Football: Tranmere top dogs

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Tranmere Rovers. . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .2

Nevin 26, Thomas 90

Nottingham Forest. . . . . . . . . . . . . . .0

Attendance: 12,578

IT HAS taken a long time, but Tranmere can finally claim to be Merseyside's top dogs. In a match they recognised as the most important in their history, they overwhelmed Forest and earned themselves a Coca-Cola Cup semi-final date with Aston Villa.

With local interest in the FA Cup already ended and their illustrious neighbours across the river making bigger headlines off the field than on it, Tranmere can still give Merseyside something to cheer.

The former Evertonian Pat Nevin gave Rovers a first-half lead with a rare header, Forest failed to save it with a late charge as they had in the first match, and Tony Thomas's diving header in the dying seconds put them into their first major cup semi-final in their 110-year history. Despite this, it may not be enough to dissuade their chairman, Peter Johnson, from pursuing his interest in Everton. 'We were tremendous today and this is not the right time to talk about other clubs,' he said.

Two sides bracketed together just outside the Division One promotion frame matched each other for most of this game, too. Tranmere did their best to play Forest at their own neat, one-touch game, an endeavour not helped by a swirling wind and a heavy pitch that sprouted as many divots as Aintree after the Grand National. But both these difficulties contributed to Nevin's goal. As the ball bobbled around the Forest penalty area, it struck a rut and kicked up high enough to allow the diminutive Nevin a header which the wind carried over Mark Crossley's head and into the net.

But if that goal had an element of luck, the first half could have yielded a hatful to both sides. Forest played five men in midfield, leaving the returned Stan Collymore to forage alone up front. He failed to convert Des Lyttle's cross and Ian Woan also had a header hit the post.

At the other end, Crossley saved under his crossbar from both Thomas and John Morrissey but Tranmere saved their best until last. Morrissey's raking cross-field ball found John Aldridge, who picked out Thomas at the far post.

The Forest manager, Frank Clark, said: 'It was a close game and they took their chances but we didn't'. The Tranmere manager, John King, said: 'The pitch was poor but we always try to play good football. We are good enough to beat Villa over two legs'.