BACK in the day, games under the lights at Prenton Park were treated with trepidation by visiting sides.
Instead of taking the field on a Saturday afternoon for home fixtures, Tranmere Rovers strode out the previous evening – to avoid a clash with nearby giants Liverpool and Everton – and were the second team of supporters of the Reds and Blues.
Anfield legend turned TV presenter Ian St John gushingly labelled Tranmere as “Friday night favourites”, usually as a precursor to brief footage of a dominant home victory on the Wirral on the popular Saint and Greavsie lunch-time show.
A special cup night against Watford almost a fortnight ago was a reminder of happier times for Tranmere, but much of the recent action here has been a switch-off – not helped by an impaired playing surface.
They certainly weren’t Tuesday night favourites among home fans last night. After contending with the elements at wind-ravaged Fleetwood on Saturday, Doncaster Rovers were forced to negotiate a problematic pitch three days on in their quest to revive their play-off aspirations.
No excuses was the message from manager Darren Moore and his belief that his young team’s on-the-deck passing traits would do the talking materialised in stunning fashion.
His faith in handing a debut to highly-rated deadline-day signing Jacob Ramsey also bore fruit on an evening which the Aston Villa teenager will never forget.
There may have been plenty of attention at nearby Anfield as Liverpool’s kindergarten crew took on Shrewsbury in the FA Cup, but as far as Doncaster were concerned, they were more concerned with observing the progress of Ramsey – no doubt alongside Academy bosses at Villa Park.
The teenager, who has arrived at Doncaster with a glowing reputation, had the pick of the first-half opportunities, with a combination of heroic defending from Liam Ridehalgh and a key block from home keeper Scott Davies denying him a maiden goal in senior football.
But his time would emphatically come by virtue of his second-half double which moved Doncaster up to ninth spot – three points behind the side currently occupying the final play-off position in Portsmouth.
Any sense of deflation for Ramsey in spurning that golden opportunity was vanquished 10 minutes into the second half when he coolly stroked the ball home after fine work on the right from Kieran Sadlier.
On a night when Doncaster’s tally of missed chances was starting to rack up, it was a timely intervention. Jacob Ramsey. Remember the name.
Ultimately, it was to prove to be one of the most rewarding occasions of the season so far for Doncaster, with the gloss provided when recent signing Fejiri Okenabirhie coolly slotted home his first goal for the club six minutes from time after coming on as a late substitute.
Moore’s side had hinted at what was to come in a goalless first period in what proved an eventful first-half for former Huddersfield Town defender Ridehalgh.
After preventing a certain goal for Sadlier following an excellent cross from Niall Ennis, Ridehalgh excelled himself to thwart Ramsey as Doncaster found their range in the lead up to the interval. It also yielded a good chance in his first start for Devante Cole, who momentarily escaped the attentions of Manny Monthe to plant a header straight at Davies following a pinpoint cross from Brad Halliday.
Tranmere’s approach, by contrast, was more muscle than methodical as they played the percentages on a tricky surface and were happy to scrap for second balls with their more assertive spell arriving ahead of the break.
It proved a false dawn as they fell away badly on the restart and were ultimately outclassed by Doncaster.
The best chance for the hosts – who fielded ex-Doncaster utility man Luke McCullough – saw Alex Woodyard balloon a rebound over when well placed following persistence on the flanks from Morgan Ferrier ahead of the interval.
Other than that, the relegation-haunted hosts posted little of note aside from an early shot from Bradford City loanee James Vaughan which deflected wide.
New arrival Andy Cook – on his second debut at Prenton Park – was well policed by the visiting defence, while at the other end, the home rearguard afforded a sign of relief on two occasions in quick succession on the restart.
First, Cameron John shot into the side-netting before Sadlier, usually so deadly in front of goal, saw his point-blank effort grasped following good work by Madger Gomes.
Sadlier soon produced the perfect riposte to tidily set up Ramsey and the Midlander’s special night got a whole lot better when he planted a superb header into the net from Ennis’s cross.
Okenabirhie’s strike rounded things off nicely.
Tranmere Rovers: Davies, Woods (Caprice 85), Ridehalgh, Monthe, Morris, Ferrier, McCullough (Perkins 72), Vaughan (Jennings 61), Wilson, Cook, Woodyard. Substitutes unused: Pilling, Nelson, Gilmour, Danns.
Doncaster Rovers: Dieng, Halliday, Wright, Anderson, John; Whiteman; Sadlier, Ramsey (Blair 85), Gomes, Ennis (Sheaf 83); Cole (Okenabirhie 73). Substitutes unused: Jones, James, Watters, Taylor.
Referee: L Doughty (Lancashire).