessone (and Youga) and lost Elliot, hopefully not for a spell. Testing times.
Elliot: 7/10. Have to see the goal again to see if he had a chance of stopping it. Otherwise a couple of decent saves, although did drop one high ball.
Francis: 6/10. Deserves a higher mark than some others might give him. Made a mistake, a bad one. Others did too without the same end-result and his ball into the box in the second half should have given us the winner.
Jenkinson: 7/10. Continues to quietly impress. If Bessone is coming back, with him and Solly around you can see why Powell is thinking about whether extending Fry’s loan is the best available option.
Llera: 7/10. Could have been man-of-the-match and at least deserves credit for coming in and making the most of it. And he scored the goal. But bundled over their guy to give away a free kick on the edge of the box and made a mistake playing the ball out that could have cost us. I guess with Big Mig there’s always going to be the occasional hairy moment but showed courage and commitment despite having had to sit and wait for months.
Dailly: 7/10. Generally assured and tried to take the game to them when bringing the ball out of defence.
Racon: 8/10. For me gets the nod as MotM. Struggled with the wide role early on but stuck at it and became increasingly influential as the game progressed.
Semedo: 7/10. Held things together well and was instrumental in ensuring that once we’d got a grip on the game we kept it.
McCormack: 7/10. Didn’t get everything right, but decent enough game with some good moments. Better.
Wagstaff: 7/10. Poor first half when we were crying out for some creativity down the flank, but made more space in the second half and made enough of a pest of himself to make things happen.
Benson: 6/10. Took on more of the target man role and his play outside the box was better than earlier in the season. But he was one of the three who failed to convert the cross and that should have been his moment.
Wright-Phillips: 7/10. Didn’t score for once, but was involved and caused some problems; just wasn’t able to be there for the cross.
Subs: Worner (6/10 – one decent save but did drop one cross and got away with another when he was fouled); Reid (6/10 – didn’t turn the game when he came on but that’s not easy; a bit unlucky to have to start on the bench); Eccleston (7/10 – might have won us the game with the late break had he not been taken out).