IT might have ultimately ended in frustratingly fruitless fashion, but York City’s performance against Micky Mellon’s title-challenging Tranmere team at least sewed a few seeds for future optimism.

For observers from afar, another costly stoppage-time opposition goal must have felt that little had changed as James Norwood’s 93rd-minute winner condemned the Minstermen to a club record-equalling 35th match without an away victory.

But City’s long-suffering supporters, who numbered 217 at Prenton Park, sympathised rather than chastised their team at the final whistle, which represented progress following the 3-0 bruising at Bromley seven days earlier and others much worse during this calamitous campaign.

The improvement was not another enough to prevent the club from ignominiously dropping to the bottom of the National League table due to former striker Reece Thompson, of all people, grabbing North Ferriby’s winning goal against Gateshead.

As Gary Mills rightly testified at the final whistle, though, the visitors finally resembled a competitive, respectable and organised outfit in a division where their budget demands they should be scaling the higher reaches occupied by their hosts.

Untried and untested rookies were noticeable by their absence in the visitors’ ranks on the Wirral, while seasoned campaigners Jon Parkin and Rhys Murphy played with an intelligence, hunger and confidence so rarely seen from their attacking predecessors in City shirts for several years.

It will now be a real shame if the injury that saw Murphy stretchered off early in the second half deprives City of the services of the on-loan Forest Green forward, whose partnership with Parkin unsettled the league’s best defence.

At the other end of the pitch, the three-man backline of Shaun Rooney, Yan Klukowski and Matt Fry, kept together after another new loan recruit Aarran Racine contracted the Norovirus on the eve of the match, came agonisingly close to keeping the club’s first clean sheet on their travels in 15 months.

To the irritation of an expectant home crowd, Mills’ men had dominated possession during the opening exchanges, as recalled midfielder Adriano Moke set the tempo of the game and pulled the midfield strings.

Chances were still at a premium but, on 22 minutes, a long ball from Fry saw Parkin’s lovely lay-off tee up Murphy for a 20-yard shot that called home keeper Scott Davies into action.

That appeared to trigger Tranmere into a response with City shot-stopper Kyle Letheren diving low to his right to keep out Norwood’s downward header from Jeff Hughes’ inswinging right-wing free kick.

Klukowski, meanwhile, took the sting out of an edge-of-the-box Norwood effort after Moke had given away the ball in his own half and Ritchie Sutton glanced a 28th-minute header wide having escaped the attentions of Sean Newton from a Hughes corner.

But both teams had opportunities going into the break with Fry heading over from Danny Holmes’ free kick and Alex Whittle seeing a 25-yard drive deflected wide.

After Rooney survived strong penalty shouts having been caught the wrong side of Ben Tollitt before tangling with the on-loan Portsmouth midfielder, Jake Kirby also cut in from the left and fired across the face of Letheren’s goal.

As in the first half, though, it was City who started the second period brightest.

Newton went close with a spectacular 30-yard strike after exchanging passes with Parkin who, after Murphy exited proceedings, saw his audacious, edge-of-the-box chip force backpedalling former Fleetwood team-mate Davies into a fingertip save.

Another Parkin lay-off, meanwhile, saw Holmes miscue high and wide from a promising situation.

Sensing danger, Mellon hailed 12-goal top scorer Andy Cook from the bench and his first touch – a downward header from another Hughes’ right-wing free kick – was gathered at the second attempt by Letheren.

Dead-ball deliveries continued to present Rovers with their best openings as Lee Vaughan, Kirby, Tollitt and Jay Harris all failed to trouble Letheren from distance.

At the other end, a tiring Parkin leant back and lofted a 20-yard effort over on 77 minutes following good work from sub Robbie McDaid.

But Tranmere went on to summon up one last foray forward and, when Vaughan’s excellent cross from the right picked out Norwood, he planted a firm seven-yard header past Letheren.

Skipper Simon Heslop went on to drill over from the edge of the penalty area but, with next weekend’s break for FA Trophy action, Mills’ team will now prop up the division for at least a fortnight before their home clash against Torquay.


Kyle Letheren: 7 – given little chance with goal and generally looked safe throughout

Shaun Rooney: 7 – determined but needs to sense danger rather than react to it

Yan Klukowski: 8 – gave no quarter as he pressed his defensive claims to stay in the team

Matt Fry: 8 – made some brave blocks and interceptions during a reliable display

Simon Heslop: 7 – beaten on occasions in right-back position but stuck to his task

Danny Holmes: 7 – made his presence felt early on and kept busy all afternoon

Adriano Moke: 8 – kept the midfield ticking over with his ability to retain possession

Sean Newton: 7 – went close with excellent strike and positional sense was sound

Alex Whittle: 7 – carried an early threat down the flank before a few nervy moments late on

STAR MAN Jon Parkin: 8 – flagging towards the end but proved a real handful for home defence

Rhys Murphy: 8 – looked lively in attack and put in an industrious shift prior to injury

Substitutes: Robbie McDaid 7 – eager (for Murphy, 58).

Subs not used: Aidan Connolly, Matt Dixon, Callum Rzonca, Luke Woodland.


Scott Davies, Lee Vaughan, Ritchie Sutton, Steve McNulty, Michael Ihiekwe, Jay Harris (Adam Dawson, 90+1), Jeff Hughes, Ben Tollitt, Lois Maynard (Jake Kirby, 33), James Nor-wood, Andy Mangan (Andy Cook, 65).

Subs not used: Iain Turner, James Wallace.

Tranmere star man: Hughes – provided quality from middle of park and at set-pieces

Referee: Wayne Barratt rating: 8/10 – sensible and on the ball

Booked: McNulty 45+3, Whittle 64, Harris 90, Davies 90+5

Attendance: 5,075 (217 from City)

Shots on target: Tranmere 5, City 4

Shots off target: Tranmere 8, City 5

Corners: Tranmere 5, City 2

Fouls conceded: Tranmere 11, City 15

Offside: Tranmere 2, City 2