MATCH REPORT | Southport 1 – 1 Tranmere Rovers
Louis Almond goal ends Tranmere's 100 per cent record
During his time as a Southport player and two spells as manager, Gary Brabin often succeeded in making the Sandgrounders a difficult team to beat.
So when Brabin arrived back on familiar territory on Saturday with his current team’s winning start to the season on the line, the Tranmere Rovers manager admitted that another victory was never going to be as routine as the table had suggested.
And so it proved, as Southport belied their lowly league position and a troubled start to the campaign to bring Tranmere’s 100 per cent record to a halt in a keenly-fought local derby.
Tranmere came into this match having won their first five league games, but not since 1958 – in the days when this was a regular fixture in the old Third Division North – have they left Southport with maximum points and their wait goes on.
Despite an excellent start to the season, Tranmere struggled to find their groove and lacked any sparkle as they were left frustrated by a well-disciplined Southport, whose new-found resolve and second-half enterprise was worthy of a point.
Substitute Louis Almond earned the home team a share of the spoils after Andy Cook had put Tranmere in front to leave Brabin and the excellent 2,047 travelling fans subdued.
After a frenetic opening, the game quickly settled down but neither team were really able to make their mark on the first period.
As the half progressed, it was Tranmere who were responsible for the more productive football but the visitors almost played within themselves and struggled to find their stride.
Their best chance came on 24 minutes, as James Norwood drew a low save from goalkeeper Tyrell Belford after Michael Ihiekwe had touched on a corner from Steve Jennings before Lois Maynard’s shot from the rebound was blocked.
Having conceded 14 goals in their opening five matches, there was a marked improvement from Southport defensively. They contained Tranmere well and key to their display was Callum Howe, the 22-year-old central defender signed on loan from Lincoln City on Thursday.
Howe cut a commanding figure in the Southport back-line, displaying a sense of composure which belied his relative inexperience and, along with Ihiekwe, the Tranmere centre-half, was the game’s stand-out player.
Tranmere’s chief threat in the first half came from set plays, although clear chances were in short supply. Norwood headed wide at the far post after Jeff Hughes’ free-kick was flicked on by Ihiekwe, who also saw a close range shot saved by keeper Belford.
It was the first time this season that Southport had reached half-time without conceding but less than two minutes after the re-start their defence was breached.
Connor Jennings delivered a low cross from the right after leaving Neil Ashton trailing, allowing Cook to rifle a clinical finish into the roof of the net at the far post.
Southport have often collapsed when dealt a setback this season, yet here the concession of a goal sparked the home team into life and 15 minutes later they were level.
There was a touch of good fortune to the equaliser, as Almond, one of two substitutes introduced by manager Andy Bishop in response to falling behind, sent in an intended right-wing cross, which swerved into the top right-hand corner.
The other player summoned from the bench was Jamie Allen and the changes had the effect bringing more energy and urgency to Southport’s attacking play.
Tranmere applied late pressure and the Sandgrounders needed keeper Belford to make two excellent reflex saves to keep out Cook and Adam Mekki, but the home team merited a point.
Southport (4-3-2-1): Belford, A Jones, Thompson, Howe, Ashton, Nolan, Stanley, G Jones, Caton (Allen 51), McCarthy (Gray 64), Bishop (Almond 53).
Subs not used: White, Royle.
Tranmere Rovers (4-3-3): Davies, Vaughan (Ridehalgh 74), McNulty, Ihiekwe, Hughes, Harris (Kirby 79), Maynard, S Jennings, C Jennings (Mekki 69), Cook, Norwood.
Subs not used: Turner, Stephenson.
Referee: Stephen Ross
Report by Alan Jones