Football: Tranmere ponder the limits of their ambition

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The Independent Online
Tranmere Rovers . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .2

Bolton Wanderers. . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .1

TRANMERE'S ascent to the top of the First Division raised more questions than it answered.

There is their excessive dependence on their imports from across the water - John Aldridge, whose absence with a thigh injury robbed them of much of their thrust, and Pat Nevin, who gave them three points with a late winner.

Then there is the doubt about whether the belief in a higher destiny really lives and breathes at Prenton Park.

The positive approach of the players is beyond question - as Nevin pointed out afterwards, it has been a willingness to battle, rather than playing as well as they can, that has put them where they are at this early stage of the season.

But when your chairman, already widely linked with an exit to Everton, starts talking about the impossibility of breaking the two- club domination on Merseyside, it is little wonder that the fans' faith starts to fray.

On the face of it, a first five-figure crowd of the season was not too bad a result at the turnstiles. But the attendance was not only bolstered by several thousand from Bolton, Tranmere's nearest neighbours in the First Division, and a noticeable Liverpool contingent.

However bad things get at Anfield, Rovers cannot rely on their patronage every week. And when the board start to sound like disillusioned SDP politicians, admitting they cannot break the mould, it is little surprise that the public regard the club as a side-show, enjoyable but strictly second-rate.

If Tranmere were to go into the Premiership, it would be with the crowds of Wimbledon and the playing prospects of Swindon, the team that beat them in last season's play-offs.

On the equivalent Saturday 35 years ago, Bolton Wanderers were the stars of the first edition of Grandstand, a Nat Lofthouse goal at Chelsea putting them on top of the old First Division. The faintest hint of such finishing skills would have kept Tranmere off the top of the present First Division, as the 'Squanderers' made and missed a series of chances.

It would not have needed a Nat. Norman Lofthouse, Whitehaven's bald-headed centre, would have had a couple, and the long-term absentee, Andy Walker, whose potency was extravagantly compared with that of the greatest living Boltonian before his injury, would have helped himself to a hatful.

Goals: Malkin (17) 1-0; Brown (41) 1-1; Nevin (81) 2-1.

Tranmere Rovers (4-4-2): Nixon; Thomas, Higgins, Garnett, Nolan; Kenworthy, Martindale, Brannan (Branch, 78), Irons; Malkin, Nevin. Substitutes not used: Mungall, Coyne (gk).

Bolton Wanderers (4-4-2): Branagan; Brown, Seagraves, Stubbs, Phillips; Lee, McAteer, Kelly, Patterson; Thompson (Green, 82), McGinlay. Substitutes not used: Winstanley, Davison (gk).

Referee: J Key (Sheffield).

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