Football: Positive Tranmere heading upwards

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The Independent Online
Tranmere Rovers. . .3

Portsmouth . . . . .1

TWO unhappy sequences went west at Birkenhead last night. Tranmere gained their first points since New Year's Day to climb from sixth place to second in the First Division, while Portsmouth finally broke a scoring duck in League action dating back to mid-December.

Unfortunately for the huddle of frozen Pompey fans, who celebrated Alan McLaughlin's goal as if it had clinched promotion, Tranmere were already three goals up and coasting towards Wednesday's Coca-Cola Cup semi-final first leg against Aston Villa at Prenton Park.

Jim Barron, Villa's assistant manager, joined the disappointing crowd of less than 7,000 to run the rule over Tranmere. He will no doubt alert the Premiership side's defenders to their opponents' aerial ability.

All three Tranmere goals came from headers, each following a cross from the left-wing axis of Pat Nevin and Ian Nolan. John Aldridge set the ball rolling, and his co-striker Chris Malkin also scored before half-time. Ged Brannan put the game out of Portsmouth's reach in the second half.

Although Tranmere had lost their four previous League matches, they found their visitors' confidence even lower. Malkin - a target for the watching Celtic manager, Lou Macari - forced a finger-tip save from Alan Knight after 20 seconds, while Nevin overran the ball with just the keeper to beat.

Knight's goal survived only until the sixth minute. From Nevin's corner, the last of three Tranmere players to win the ball in the air, John McGreal, hit the crossbar. Aldridge, the poacher supreme, materialised on the line to nod his 14th goal of the season from the rebound.

Malkin's 35th-minute goal was a real old-fashioned centre-forward's effort. Soaring above a defender beyond the far post, he powered another Nevin centre past Knight for his own ninth this season.

Portsmouth had plenty of the play, but a shot high over by Gerry Creaney, when the score was 1-0, and a languid drive into the side-netting by McLaughlin before Tranmere struck again typified their finishing.

Brannan, rising to despatch Nolan's fine cross in the 64th minute, made it 3-0 before McLoughlin rounded Eric Nixon three minutes from time. His tap-in ended Pompey's barren run in League football at 11 hours 34 minutes, though it scarcely qualified as consolation.

Tranmere Rovers (3-5-2): Nixon; McGreal, Hughes, Nolan; Thomas, Irons, O'Brien, Brannan, Nevin; Malkin, Aldridge. Substitutes not used: Morrissey, Proctor, Coyne (gk).

Portsmouth (5-3-2): Knight; Neill, Symons, Gittens, Awford (Pethick, 75), Daniel; Kristensen, McLoughlin, Blake; Creaney, Walsh (Powell, 24). Substitute not used: Horne (gk).

Referee: J Key (Sheffield).