Football: Aldridge points the way

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The Independent Online
Tranmere Rovers. . .2

Charlton Athletic. .0

THE WORD on the Wirral is that Peter Johnson, the Tranmere chairman who has designs on Everton, is buying a new house . . . one up, one down. The Prenton Park club did their best to turn the first half of the joke into reality last night, goals by John Aldridge and Ged Brannan keeping them on course for the First Division play-offs.

Aldridge, playing with a heavily bandaged left knee which restricted his mobility, headed his 27th goal of the season 11 minutes into the second half. Brannan, an unsung model of industry and invention, nodded the second in the closing stages, condemning Charlton to mid-table limbo.

The outcome flattered Tranmere, who were indebted to a series of spectacular saves by Eric Nixon, three of them coning in the nine minutes remaining after Brannan's goal.

Events in the 56th minute underscored the thin line between success and failure in this most even of divisions. Garry Nelson, having brought a soporific first half to life with an overhead kick that Nixon saved athletically, now sent a booming volley against the home crossbar.

The rebound was hoofed upfield by Ian Nolan, whereupon Aldridge gave chase, more in hope than expectation. However, the flight of the master predator seemed to unnerve Mike Salmon, the Charlton keeper inexplicably fluffing his clearance. The ball reared into the air, allowing Aldridge to head home from 10 yards.

Charlton's last, lingering hopes of redeeming a season which promised so much until their customary winter decline were dashed in the 81st minute. Salmon and his defence failed to deal with Pat Nevin's corner, and Brannan's forehead sent the home fans into raucous raptures about how their team will be passing Johnson's prospective purchase on the way down.

Tranmere Rovers (4-4-2): Nixon; Thomas, McGreal, Nolan, Garnett; Nevin, O'Brien, Brannan, Branch (Muir, 73); Irons, Aldridge. Substitutes not used: Mungall, Coyne (gk).

Charlton Athletic (4-4-2): Salmon; Bennett, Chapple, McLeary, Minto; Robinson, Pitcher, Pardew (Gorman, 79), Walsh; Nelson, Leaburn. Substitutes not used: Balmer, Vaughan (gk).

Referee: J Winter (Middlesbrough).