Tranmere 3 Pompey 1

Paul Jones saved a penalty in the 3-1 defeat to Tranmere. Picture: Joe Pepler
Paul Jones saved a penalty in the 3-1 defeat to Tranmere. Picture: Joe Pepler
On-loan Wolves midfielder Connor Ronan impressed against Scunthorpe Picture: Joe Pepler

Knight: Encouraging new Pompey system must have a run

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Well the journey back was spared of congestion, with nothing more obstructive than light fog to impede progress.

Small mercies for those hardy 797 travellers who had endured another wasted trip.

They had bravely shrugged off Pompey’s abject away record to make the gruelling trek to Tranmere.

Except this time, expectation stampeded over faint hope in the build up considering the grim fortunes of Saturday’s opposition.

Rovers were second from bottom and without a league win since the end of August – a barren run of 13 matches.

Prenton Park represented a reasonable setting to banish those away-day blues for Andy Awford’s men, and a realistic opportunity to spark change in their progress.

The outcome was agonisingly familiar – a lingering pain spread over 90 minutes.

And, of course, a defeat at the end of it.

Make no mistake, bar a 10-minute golden spell from the Blues following Jed Wallace’s equaliser, Micky Adams’ side deserved it.

No suggestions of bad luck, ill-fortune or rough justice, the 3-1 loss was fully warranted and entirely deserved. No sob story here.

The sub-standard defending for all three of Rovers’ goals was justification enough for the Blues to depart another foreign climate empty handed.

Coupled with a lethargic first half and a creative absence throughout and it possessed the classic ingredients of another gloomy away fixture for Blues spanning recent times.

Successive defeat number five then and eight in total this season in all competitions as the numbing statistic shows no sign of abating.

Yet considering the circumstances and identity of the latest victors, perhaps this result was the most alarming of all for Awford’s troops.

Tranmere’s triumph may have been thoroughly deserved, although it wasn’t enough to lift them out of the League Two relegation zone such has been their dreadful form.

This was no on-song Bury, it wasn’t an in-form Plymouth, nor did it represent a high-flying Shrewsbury.

The fixture was against a side on their second manager of the season and fighting for their lives to avoid consecutive relegations and remain in the Football League.

For the occasion, Awford named the same side which destroyed Morecambe so emphatically at Fratton Park previously.

However, once again on their travels the Blues displayed they simply weren’t up to the task.

One story at Fratton Park, another away from it, they are staggering their way through the campaign giving absolutely no impression they can find a way into the play-offs.

A haul of six points from a possible 30 is devastating any aspirations of clambering out a division which is growing ever-tiresome with every match which passes.

Regardless, still Blues followers turn out in force for trips to the other end of the country to cheer on Awford’s side – and still they leave empty handed.

In fairness, Tranmere didn’t represent one of Pompey’s more humiliating performances.

Lacklustre and ineffective, yes, but not nearly as abysmal as some of the displays which have been served up during this frustrating term.

Little comfort for the supporters, admittedly, yet there was the fleeting glint of light through the gathered Wirral gloom.

That was mainly provided by the 57th-minute entrance of debutant Lee Holmes, who instantly caught the eye with his attacking instincts.

Regardless of his recruitment earlier in the week, Awford had elected to name a side unchanged from the one which so impressively dispatched Morecambe at Fratton Park.

That meant Miles Storey continuing in an unfamiliar left-wing role which nonetheless proved so devastatingly effective during that fixture.

With the Blues now possessing six loanees, Alex Wynter was the one who made way from the match-day 18, while Johnny Ertl replaced Ben Close on the bench.

Having been repeatedly criticised for tinkering with systems and line-ups, Awford left his untouched for Prenton Park, yet the outcome was all too familiar.

Still, Holmes was introduced after Ryan Taylor had twisted his ankle and his first touch was a beautifully-delivered right-wing corner which led to the equaliser.

The Blues had been behind since 80 seconds into the encounter, when Max Power’s corner was turned in at a crowded far post by Shamir Fenelon.

The most dangerous moment arrived when Marcus Bean crashed a first-time shot from outside the area that was brilliantly turned over by Owain Fon Williams.

Then on 57 minutes, Holmes sent in a flag kick which wreaked havoc, the ball cleared only so far as to Wallace who lashed it home from outside the box, albeit via a deflection.

That’s goal number 11 for the season for the youngster, with six in his last eight games, as he continues to establish himself as one of the few plus points amid a frustrating campaign.

There followed a rally, inspired by Holmes with his surges down the left and occasional step overs at pace thrown in for good measure.

The struggling hosts were rocking, Pompey were in the ascendancy and seemingly the most likely to grab the next goal as they pushed to seize the lead for the first time.

Then in the 67th minute, Tommy Rowe found himself with time inside the box to take two touches before crashing a shot into the top corner of the net.

The flurry was over and from that point Awford’s men barely threatened, despite the introduction of Ricky Holmes to join his namesake on pitch.

Then in the 77th minute, Fenelon slipped away from substitute Ben Chorley to cross from the right and Liam Ridehalgh was bundled over by Wallace as he prepared a finish.

Pompey’s midfielder received a booking for his troubles, while Power’s penalty was saved by Paul Jones diving to his right.

The Tranmere man, though, followed up to finish high into the net and effectively seal the 3-1 victory.

Still time for Lee Holmes to deliver several telling balls into the box and give a glimpse of what he can offer during his time with the club.

Hardly enough, mind, to give value for money to those Pompey fans who had made the long trek.

They’ll be back though, they always are, and at this worrying rate so will be the procession of away defeats.