5th April 1989
Tranmere R (h)
Exeter City 0-1 Tranmere
Match report by Trina Lake
Exeter City lurched further off course in their quest for promotion with defeat by a thoroughly professional Tranmere Rovers outfit at St James's Park last night. The result leaves City 10th in the table and with little realistic chance of making the play-offs. Irrepressible manager Terry Cooper refuses to admit that the season is over for his side but perhaps significantly he is talking more and more of the prospects for 1989-90. "There are seven games left and we're going for the lot. If it doesn't happen this season then we'll get it right for next. We lost concentration tonight and it's cost us the game. These players have got to be more professional and alert and if they don't get that right by the end of this season I'll have to change a few faces," he said. The defensive lapse that robbed city of at least a point last night came in injury time at the end of the first half. Jimmy Harvey mis-hit a corner to Tony Thomas whose cheeky back-heel through a crowded penalty area deceived three defenders on the line and unsighted 'keeper Dave Walter for the only goal of a hard-fought contest. Tranmere gave a classic away performance, content to soak up pressure in the way their Merseyside neighbours Liverpool do so stylishly and look for quick and incisive breaks. Their tactic of passing the ball around at the back earned them taunts of "Boring, Boring Tranmere" from the frustrated City faithful but it proved highly effective in preventing Cooper's men from establishing any fluent attacking rhythm.
City had the territorial advantage but Tranmere were quick in the tackle and dragged plenty of men back behind the ball whenever they were under threat. And they consistently created the better scoring chances, particularly in the second half when they were slightly more adventurous. Neither 'keeper was seri- ously tested in the first half as promising approach work by both sides was not matched by the finishing until Thomas broke the deadlock. Lee Rogers prevented Tran- mere from increasing their lead in the 48th minute after Chris Banks had done well to block a Jim Steel header. Rogers was perfectly positioned to head off his own goal-line when Harvey's perfect chip had Walter well beaten. John Morrissey, Ian Muir, Steel and substitute Dave Martindale all wasted opportunities to put the result beyond doubt and while there was only one goal in it, City never gave up the fight. They couldn't turn possession into real danger however against a strong and uncompromising Tranmere defence. Darran Rowbotham, competitive and creative in midfield, almost sneaked a 53rd minute equaliser when he cut in from the left and unleashed a powerful shot that deflected off Mark Hughes, but goalkeeper Eric Nixon reacted well to get his body right behind the ball. Richard Young might have levelled 10 minutes later but could get no power in a header to Steve Neville's cross and a couple of late goalmouth scrambles caused brief panic in the Tranmere rearguard. But if City are honest with themselves, they will admit to being beaten by a better side who look good bets for promotion now. Tranmere climbed to third place with the win over city and are just a point off top spot with seven games to go four at home where they have lost only twice all season, and three away. There were three bookings in last night's contest Rowbotham and Steve Mungall for dissent and Harvey for a foul in Shaun Taylor.
Exeter City: Walter, Banks, Dryden, Rogers, Taylor, McDermott, Rowbotham, Benjamin, Young, Neville, Hiley (Smith 68). Sub: (not used) Langley.
Tranmere Rovers: Nixon, Higgins, McCarrick, Thomas (Martindale 62), Hughes, Vickers, Morrissey, Harvey, Steel, Muir, Mungall. Sub: (not used) Malkin.