Carlisle United put on one of their best performances of the season to take all three points at Prenton Park as they picked up their fourth win from their last seven outings to bring an end to what had been a worrying run of three consecutive away defeats.
Table-topping Tranmere hadn’t lost a league game at home since November but they looked hesitant and off the pace as the Cumbrians controlled the pace by winning the individual battles right across the park.
And the endeavours were rewarded with a dream goal for popular striker Rory Loy, his first notch in over a year for the Cumbrians, as he signalled a return to full fitness following a horrible and complicated leg break nearly fourteen months ago.
“We went for a more experienced starting line up today and it has paid off for us,” manager Greg Abbott said. “We had options but we knew that we needed to stay close to them and use the good forward thinking players we have whenever we got the ball. It worked well for us and I thought, to a man, every single one of them earned the result.”
“This was a fantastic performance from us because Tranmere have shown week after week that they are a very good side,” he added. “We’re delighted for Rory [Loy] because he has worked hard and he has been through hell. He has kept that belief in himself and he was one of our best players today. His goal means a lot and we knew it would come.
“Overall we have seen a really determined performance from a group who have come through a tough period. We’re picking up points again, as we always said we would, and we’re starting to look like a very good side.”
The Cumbrians used their extra man in midfield to good effect and the first chance of the game fell to Paul Thirlwell when he held a deep position for a McGovern corner. Taylor cleared it but the patient midfielder pounced to drive a volley from the outside of his boot wide of the target.
Rovers countered when Akpa Akpro stayed strong with his back to goal. A neat lay-off brought Robinson into play and his fierce thunderbolt whisked just over the bar. The white shirts stayed forward and O’Hanlon did well to stop McGurk in his tracks as he bullied his way towards a shooting position.
Jon-Paul McGovern almost took everybody by surprise when he stood over a 40-yard free kick with Fon Williams well off his line. The keeper panicked and was visibly relieved as the cheeky effort lobbed onto the roof of his net.
A wayward effort from Max Power was followed by a long period of dominance for the Cumbrians as Andy Welsh started to see more of the ball. He overlapped to stride onto a pass from Berrett, and Miller was unlucky as the spinning cross was eventually dealt with by Daniels.
McGovern again had the Tranmere defence at sixes and sevens when he rattled an inswinging corner against the near post. Man of the half Andy Welsh was first to the loose ball and his delivery squirmed through Taylor and into the path of the onrushing Rory Loy. Holmes recovered to beat it away.
Welsh followed up with a brave block for the attempted clearance and a wave of green shirts screamed for the ball. Fon Williams reacted smartly to prevent Miller from staking a claim. Tranmere broke at pace and Gillespie proved his worth when he confronted David Amoo as he burst through the ranks. A save with the legs prevented a certain goal.
Jean-Louis Akpa Akpro was made to pay a dear price for a moment of madness when he lashed out a leg at Frank Simek as the pair disputed a throw in tight by the touchline. Referee Tony Harrington had no choice but to brandish a red card.
And Carlisle made the advantage pay on the stroke of half time when Rory Loy, missing in action for over a year as he recuperated from his injury, warmed the hearts of Cumbrian fans everywhere when he controlled a difficult ball into the box. His second touch was a well-placed shot which bobbled past the keeper into the bottom corner.
Gillespie was back in action almost immediately after the restart when McGurk used his strength to get on the end of a looping cross. The header was goal bound until a fingertip took it round the upright.
A long ball forward caused problems when Simek allowed it to bounce and Daniels raced in to try to steal the ball. Danny Livesey followed the play and hooked the loose ball into the stands.
United almost doubled their lead when Simek clipped a half cleared corner back into the box as Tranmere tried to push out. Miller won the nod down and it needed Holmes to stab it away before O’Hanlon could finish it off.
The action swung from end-to-end and Palmer brought a ‘safety first’ save from Gillespie as he parried it away as it came through a ruck of bodies. O’Hanlon sent a header right at Fon Williams when United responded by sending everyone into the Tranmere half for a corner delivery.
Carlisle took control of possession in the middle of the pitch, much to the frustration of the home fans, with Robson, Welsh and Miller combining to unsettle the defence with some intricate play.
But there was still work to do and Tranmere felt hard done by when they had the ball in the net with 20 minutes to go. The officials got it just about right as the final touch by Palmer from a wicked Robinson free kick almost certainly came from an offside position.
Noble and Berrett sent shots at Fon Williams as United played the game out and Paul Thirlwell did the same when he steadied himself for a volley when he had space in midfield.
Rovers threw everyone forward in the closing stages but it was stern stuff from the Cumbrians who deservedly headed back up the M6 with a hard earned victory.
United - Loy (44)
Tranmere - Akpa Akpro (straight red card, 37), Holmes (67)
Tranmere Rovers - Fon Williams, Holmes, Taylor, Daniels, Bakayago, McGurk (O'Halloran 76), Palmer, Power (Bell-Baggie 85), Robinson, Amoo (Stockton 62), Akpa Akpro. Subs - Mooney, Goodison, Black, Harrison.
Carlisle United - Gillespie, Simek, Livesey, O'Hanlon, Robson, McGovern, Thirlwell, Berrett, Welsh (Noble 74), Loy (Symington 86), Miller. Subs - Collin, Murphy, Edwards, Potts, Beck.
Referee - Mr Tony Harrington
Attendance - 5,713 (448 away fans)