Might as well get straight down to the point really – Tranmere Rovers are a funny, hypocritical bunch.
In the four months since Notts County’s visit to Prenton Park (last season), the Birkenhead faithful haven’t taken defeat too well.
The Notts first win after nine straight defeats came courtesy of a disputed Craig Westcarr penalty (we say it was a rather obvious looking foul, they cry dive), a daft Ricky Ravenhill red card – and some classic time-wasting tactics (you know the type – your team does it and it’s a stroke of genius – your opposition does it and you want to strangle the nearest person to you).
This to them was outrageous, we on the other hand were slightly more courteous when they did the same to us at Meadow Lane in a carbon copy fixture earlier in the season under Paul Ince.
As evidenced on Tuesday – these wounds haven’t healed for poor Tranmere Rovers bless them.
In my mind the game wasn’t as ill-tempered as 11 yellow cards and two reds would suggest. This only reinforced the view held from both camps that the match was spoiled by a referee who lost control of the game early on and was more than happy to be the centre of attention for large periods of the game.
The visitors led at half time through a tenth minute John Welsh strike into the top corner when County fell asleep for a corner. To their credit it was a great strike – instantly an improvement on anything the poorest side we played last season had to offer.
The the time-wasting began – hilarious in it’s futility for such an early stage in the encounter. Admittedly though you could question the lack of a multiball system had something to do with this.
At the other end of the field, Rovers were more than happy to hack down every Notts attack just yards outside of their penalty area and saw McChrystal and Raven booked inside the first 20 minutes. The resulting free-kicks from the dangerous areas offered minimal threat through a combination of Alan Sheehan and Craig Westcarr though.
With ten minutes of the half left to play, the referee Michael Naylor made his most glaring of a number of head scratching decisions for the night.
Ravenhill on the run was sandwiched between two Rovers players and hit the deck instantly – unconscious. The free-kick was given against Ricky. A truly baffling decision. Fair play though to the Tranmere number 10 who took the opportunity to scream standing over the prone County midfielder. And it’s Notts who have a problem with class so we’re told so often?
Raves now sits out the next two weeks through concussion. Hopefully when he returns he’ll learn not to give such daft free-kicks away eh Ricky?
A good delay of six or seven minutes on top of an injury to Goodison for Tranmere saw an additional five minutes of stoppage time added to the half. A future point of conjecture for later in the evening – more so thankfully for them than us.
Into the second half and Notts were still largely in control despite the scoreline deficit. Tranmere were playing better football than they had shown themselves capable of last season on their rare forays into County territory.
It was a Julian Kelly wonderstrike that was to pull Notts level – volleying in low from 25 yards out beautiful out of reach of the goalkeeper. Unstoppable, an instant contender for goal of the season on our part.
Better yet, not long after and Alan Sheehan was notching his fourth assist (or first goal) of the season when his free-kick found it’s way into the net either via the head of Krystian Pearce, or directly from the dead ball. Regardless, Notts were 2-1 to the good. Cries of “It’s just like watching Juve” were as predictable as they were fun to join in with.
Tranmere pulled themselves level via a deflected free-kick – awarded following a Westy tackle. From our vantage point behind the goal, it was probably a dive. Never mind though.
Then the drama started – beginning with six minutes of stoppage time being signalled. A whole minute more than the first half with it’s lengthy delays. Not that we were complaining, more time to find a winner!
Firstly, Raven picked up his second booking of the evening for Tranmere for an accidental handball – quite the comical decision in truth, Tranmere have every right to feel aggrieved.
Barely two minutes had passed then before Alan Sheehan’s deep ball into the box was spilled by Owain Fon Williams in the Rovers goal, the ball dropped back to Sheehan who smashed goalwards only to see his drive blocked by the hands of Adam McGurk – silly lad.
The referee mind was oblivious to what he’d seen, and was left relying on the assistant to his right who was signalling the handball. McGurk was gone. Obviously Tranmere complained, verging on throwing away a decent point away from home.
With memories of last Tuesday’s last-kick denial and subsequent penalty shooutout defeat still fresh in the mind, you couldn’t fail to see the irony in Notts finding themselves with a penalty at the death to clinch victory. But you wondered who the responsibility would fall to out of three players. Westy, Karl Hawley and Sheehan all dispatched their spot-kicks with some aplomb last week.
But it was Jeff Hughes in fact who stepped up. It was a sign of great character when you consider the two mistakes made on Saturday to cost us against Charlton – errors that would be easily forgiven should he finish off a club who become our bitterest League One rivals with every game.
Course he scored, slotting home to the left as Fon Williams dived the wrong way.
3-2 to Notts – are all our midweek fixtures going to pan out this way?
We were now seven minutes of added time deep – still time for chief clown Naylor to make himself look a bit soft once more though as Stuart Nelson found himself booked for time-wasting. Maybe fair enough you’d think – except it was the ball boy who was slow returning the ball. Grounds for punishing the keeper?
The referee blew for full time on a fantastic Meadow Lane victory against a team previously (somehow) unbeaten in the league.
Tranmere Rovers’ supporters are still struggling to come to terms with that “Fortress Prenton” (still makes me laugh) defeat in April. It’s safe to assume that no one was expecting them to take yet another defeat quite so quietly.
We’ve again been branded timewasters (despite pushing hard for a winner), cheats (divers apparently) and of course the usual rhetoric surrounding Lee Hughes (the cheek that they dare talk about a lack of class).
Late into Tuesday evening, the social networks were awash with Internet vigilantes angry with the result and performance. Of course, it’s easier to ignore the problems closer to home than acknowledge your own shortcomings. The match highlights are out there now, people can form their own conclusions if they choose to.
It’s become almost common place in victory that we find ourselves defending ourselves from all directions. We acknowledge our faults – largely because we understand it’s part of the game and other sides will only do it to us given the chance. Certainly results last year at Peterborough and Tranmere are two such occasions where we won ugly. Sure the tactics weren’t the prettiest, but the team did what was required to get a result.
Are Notts County the only football league club with an “any means necessary” mentality? Course not. Tuesday is one of those games though where we as Notts supporters can AND WILL hold their heads up high in victory.
Tranmere have of course spoken of our complaints about their style of football (bringing up that April match) but that would be to miss the point completely.
The issue we have is with the post-match reaction that they feel they’re whiter than white. This bunch of thugs came to Meadow Lane with one directive – hack and slash your way to any points you can get. You’re walking away, tails between your legs with nothing to show for your efforts – and are left pointing the finger elsewhere, vision hindered by your own considerable shortcomings.
You got just what you deserved.