City 0 Tranmere 3

There were no jeers or catcalls to greet the final whistle.

It was more an air of resignation from fans who knew they had witnessed a one-sided mis-match.

They had hoped City, even with their depleted numbers, would have given the League One outfit a better run for their money.

City went into the game in good form; Tranmere, in comparison, had shot blanks in six of their last seven league outings. Pre-match optimism was not misplaced.

Stuart McCall had been buzzing about the FA Cup all week, confident that his team would do themselves justice. And the powers-that-be impatiently wondered about a money-spinning tie potentially round the corner in the third round.

And let's not forget City's previous record against Tranmere, who had not won at Valley Parade since the days of John Aldridge a decade ago.

Unfortunately, it didn't work out like that. Thirty-two places separate the clubs today - and that was reflected on an afternoon which reminded everyone how far City have fallen.

Considering only 11 months ago City had grabbed a well-earned point at Prenton Park, it was a cold reality check.

But the crowd, boosted by 1,800 away fans from the 33 free coaches Tranmere had laid on, couldn't have wished for a livelier opening 15 minutes.

Play tore from one end to the other as both sides came out firing.

Twice in the opening three minutes City were grateful to the reflexes of Donovan Ricketts, saving a fizzing drive from Robbie Stockdale then somehow managing to hold on to Shane Sherriff's effort from point-blank range as the goal gaped.

Sherriff, usually a left back, had been deployed in a midfield role to counter the speedy threat of Omar Daley but the City winger escaped his clutches early on to take a backheel from Kyle Nix and force an equally impressive finger-tip stop from Danny Coyne.

You couldn't take your eyes off the action but Tranmere's movement and speed of thought looked noticeably sharper than what City have been used to most weeks.

So it was no shock when they struck the first blow after seven minutes, though the build-up was all City's own doing. Nix should not have played a short ball across the front of his box to Daley; Daley should not have tried to dribble through two white shirts midway inside his own half.

The net result was Tranmere winning possession and, as the defence backed off, Steve Jennings accepted the invitation to fire home from 25 yards.

City came again with two dangerous corners and David Wetherall slipped his marker to loop a header against the top of the bar.

A goal then would have made for a very different game but that was as good as it got for the home side.

The frenetic early pace died down but Tranmere took a grip on proceedings, particularly in midfield where City's lack of inches were exposed by their more muscular opponents.

Nix faded anonymously while Scott Phelan and Paul Evans struggled to make any mark on the game. Evans was having problems with his passing radar with too many balls going astray.

It was not the easiest afternoon for Luke O'Brien to be thrown in and he had his work cut out initially against the slippery wing play of Chris Shuker. But as the early nerves subsided, the teenager grew in confidence and proved an able deputy for the suspended Paul Heckingbottom.

On a day of few positives, it was an encouraging sight for McCall.

He said: "I thought Shuker looked as though he was going to have a field day but Luke came strong and was one of the pluses for us.

"If you look round the side, there weren't many who won their individual battles but he possibly did in the second half."

But City lacked the guile to break through the eight-man barrier protecting Coyne's goal every time they got within sniffing range. And you always sensed a second Tranmere goal would settle it as a contest.

Then, eight minutes before the break, Chris Greenacre's aim was spot on with a crisp volley after Shuker's dink over the top left City stopped in their tracks pleading for a non-existent offside flag.

McCall needed to do something to stir City, who were in danger of slipping out of the cup with barely a whimper. Memories of that third-round tie at West Brom when Danny Dichio's hat-trick killed the game inside 20 minutes sprung to mind.

Sean Taylforth was summoned to replace the disappointing Nix and offer a genuine wide threat on the left flank.

Like O'Brien, his only previous senior experience had been in the JP Trophy at Doncaster.

Unfortunately, he was starved of possession until the last 20 minutes by which time Tranmere were home and hosed thanks to a second goal from Greenacre.

It was route one rather than League One, with man-mountain Ian Goodison launching a long clearance over City's back four, Greenacre outpacing Wetherall and slotting past Ricketts.

Guylain Ndumbu-Nsungu, who spent most of the game in Goodison's pocket, was replaced by Barry Conlon, who again came on to rapturous home cheers, and the only remaining interest centred on whether the Irishman could break his Valley Parade goal duck.

He thought he had done with five minutes left. Taylforth forced a near-post save from Coyne and then headed the rebound back into the mix where Conlon battled to scramble it over the line.

The striker ran to the Kop to celebrate the relief of getting off the mark at home - oblivious to the assistant's flag that blotted out his effort for a foul.

  • Start or join a debate on this issue in our online forum - Click here