Tranmere Rovers 1 Morecambe 2: Shrimps' early advantage in play-off semi-final
Morecambe have the early initiative in their League Two play-off semi-final after a hard-fought first leg victory at Prenton Park.
First-half goals from Nat Knight-Percival and Liam McAlinden, either side of Peter Clarke’s equaliser, gave Derek Adams’ players victory in front of a raucous home crowd.
In truth, Tranmere could be forgiven for feeling hard done by, especially after dominating the opening period, albeit without making that pay.
Adams made one change to the Morecambe side which ended the season with three points against Bradford City.
Aaron Wildig had recovered from the ankle injury which had kept him out of the Shrimps’ final two matches.
Another player returning was Liam Gibson, who had sufficiently recovered from a hamstring injury to take his place on the bench.
Having parted company with manager Keith Hill nine days earlier, the home side were much the better side in the first half.
They set the tone early on, winning a number of corners with Jay Spearing prompting their attacks from deep.
Out wide, Corey Blackett-Taylor was a constant nuisance in the opening 45 minutes even if the final ball didn’t always match the approach play.
Clarke saw one effort blocked and James Vaughan headed wide from Spearing’s diagonal ball as the home side dominated the opening stages.
It was something of a surprise then when Morecambe took the lead on 15 minutes.
A corner wasn’t cleared and the ball eventually driven across goal for Knight-Percival to score from close range.
Four minutes later, however, and parity was restored after another searing Blackett-Taylor run brought a further Tranmere corner.
This one was also half-cleared and the ball back in met emphatically by Clarke, who powered a header beyond Kyle Letheren.
The keeper made a fine save moments later to deny Vaughan, who also sent a further header off target as Tranmere scented a second goal.
That dominance was aided by Morecambe’s inability to retain possession when it was cleared up to Stockton, allowing Tranmere to regain possession and launch another wave of attacks.
Nevertheless, the Shrimps clawed their way back in front during first-half added time.
Wildig’s corner fell to Toumani Diagouraga, and with the Tranmere defence claiming handball, he threaded a pass through to Stockton whose ball across goal was converted by McAlinden.
In contrast, the second half was more attritional as both sides surrendered possession cheaply.
It was still Tranmere who had the better of the ball, albeit without their first-half level of threat as Morecambe looked more solid than was the case previously.
The Shrimps were forced into an early change when Stephen Hendrie limped off, giving Gibson a welcome return to action.
Tranmere also took the chance to refresh their line-up as the half progressed, introducing Danny Lloyd and Kaiyne Woolery, who netted the only goal when Tranmere won at the Mazuma Stadium in January.
Lloyd’s first real involvement brought another save from Letheren with 15 minutes remaining, as his corner was met by Manny Monthe, whose header was pushed away.
Clarke also fired over from distance and another replacement, David Nugent, headed off target inside the final 10 minutes.
The injuries, allied to cautions and substitutions, meant eight minutes of added time for the home side to get back on level terms or for the Shrimps to score a third.
Lloyd sliced horribly wide under pressure, moments before Morecambe felt they should have had a penalty when Wildig went to ground.
However, with one goal separating the two sides in all three meetings so far this season, Sunday’s return leg promises to be equally as tight with a trip to Wembley at the end of the month the prize for the winners.
Tranmere Rovers: Murphy, O’Connor, Clarke, Monthe, Ridehalgh, Spearing, Khan, Morris, Feeney (Lloyd 71), Vaughan (Nugent 80), Blackett-Taylor (Woolery 72). Subs not used: Jones, Nelson, Macdonald, Lewis.
Morecambe: Letheren, Cooney, Knight-Percival, Lavelle, Hendrie (Gibson 53), Songo’o, McAlinden (Lyons 77), Diagouraga, Wildig, Mendes Gomes, Stockton. Subs not used: Halstead, Davis, Kenyon, Leitch-Smith, Pringle.
Referee: Darren Drysdale.
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