REPORT: TRANMERE 2, POSH 1: A miserable little run continued with defeat in the EFL Trophy
It finished 2-1 to the home side in a battle of two understrength sides, although Posh did send some apparent big hitters on in the second-half without them making much of a difference until top scorer Jonson Clarke-Harris converted an injury time penalty.
By then a first-half free-kick from Danny Lloyd and an 82nd minute header from Paul Lewis had sealed the win Tranmere deserved. After a nervous start when they almost gifted Posh a couple of goals they played with more passion and purpose throughout.
For Posh boss Darren Ferguson there is more food for thought at a time when the failure to strengthen the squad in the January transfer window has caused some irritation among the fanbase.
If Ferguson thought his fringe players would rise to the challenge of proving him right about strength in depth, and getting the club to within a win of Wembley while also advancing their own cause for a League One start he was sadly mistaken.
Particularly up front where Mo Eisa and Ricky-Jade Jones performed so modestly the fitness of Clarke-Harris remains one of the keys to the second-half of the season.
You’d never have known the sides were so close to Wembley as they made 13 changes between them. Clearly promotion continues to trump success in the Trophy.
Posh retained just four of the starters from Shrewsbury and Nathan Thompson, who skippered the side, presumably wouldn’t have played if Ronnie Edwards had been available, or if cautions in the Trophy led to suspensions in League One.
Goalkeeper Christy Pym, defender Niall Mason and midfielder Ethan Hamilton were the other survivors.
Tranmere made six changes and left most of their experienced campaigners out of their matchday squad.
Pre-match much had been made of Tranmere’s bobbly playing surface and Posh almost benefitted in the sixth minute when home ‘keeper Joe Murphy struggled to control a backpass. The ball dribbled onto a post, but Murphy gathered before Ricky-Jade Jones could pounce.
Posh were the brighter side in the early stages and Thompson saw a shot blocked on the line by Callum McDonald following a free-kick. Idris Kanu’s follow-up was well blocked also.
Jones then muffed a golden chance in the 20th minute to open the scoring. The teenager was all alone in the penalty area when a backpass landed at his feet, but he lacked composure and control allowing Murphy to come out and gather.
Tranmere started to find their stride without creating a chance. Nya Kirby shot wide after some decent skill on the edge of the area before Ethan Hamilton casually conceded a free kick 25 yards from goal enabling Lloyd to deliver the one moment of quality in the half with a low free-kick into the bottom corner of Pym’s net.
Posh boss Darren Ferguson responded by making three substitutions at half-time with Mark Beevers, Sammie Szmodics and Joe Ward replacing Thompson, Flynn Clarke and Kanu. Beevers for Thompson was presumably pre-planned, but the other two might have been down to Ferguson’s displeasure.
It made so little difference Reece Brown and Clarke-Harris were also sent on for the final quarter, but there was very little urgency unless Szmodics was in possession. The result was effectively sealed in one mad minute towards the end.
First Szmodics terrific run and cross looked set to give Jones a tap-in when a defender stuck out a leg and diverted the ball onto a post and then into Murphy’s arms. Tranmere went straight back on the attack and Lewis headed home the clincher from close range.
Szmodics had earlier made 39-year-old Murphy work with a decent 25-yarder and Posh piled bodies into the penalty area after Clarke-Harris had struck, but it was too little to late as Posh were beaten in the quarter-finals of the Trophy for the third time in four seasons.
Posh: Christy Pym: Niall Mason, Nathan Thompson (sub Mark Beevers, 46 mins), Frazer Blake-Tracy: Idris Kanu (sub Joe Ward, 46 mins), Louis Reed (sub Reece Brown, 70 mins), Ethan Hamilton, Harrison Burrows (sub Jonson Clarke-Harris, 70 mins): Flynn Clarke (sub Sammie Szmodics, 46 mins): Ricky-Jade Jones, Mo Eisa.
Unused subs: Dan Gyollai, Kyle Barker.
Tranmere: Joe Murphy, Otis Khan, George Ray, Liam Ridehalgh, Sid Nelson, Callum McDonald, Paul Lewis, Lee O’Connor, Nya Kirby (sub Kyle Hardie, 81 mins), Kieron Morris (sub Mark Ellis, 90 mins), Danny Lloyd (sub Kaiyne Woolery, 58 mins).
Unused subs: Scott Davies, Mark Ellis, Danny Walker-Rice, George Nugent, Jake Burton.
Goals: Posh -Clarke-Harris (pen, 90+1 min).
Tranmere - Lloyd (37 mins), Lewis (82 mins).
Referee: Samuel Barrott 7.