THE fine margins which often decide the outcome of football matches were brought into sharp focus for Tranmere Rovers on a bitterly cold evening at the Ricoh Arena.
A routine set-piece goal by Leon Clarke gave Coventry the victory and brought Rovers’ four-match winning streak in League One to an end.
But Ronnie Moore’s table-topping team, recovering from a lacklustre first-half showing, did enough to earn a share of the spoils during the second period. As the game wore on, they threw more and more bodies forward in a vain search for an equaliser and twice went within inches of scoring.
An almighty goalmouth scramble 20 minutes from time saw the ball flying around the Coventry six-yard box while home players did all they could to hack it to safety. Then with just three minutes remaining, Zoumana Bakayogo’s close-range header was kept out by Sky Blues keeper Joe Murphy when the Tranmere full-back had the goal at his mercy.
Rovers could not have hoped for a better chance to draw level – and Bakayogo was only inches from being the visitors’ hero. Close – but not close enough.
Rovers boss Moore opted to spring a selection surprise for last night’s clash. Captain Andy Robinson and winger Adam McGurk dropped to the bench, which meant Danny Harrison and Jean-Louis Akpa Akpro were drafted into the starting line-up.
The fit-again Apka Akpro – making his first start since breaking his foot at Notts County in October – was asked to play up front with David Amoo and Michael O’Halloran offering support from the flanks. The tactical change by Moore gave Rovers plenty of pace on the counter-attack, while the extra man in midfield meant the creative talents of Coventry’s Gary McSheffrey, Franck Moussa and Carl Baker had less room for manoeuvre.
But too often during the first period, Rovers made poor choices in the final third of the field and their manager cut a frustrated figure on the sidelines.
The game’s deciding goal arrived on 20 minutes. Coventry’s former Southport playmaker Baker hoisted a high corner kick to the back post. Defender Richard Wood climbed highest to meet the ball and head it back across the six-yard box for Clarke, who hooked home on his left foot.
Coventry, however, were kept in check by the visitors for much of the opening 45 minutes.