Bull keeps Wolves in promotion hunt

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The Independent Online
Tranmere Rovers 1

Wolverhampton Wanderers 1

With scant conviction and a surfeit of nervous tension, Tranmere Rovers and Wolverhampton Wanderers kept themselves in the tantalising puzzle that is the contest for promotion to the Premiership.

Automatic elevation has eluded these two sides, and last night they demonstrated why. There was a catalogue of spurned opportunities, although there were also some stunning saves, notably by the Tranmere goalkeeper, Eric Nixon.

Mike Stowell, the Wolves keeper, also made a crucial block from Liam O'Brien, when it seemed the loping Republic of Ireland midfield player was going to plunder a late winner.

In the event, both teams will be relieved to take a point from this erratic encounter. Wolves can already anticipate the play-offs, while Tranmere, veterans of this First Division encore, could be on stage again even if they lose to the champions, Middlesbrough, on Sunday.

Fittingly, it was Steve Bull, that symbol of Wolves' rise from near-obscurity, who salvaged the equaliser and the decisive point in the 73rd minute, recording his 250th goal for Wolves in the process. Tranmere appealed in vain for handball against the irrepressible striker, who turned towards Nixon and steered the ball into the far bottom corner.

Tranmere's ever-trusty marksman, John Aldridge, had given his side the lead after 35 minutes of wasted chances. Pat Nevin released Kenny Irons on the right, and the subsequent chip presented Aldridge with a simple header.

Three times before that Aldridge had failed to find the touch that has long been the scourge of sides across the Continent. He lobbed high and wide, failed to drag the ball away from the converging tackles, and then tumbled under a challenge from Dean Richards. The referee had no inclination to award a penalty, and the striker had no complaint.

Tranmere's carelessness had cost them three consecutive defeats before last night, undermining their campaign, but at least they tightened up their act at the back, operating with a five-man defence and deploying Ged Brannan to mark the potentially menacing Don Goodman.

Even so, they were grateful for Nixon's reflexes in the second half. He stretched to tip over Mark Venus's header, and somehow found even more inches to turn away Robbie Dennison's shot. The goalkeeper made further stops from Goodman and David Kelly, while Stowell defied O'Brien in the frantic closing minutes.

Tranmere Rovers (5-3-2): Nixon; Thomas, Garnett, Stevens, McGreal, Brannan; Nevin, O'Brien, Irons; Aldridge, Malkin. Substitutes not used: G Jones, Kenworthy, Coyne (gk).

Wolverhampton Wanderers (4-4-2): Stowell; Thompson, Shirtliff, Richards, Venus; Goodman, Rankine, Cowans, Dennison; Kelly, Bull. Substitutes not used: Blades, Wright, P Jones (gk).

Referee: J Lloyd (Wrexham).

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