City progressed in the League Cup on a first visit to Tranmere for 14 years since a Craig Fagan inspired win in League One en route to back to back promotions under Peter Taylor.
Prenton Park is a terrific little ground. It evokes memories for me of the sides of Johnny King and, later, John Aldridge that pushed for promotions to the top flight in the early 90s. We arrived about 17 hours before kick-off so we wandered off to find a pub in nearby Bebington and were greeted with incredible "Scouse" hospitality. Funny, friendly people. Didn’t serve food though as the “chef” had just decided to go home. Less jokes, more grub!
Grant McCann made 11 changes from the starting line-up against Reading on Saturday and gave full debuts to 7 new signings. It worked a treat in a thoroughly entertain first half in which The Tigers’ youngsters and debutants ripped into the hosts and left them reeling before dropping off it completely after the break. Where have we seen that before?
City: Ingram, McKenzie, Fleming, Tafazolli, Pennington, Lopes, Honeyman, Toral, Bowler, Milinkovic, Magennis.
City led within seconds of the kick-off as a poor kick from their keeper Davies was seized upon, Milinkovic slid it wide to Fleming and he delivered a wicked cross that Toral powered home with a textbook header. I was caught out by such a classic centre-forward’s header from the Spaniard. It was 2-0 almost immediately as City swamped them in their half, won possession high up the field and after Magennis’s shot was saved, Milinkovic scored via a rebound off the keeper and then himself.
It was a tremendous start and but for some sloppiness in possession at the wrong times, it could have been 5 or 6. The pressing game when we don’t have the ball was impressive and improved by the very busy Honeyman and Lopes. When we had the ball, there were players flooding forward to provide options including the two young full backs. Davies denied Toral at the near post after a bewildering piece of skill from Bowler on the right and then stuck out a boot to save an own goal after Magennis harassed a poor back pass out of Monthe. Toral and Magennis had shots just off target after City picked up the ball in their half through Magennis and then Honeyman nicking the ball in dangerous areas.
At the other end, it was pretty serene apart from times when Corey Blackett-Taylor got on the ball and ran at McKenzie with frightening pace. Blackett-Taylor was released by Aston Villa and looks a great prospect for Tranmere if they can sort his inconsistent end product. He forced a good save from Ingram - his only one of the half. Just before the break, Tafazolli made it 3-0 with a towering header from a Milinkovic corner. That had been coming.
Like Saturday (and the Saturday before) City didn’t really come out for the second half. Possession was handed over to Tranmere time and again through hurried clearances or poor passes and it kept coming back. Aside from Lopes and Tafazolli, none of the outfield players, so impressive in the first half, produced anything. Like in the second. When we did have the ball in their half, Bowler and Milinkovic often lost It trying ridiculous things. Fortunately, they never found a breakthrough to start making things interesting but they came close several times with Ferrier hitting the bar, Ingram producing a terrific full-length diving save with his right hand and Tafazolli blocking a goal-bound shot in the six yard box.
Eaves and Dicko replaced Milinkovic and Magennis before Batty came on for Toral. Batty helped get City further up the pitch and assisted Lopes in breaking up play while Eaves got hold of the ball in their half more than Magennis had managed in the second half. Dicko was Dicko.
So, we ran out pretty comfortable winners in the end and progress to a glamour tie … away at Preston. Ho hum. A Tranmere fan approached us after the game and said “Ah, we let you win there”. He then wandered back over and added “…by being shite at defending”.
Everyone will be interested in how the new boys got on. Ingram was pretty comfortable. He made two decent saves and kicked well but wasn’t overly busy for all their possession. Pennington has a real look of James Chester with his style of play and haircut but doesn’t quite have that quality. He was keen to take the ball forward though and battled the powerful Ferrier throughout. Tafazolli was untroubled for the most part, dominated in the air and threatened at set pieces. I like him.
Lopes and Honeyman added lots to the midfield. Honeyman was all over the pitch in the first half, with and without the ball, harrying them into mistakes and reading where they were going to play. He used it simply and effectively. Lopes covers the ground well too, looks energetic and has a real maturity about him for such a young player. His passing can be sloppy but there’s a really good player in there. Bowler is quick and has tons of ability but, like Milinkovic, makes poor decisions at times and is too often trying the hardest trick or pass unnecessarily. Magennis was very good in the first half leading the line, nicking the ball from defenders and holding it up nicely but disappeared after the break in part due to the awful service but also what looked a lack of match fitness.
Fleming had a really solid game. He’s got a lovely left foot and demonstrated that early but defended very well. He needs a loan in League One because he’s more than capable of playing that level and the games will do him so much good. McKenzie had the misfortune of marking Blackett-Taylor and got roasted for pace at times. He also had some good moments though and was very good on the ball. I just fear for him that he’s constantly moving position – as he did in the Under 21/23s before – and not being allowed to settle anywhere. He could do with a consistent run of games too.
Man of the match: Leonardo da Silva Lopes