Tranmere Rovers 4-2 Ebbsfleet United Six Things: Norwood stars

James Norwood –

Tranmere Rovers have reached the National League play-off final after a 4-2 win over Ebbsfleet United, thanks to a man-of-the-match performance from James Norwood. Here’s six things from the game.

Coulson’s early header

It was easy to see early on that Tranmere Rovers’ defence had been their achilles heel. Adam Buxton had been pre-match injury doubt; he and 34-year-old Steve McNulty struggled with the pace of the game and Tranmere’s defence therefore looked vulnerable when Ebbsfleet came forward. Hesitancy proved costly for the opener, when Larnell Cole failed to close down Corey Whitely, who crossed to the back-post allowing  Luke Coulson to beat Buxton to head home.

Norwood impresses

Tranmere created plenty in the first half. Jeff Hughes switched play well while wide men Josh Ginnelly and Cole made runs into dangerous areas, with front men Andy Cook and James Norwood heavily involved. It was the latter who scored the 33rd-minute equalizer; after Ridehalgh’s inverted run eluded Whitley’s attentions, Norwood’s subtle movement gave him the chance to tease Kenny Clark and slot inside the far corner.

Weston stuns Prenton

Ebbsfleet had often tried to slow the tempo down, so it came as a surprise when they went ahead on 53 minutes. A lack of communication between home centre-back Ritchie Sutton and goalkeeper Scott Davies presented substitute Myles Weston with a glorious opportunity; the ex-Southend winger tapped home. That goal evoked one or two nerves in the home camp but Tranmere fans roundly stayed behind their side, who continued to play with passion and drive.

Rovers’ riposte

Oliver Norburn pressed Dean Rance in possession and stole the ball which broke to Ginnelly, who showed excellent close feet to elude the shaky Jack Connors, before driving the ball into the far corner. Ebbsfleet legs tired from then on and though Tranmere couldn’t find a winner before extra-time, an excellent 101st-minute free-kick from Norwood gave them the victory; ironically, the goal came moments after he had been told by Micky Mellon not to take the free-kick!

Sour end for Ebbsfleet

It has been a brilliant debut season at this level for Ebbsfleet United, so it was a shame that it ended on a sour note. Once Cole fired in a fourth for Tranmere, centre-back Dave Winfield was sent off following an altercation as tempers frayed on the pitch and sidelines. However, Daryl McMahon has done an excellent job with the Kent outfit, who will hope to use this campaign as a springboard for better things.

Pressure still on Tranmere

Ebbsfleet are in a large category of up-and-coming teams in the National League play-offs, for whom promotion would have been a wonderful achievement, rather than a necessity. The situation is different for Tranmere Rovers, for whom everything from the fanbase to the quality of squad suggests they simply must be in the EFL next season. This victory moves them half-way there, but extensive celebrations must be put on hold: memories of last year’s underperformance in the Wembley final gives Rovers unfinished business.