Football League Play-Offs: Composed Hoddle returns to his Wembley ways

 

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The Independent Online

Tranmere Rovers. . . . . . . . . . . . . .3

Swindon Town . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .2

(Swindon win 5-4 on aggregate)

SWINDON supporters now know for certain that Glenn Hoddle will be going back to London at the end of the season as their destination is Wembley for the First Division play-off final and, as they will be going with him, they are unlikely to raise many objections.

Even Hoddle's legendary composure was strained to the limit last night by an impassioned Tranmere fightback which promised heroics but could not overturn the 3-1 deficit from the first leg.

Their manager, John King, had asked for a cauldron atmosphere at Prenton Park and he got just that as Rovers came close to salvaging an apparently hopeless situation.

Behind 4-1 on aggregate following John Moncur's 28th-minute goal, they were at their best - as so often - chasing a dream from well back on the grid.

In injury time in the first half, they drew level on the night. Pat Nevin, his intentions so far consistently misunderstood by his team-mates, got free on the left and cut back a cross which Mark Proctor fired in off the foot of the post.

Tranmere came out in a cavalry- charge mode following the restart and Swindon had to survive any number of scares. These were to include a header by Nevin that Tranmere claimed had crossed the line before Fraser Digby clawed it back and a scandalous waste of an open goal when the same player met Ian Nolan's cross on the far post.

The little Scot made swift amends for that miss, finding the back of an equally vacant net after Digby had lost Proctor's cross in a melee.

Briefly, anything seemed possible but then the rawboned Australian, Dave Mitchell - who had recently been booked for a clumsy foul on Steve Vickers - dispossessed the same player and squared the ball for the substitute, Craig Maskell. Although Eric Nixon blocked his first shot, Maskell scored from the rebound nine minutes from time.

The goal killed Tranmere's hopes and nullified the effect of Kenny Irons's penalty two minutes later after a trip on John Morrissey. There was still seven minutes for a goal to take the tie into extra time, but the best hope of the most audible Tranmere fans was that the lights might go out as they did at Swindon in December.

It was impossible not to feel some sympathy for Rovers in their thwarted efforts, but Swindon had shown that they are by no means unworthy to stand on the threshold of the Premier League. Hoddle might not have to leave to take his managerial career on to that stage.

Tranmere Rovers: Nixon; Higgins, Brannan, Irons, Proctor, Vickers, Morrissey, Aldridge, Malkin, Nevin, Nolan (Coyne, 80). Substitute not used: Martindale.

Swindon Town: Digby; Summerbee, Bodin, Hoddle, Calderwood, Taylor, Moncur, MacLaren, Mitchell, Ling, White (Maskell, h/t). Substitute not used: Hazard.

Referee: P Durkin (Dorset).

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