TRANMERE ROVERS went out of the Worthington Cup last night as they had begun, forcing Newcastle United to dig deep into their store of resistance, but it was the Premiership side who advanced to the last 16 courtesy of a poignant scoring landmark.
Paul Dalglish, son of the man who routinely terrorised defences on the other side of the Mersey and latterly managed Newcastle, evoked memories of Kenny's trademark composure to convert his first goal in senior football and decide this bristling encounter.
For half an hour Tranmere outplayed Newcastle with a sense of purpose that belied the one-division gulf in status. Shay Given, the Newcastle goalkeeper, stood defiantly between them and their spiralling aspirations, saving splendidly from Kenny Irons and David Kelly.
In the later stages, too, Given's reflexes resisted Tranmere as his defenders reeled in desperation under the bombardment of prodigious throw-ins from the substitute Dave Challinor.
In between, however, Newcastle might have extended their lead, briefly raising the standard of their game. Nolberto Solano gave another demonstration of his resourcefulness and that sweet right foot, while Stephen Glass hit the Tranmere crossbar with an audacious 30-yard effort.
Ultimately, Newcastle were thankful merely to clamber over this prickly hurdle. Alan Shearer was generally a peripheral figure and, without the driving influence of Robert Lee, their midfield was similarly ineffectual for much of the evening.
Lee was the only significant absentee from Newcastle's line-up, an indication that the manager, Ruud Gullit, approached this tie with more than a passing interest. His team's elimination from Europe has served to focus Gullit's attention on this often-maligned cup as a realistic route to success this season.
The two sides exchanged long-range shots in a brisk, open start, although it was Irons who produced the accuracy, making Given lunge anxiously to his right to effect the save. A couple of minutes later, the ubiquitous Tranmere captain was clearing Shearer's header off the line, and then stretched Given to another excellent stop.
Kelly created more danger for Given, intelligently allowing the ball to run across his body before whipping his low shot goalwards. The keeper was content to turn the ball behind.
Dalglish, having failed to capitalise on two early breaks, was more assertive with a powerful rising shot, and John Achterberg, in Tranmere's goal, settled for the tip-over. On the half hour, however, Achterberg was left stranded as Dalglish ran on to Solano's pass, calmly carried the ball around the keeper and slid it into the vacant net.
Glass's majestic effort might have put Newcastle in the clear but the ball bounced back off the crossbar, reviving Tranmere's optimism in the process.
Challinor's throws virtually pinned Newcastle into their own area. Given saved from Irons with his foot and Kelly pulled a shot wide. For all that, Dalglish almost added a second near the end. But then we had had enough nostalgia for one night.
Tranmere Rovers (5-3-2) Achterberg; Allen, Santos, McGreal, Hill, Thompson (Challinor, 66); Koumas (Parkinson, 60), Mellon (O'Brien, 83), Irons; Jones, Kelly. Substitutes not used: Morrissey, Murphy (gk).
Newcastle United (4-4-2): Given; Griffin, Charvet, Dabizas, Pearce; Solano, Speed, Batty, Glass (Gillespie, 71); Shearer, Dalglish. Substitutes not used: Barton, Hughes, Georgiadis, Harper (gk).
Referee: S Dunn (Bristol).Reuse content