Town 1 Tranmere 1
Town: Chris Weale, Jermaine Grandison, Darren Jones, Luke Summerfield (Hall, 75), Rob Purdie, Michael Hector, Paul Parry, Matt Richards (c), Terry Gornell (Bradshaw, 88), Marvin Morgan, Mark Wright
Subs: Joe Anyon, Tom Bradshaw, Jon Taylor, Reuben Hazell, Asa Hall, Joe Jacobson, Aaron Wildig
Tranmere Rovers: Owain Fon Williams, Danny Holmes, Ben Gibson, Ash Taylor, Zoumana Bakayogo, James Wallace (c), Liam Palmer, Andy Robinson, Joe Thompson (Bell-Baggie, 63), Jean-Louis Akpra-Akpro, Jake Cassidy (Stockton, 63)
Subs: Jason Mooney, Michael Kay, Danny Harrison, Jake Kirby, Max Power, Cole Stockton, Abdulai Bell-Baggie
Referee: Mr. S. Rushton
Assistants: Mr. A. Clayton & Mr. S. Meredith
Fourth Official: Mr. P. Hobday
Attendance: 6,253 (1,048 from Tranmere)
Martin Wild reports from Greenhous Meadow
An 88th minute equaliser denied Town three deserved points this afternoon with Jean-Louis Akpa Akpro popping up at the back post to level for the league leaders. Earlier – and on the stroke of half-time – Marvin Morgan had headed Graham Turner’s men into the lead from a Mark Wright free-kick.
Turner decided to name an unchanged side following the midweek win over Preston against early pace setters Tranmere Rovers, with Town bidding to extend their unbeaten home record to an incredible 34 games. Rovers also went with the same side that won impressively at Carlisle to lead the League One table just one week into the new campaign.
The floodlights were on against a gloomy backdrop when the game got underway although the sun was trying to illuminate the scene still further, with the slightest hint of shadow on the playing surface. The away end was well populated with just over a thousand having made the relatively short trip from the Wirral, and it made for a decent atmosphere with both sets of fans in good voice from the outset.
Shrews created a reasonable chance after nine minutes with Terry Gornell cutting a swathe through the middle of the park and attempting to find strike partner Morgan. The pass was intercepted but the ball ran free for Luke Summerfield who switched play by feeding Wright in space, but Wright’s shot was unusually tame and Owen Fon Williams had an easier task than he should have had saving comfortably low to his right.
Rovers’ first glimpse of goal came soon after when Akpa Akpro got into acres of room with Jake Cassidy having taken up a good position in the box, but his low ball in was powder-puff and therefore easy meat for Chris Weale in the Town goal.
Although there wasn’t a lot of goalmouth action, the ball was working its way to the flanks and only the final pass was missing on the evidence of the opening quarter hour, with nothing much between the sides.
The game ambled along in pretty much the same fashion until the 29th minute when a sublime spot from Matt Richards picked out Wright on the run. The winger killed the ball brilliantly and strode forward but under the close attentions of a Rovers defender and lightning quick reactions from Fon Williams, the attempt was blocked. Interestingly, the match official had his whistle to his lips but decided against blowing it with Summerfield keeping the ball alive before also being thwarted by a defensive block. One can only assume that Mr. Rushton was considering awarding a spot kick but had second thoughts.
Michael Hector was booked for a foul on Akpa Akpro before Fon Williams rescued the Prenton Park side again four minutes later. Richards – who was starting to control the game with a full range of passing – tested him from distance, with the keeper having to go full length to concede the corner.
Shrewsbury were on top with little seen of Tranmere as an attacking force. They had scored three in each of their opening games with Andy Robinson having grabbed all three in the win at Brunton Park. But here, the number 10 had barely seen the ball with Ronnie Moore’s men on the back foot for long spells.
That said, former Shrews loanee James Wallace was denied by Gornell seven minutes before the break when the ball spun free inside the area - and it was a timely intervention, with Tranmere’s captain looking like he might be about to break the deadlock.
The game had woken from its midway slumber and was now an entertaining affair with a much brighter tempo. Home fans howled for a penalty when Jermaine Grandison might have been held from a Paul Parry corner but the appeals on the pitch weren’t quite so vociferous.
In first half stoppage time, Town went in front. Wright’s delicious delivery from a free-kick awarded for a foul on Gornell, was met on the full by Morgan from 10 yards and he powered home the header for his first goal of the season to aid Turner’s half-time team talk.
Half Time: Town 1 Tranmere Rovers 0
Tranmere had more of the ball in the first five minutes of the second half but didn’t create anything too menacing. Indeed, it was Salop who looked the most likely to add to the scoring with some neat, patient build up play asking questions of the visitors rearguard.
Akpa Akpro headed a Robinson cross wide at the back post when he might have done better and Fon Williams had to make a smart stop to keep out Gornell’s long range drive as Town went on the prowl again. Gornell went close again two minutes later when Wright’s clever reverse pass opened the door for him but the striker’s effort was wayward and ripped into the side netting at the near post.
With an hour on the clock, Shrewsbury had acquitted themselves really well against a side who would have arrived here in confident mood and to this point were full value for their narrow lead.
Darren Jones cut out Cassidy’s cross with two Tranmere players waiting to gobble up the chance and that came 30 seconds after Morgan should have made things a little easier for the hosts. He elected to shoot with Gornell having taken up a superb position free 12 yards out and Fon Williams did well to push the ball away from goal. But really, the ball should have been squared and the Tranmere stopper should have been fishing the ball out of his net for a second time.
Rovers boss Ronnie Moore made a double change with Cassidy and Thompson withdrawn for Cole Stockton and Abdulai Bell-Baggie with the league leaders lucky to be still in the hunt in many respects. Moore had recognised the need to freshen things up whilst Turner in the opposite technical area happy to leave things as they were with 20 minutes left.
Stockton blasted the ball into the Tranmere fans when a much cooler head was required although in fairness to the lad, he hadn’t had long to settle into the pace of the game.
For a third successive game Asa Hall came on to replace Summerfield who had once again put in a really good shift in Town’s engine room for 75 minutes.
The bulk of the 6,253 crowd were delighted with how the afternoon was panning out but Rovers were in no mood to surrender their unbeaten record and continued to contest every ball. There were very few weak links in the Shrewsbury team again though and Morgan spurned an opportunity when one-on-one with Fon Williams - allowing the ball to squirm away from him and forcing him to stretch as it ran loose. That might have secured the points but there were six minutes – plus stoppages – left to play before Town were home and hosed.
Tom Bradshaw came on for Gornell with two minutes left and immediately Tranmere struck. A deep cross to the back post was headed back across goal by Liam Palmer and Akpa Akpro neatly tucked away the volley from inside the six yard box.
Stung, Shrewsbury responded superbly with Fon Williams making brilliant saves to deny first Hall, and then via the underside of the crossbar Hector, from the defender’s towering header from the resultant corner.
Robinson’s free-kick fizzed across a packed goalmouth in added time but really, that would have been the cruellest of blows had it been converted for a Shrewsbury side who had given the table toppers the mother of all frights over the course of the game. A point was maybe more than Tranmere deserved and that was emphasised with the way that Moore greeted the sound of the final whistle.
Full Time: Town 1 Tranmere Rovers 1