Tranmere 3 Cardiff 3. Match Report.

Last updated : 15 March 2003 By Matthew Gabb
And where would we be with out a certain R. Earnshaw. Earnie dug City out of jail last night with an injury time equaliser to earn us a share of the spoils in a six goal thriller at Prenton Park.

When Gary Jones volleyed the Birkinhead side into the lead in the 89th minute it looked like it was game over for City and we would be making the long journey back empty handed, but within 60 seconds the ball was up the other end with a Mahon cross headed back across goal by Peter Thorne before Earnie's low finish under the keeper.

The day was a long one for the City faithful travelling up north. The motorways around Birmingham and around Stoke are never the most forgiving on a Friday night, and it proved to be a difficult journey. The M6 was down to one lane at points and many resorted to the cross country route past Shrewsbury and Chester. Many took as long as five hours to make the 200 mile journey to the Wirral. Fair play to the 500 or so fans who made the trip, this is the 4th time in 14 months we have played at Prenton Park and it isn't the easiest of trips to make again and again.

The atmosphere before the game was good considering the poor result last Saturday, and Lawrence stuck with the team that suffered the reverse at Ninian Park.

The game started at 100mph, both sides trying to grab a stranglehold on the match. Tranmere's style is direct and effective, with City old boy Simon Howarth and tricky paceman Ian Hume in attack for them.

Cardiff were nearly undone in the first ten minutes after a break out after a City attack saw a low cross across goal volleyed just wide by Rovers left back Gareth Roberts.

Mahon was clearly up for it at his old club, and was barracked throughout, but put some cracking crosses into the box which Peter Thorne was unable to take advantage of. Straight after Tranmere's effort City went up the other end, a Mahon right footed shot was palmed away but Earnie couldn't take advantage of the rebound.

Ian Hume was a thorn in City's side all night and had an excellent match, easily outpacing Young and Prior on a number of occassions and really should have scored a few after breaking through twice on goal before giving Alexander reasonably easy saves in the first half.

Just when it looked like City were under the cosh and going nowhere, a Prior header out of defence was intelligently diverted forward by Peter Thorne's head to Earnshaw who broke through on the keeper and cleverly toe poked the ball over him into the goal at the Kop Stand end. There was a slight delay in the City celebration as the goal was up the other end but a great fillip for City who then went on to start to pass the ball better and create one or two chances. Earnie spurning the best of them when he was left free in the 18 yard box.
Howarth blazed over from the edge of the box and City went in rather fortuitously 1-0 up. And we all knew it was unlikely to finish that way.

HT Tranmere Rovers 0 - 1 Cardiff City

City came back out of the blocks slower than their Tranmere counterparts as the home side levelled within two minutes of the restart. An excellent cross from Connelly on the Rovers right was glanced across Alexander into the far corner of the net.

This was the cue for a spell of Tranmere pressure as they pressed for a second goal, Alexander pressed into action on a number of occassions. A cross from the left was volleyed home by Howarth only for it to be disallowed with some Tranmere fans taking a good three or four minutes to realise they hadn't scored.

A Barker cross from the left was met only minutes later by an Earnshaw header at the far post which the home keeper did well to palm away. Then a Kavanagh header over the top caused confusion between the Rovers centre backs. Earnie was left free 12 yards out and volleyed beautifully wide of Achtenburg into the bottom corner in front of the City fans. 2-1 down, then 2-1 up, fantastic stuff and the City fans go mental.

Of course that wasn't the end of things, as the game drew to a close Ian Hume finally got his just desserts for an great performance finishing superbly first time from the edge of the box. 2-2 into the last ten minutes and he could have got another one after he outpaced the City centre backs for the umpteenth time in the game but he blazed well over.

When Gary Jones volleyed home in the 89th minute the roof nearly came off their Kop Stand, as the large home crowd celebrated what they thought was a certain win, and the away contingent were downcast. However as the injury time board went up, Earnie fired home his 32nd goal of the season to create one of my all time favourite City away games, what a night, what an end, and Robert Earnshaw what a genius.

His hat-trick equalled Hughie Ferguson's 1926-27 goal scoring record for the Bluebirds and he looks certain to break it with 10 games remaining.
He has won us so many points this season and the boy is a legend. Off the top of my head, Crewe home (W2-1), Wigan away (D2-2), QPR away (W4-0), Swindon h (D1-1), and now a last minute equaliser at Tranmere.

It could have been even more surreal if Mahon's late late cross had found a City man in the box as the clock ticked down, but from 3-2 down in injury time a draw is a fantastic result.

After the match Earnie came over to celebrate with the City support doing his trademark somersault for the travelling fans behind the goal.

In the cold light of day many will see this as two points dropped after leading twice away from home, but it really was a fantastic match, and a pleasure to watch. Now City must do the business at home in our two home games next week, which does seem to be posing a problem in 2003.

A long trip back down to the Thames Valley (especially with a drop off in London), but the 2am arrival home seemed a bit more worthwhile when you've seen your team equalise in injury time to gain a 3-3 draw.

Good luck to the teams playing Crewe, Oldham and Bristol City today and lets get behind the team next week and get some home wins in the bag.

Report from FootyMad
Two goals in the last two minutes highlighted a tremendous battle between two promotion-chasing sides.

It seemed that Tranmere would sneak the verdict and move into the play-off zone when Gary Jones put them ahead for the first time in the 89th minute from a cross by Simon Haworth.

But Cardiff, chasing the second automatic promotion spot behind runaway leaders Wigan Athletic, went straight on the attack and Robert Earnshaw completed his hat-trick with a powerful low shot from a headed pass by Peter Thorne.

Rovers stopper John Achterberg made an excellent early save to deny on loan Alan Mahon and then Iain Hume brought an excellent stop from Achterberg's opposite number Neil Alexander.

Earnshaw opened the scoring ten minutes before the break with a neat lob over Achterberg when Ian Sharps failed to cut out a through ball from Willie Boland.

Tranmere drew level two minutes after half time with a glancing header by Haworth from a Sean Connelly cross - his 16th goal of the season.

Earnshaw brought the best out of Achterberg, who produced some fine saves in the home goal, before a producing a neat finish for the second Cardiff goal from a Mahon pass on 67 minutes.

The home side refused to lie down in the face of some excellent attacking play by the Welshmen. Hume was a constant thorn in the side of City's defence and made it 2-2 with a super strike from a Connelly pass on 78 minutes.

Hume should have struck again four minutes later when out on his own but blazed over the bar and high into the crowd.

Earnshaw took the man-of-the-match award for his hat-trick performance. Skipper Graham Kavanagh was also excellent for Cardiff, while Connelly, Shane Nicholson and Gareth Roberts worked tirelessly for the Wirral side.

External Reports
The Western Mail
The Times