Football: Nevin smooths out the rough edges

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The Independent Online
Tranmere Rovers. . . . .2

Bolton Wanderers. . . . 1

TRANMERE needed only a point to go to the top of the division they almost left last season. They barely deserved that, but took all three thanks to a blunder nine minutes from time that presented Pat Nevin with a gift winner.

Whether Tranmere have the resources to cling to such heights in the First Division is debatable.

Without the injured John Aldridge they lacked punch and would have been severely embarrassed by a Bolton side capable of finding the finish to match some excellent approach work.

Tranmere have been desperate for signs of more wholehearted local support and a first five-figure home gate of the season (10,128) hardly added up to a unanimous response to the ground hoarding appeal to 'bring a friend to the next match'.

The fear must be that they do not have the personnel, on or off the pitch. What they did enjoy yesterday was the bulk of the luck. A kind run of the ball off Ged Brannan's heel helped to set up the Chris Malkin goal with which they took the lead and, after the veteran Bolton full-back, Phil Brown, had equalised with a glancing header from Mark Patterson's corner, Tranmere lived precariously for much of what was left.

Brown hit the post with another header, John McGinlay and David Lee went close and Alan Thompson spoiled some glorious touches of skill with profligate finishing.

Tranmere also had their moments during the nearest thing to a derby match they will experience in a Midlands- dominated division. Shaun Garnett had a volley disallowed for a foul on the goalkeeper and Malkin would have added to his goal but for Keith Branagan's saves from two headers.

But Rovers were second best until Allan Stubbs - Bolton's best player all season according to his manager Bruce Rioch - tried to dribble out of his area. Harried by Malkin, he merely served up the ball for Nevin, Tranmere's new captain, and a neat finish sent Bolton home empty-handed.

Before he went off to join the Scotland squad, Nevin had time to concede that a victory which gave them a flattering three-point lead over Crystal Palace with two more games played was rough around the edges. 'We didn't play to our best but we kept battling,' he said. 'We're not flowing but we're picking up the points.'