King's men are ambushed at the Albion

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The Independent Online
West Bromwich Albion 5

Tranmere Rovers 1

The air-raid siren which sounded before this match introduced a minute's silence for the VE Day anniversary. In retrospect, it also served as an early warning for a Tranmere side whose afternoon ended in ruins after their central defender, Dave Higgins, had been sent off just before the break for a second bookable offence.

A third successive defeat leaves Tranmere in danger of missing a third successive appearance in the First Division play-offs; their final matches, at home to Wolves and Middlesbrough, will require something of the spirit of the Blitz.

Lee Ashcroft led yesterday's bombardment with a second-half hat-trick as an Albion side, freed from relegation worries, took full advantage of Tranmere's self-inflicted plight.

The visitors had enough chances in the opening half-hour to have secured the match. But when their central defender, John McGreal, unmarked and six yards out, volleyed wildly over in the 22nd minute, he was not the only Rover to put his head in his hands.

Three minutes before half-time, Kevin Donovan gave Albion the lead with a cross-shot after playing a swift one-two with Bob Taylor.

In the last seconds of the half, Higgins, who had been booked in the 13th minute for fouling Ashcroft, tripped the same player again and was dismissed. Higgins looked almost resigned - only 12 days earlier he had been sent off the same pitch for elbowing during a reserve match.

Albion extended their lead in the 63rd minute when Ashcroft scored after beating the last line of cover, Tony Thomas, to a header and running on from inside his own half.

Rovers pulled a goal back within two minutes, John Aldridge converting a penalty after Pat Nevin had been tripped by David Smith. But Albion finished them off as their first attack after the restart saw Liam O'Brien head weakly to Ashcroft, who scored his second in off the post.

Ashcroft completed his hat-trick in the 70th minute after he himself had gone over McGreal's outstretched boot; Taylor completed the rout six minutes from time.

"We are still in there," Tranmere's manager, John King, said. "We have got to come out again and play."

And Prenton Park will not lack for atmosphere on Wednesday night.

West Bromwich Albion (4-4-2): Naylor; Burgess, Strodder, Raven, Agnew; Donovan (Bradley, 85), Coldicott, Hamilton, Smith (Hunt, 72); Ashcroft, Taylor. Substitute not used: Lange (gk).

Tranmere Rovers (4-4-2): Nixon; Thomas, Higgins, McGreal, Stevens; Kenworthy (Brannan, 85), O'Brien, Irons, Nevin (Moore, 71); Aldridge, Jones. Substitute not used: Coyne (gk).

Referee: K Cooper (Pontypridd).