Tranmere Rovers Logo Tranmere Rovers 3 - 0 Everton
Half-time: 2-0
Everton Logo
Pre-Season Friendly
Saturday 19 July 1997
Prenton Park, Birkenhead
Att: 7,684
« Everton v Rangers Ref: David Pugh Stoke City v Everton »
Tranmere Rovers: Speed (og 14), Aldrige (17), Cook (58)
LINEUPS Subs Not Used
Tranmere Rovers: Nixon (Coyne 45), Thomas (Stevens 45), McGreal, Thorn, Thompson, Morrisey, (Irons 45), O'Brien, Cook,G Jones, L Jones, Aldridge (Mahon 76).
EVERTON: Safar*, Barrett, Bilic (Allen 72), Watson (Short 45), Phelan, Grant (Oster 45), Stuart (Hills 72), Speed (McCann 72), Barmby (Unsworth 45), Branch, Ferguson.
(*Szab Olcs Safar on trial from Vasas CV, Hungary)
Unavailable:  Farrelly, Hinchcliffe, Thomsen, Parkinson (injured).

Guy McEvoy Back to Normal Service?
Jenny Roberts (aged 13) An Omen? -- Maybe...
Adie Shortiemon To Me, Every Match Matters!
Huw Marshall Oh my God!
SOCCERNET Match Summary
by David Prentice
Tranmere Romp Home
by Graham Bell
Back to Normal Service?
Guy McEvoy
The one good thing I'll take from this game became apparent as the players came down the tunnel. The new kit, 'in the flesh', ain't all that bad. In fact, as the game went on I decided I quite like it. It is indeed the same shade of blue we wore in 85; if the players turned their back on you, and you saw the numbers one to eleven and then glanced across to the bench and saw Howard sitting there, you could get some serious deja-vous. Only for a few seconds mind, because as soon as a blues player attempted a pass the reality that this was a long way from the mid-eighties would hit like a sledge hammer.

Football often defies all logic. On Wednesday evening the starting out-field players had a reasonable degree of cohesion, imagination and purpose. By Saturday, none of these traits could be applied to this exact same group of players. What happens in the space of three days? How can something that looked so promising and needed no more than tweaking, suddenly look in need of a complete clean slate re-start?

The players that comfortably dealt with Rangers were utterly swept aside by Tranmere. 2-0 at half time was merciful. Although Speed's own goal was farcical (he attempted to put a ball out for a corner but succeeded in a fine strikers finish past the Hungarian trialist keeper), Aldridge's goal oozed class. A One-on-one clinical effort, why not a single member of Everton's defence was able to intervene in the move is a question that needs asking.

And the assault just carried on. Aldrige again had lobbed a header to hit where the post meets the upright and bounce fortuitously out, a fine lobbed Tranmere goal was disallowed for offside, and Tranmere managed to squander at least two more sitters.

'Tame' would be a politer way of describing Everton's attempts to regain their credibility. Duncan had obviously had one too many Weetabix for breakfast. Every time he tried a pass, they suggested good vision and the right idea, but were all over hit by an order of about five times. His most significant contribution, and the only thing that gave Evertonians anything to get excited about, was when he started a fight with a defender. My hero. Right?

Throughout the game all Everton forward players looked to have the intuitive killer instincts of fluffy bunny rabbits. Was the whole game an elaborate PR trick by the directors to convince unsure fans of the need to blow several lottery wins on one proven striker?

There were very many changes to the line-up throughout the second half but none regrettably to the pattern of play. We saw Short, Unsworth, Allen, Hills and McCann but none made any difference. Only Oster looked likely to create any menace.

Oster is an absolute joy to watch, the way he uses his size to his advantage reminds me of Juninho. In Everton's best move of the game (only real 'move' of the game?) he kippered a defender, took the ball to the line and then laid it back to Speed for a carbon-copy of the own goal but in the 'right' net. This time Speed mucked it up putting the ball where he'd intended to stick the own goal effort. Oh, the irony!

In the meantime Tranmere had increased their lead through a fine outside-the-box drive, and could have easily increased our shame yet further had the blues again not had the luck of the bounce off the woodwork (the second time it hit the bar -- how it didn't go in looked to defy the laws of physics).

In sum, we were comprehensively beaten, and I couldn't believe we were trying and couldn't help but feel short-changed on my tenner entry. To paraphrase something I said not so long ago; Don't get too dejected and go out and put your mortgage on us getting relegated or anything daft like that yet, it was after all only a Mickey-Mouse friendly. However, I left Prenton with a good deal of the summer's gloom restored, and not a little faith tested.

I can't be bothered reviewing individual perfomances in depth:

  • Player's who were below par or poor: Barrett, Barmby, Stuart, Speed, Grant, Branch, Ferguson, Unsworth
  • Players who without necessarily being bad didn't make a particularly positive impression: Watson, Safar, Phelan (switched to left-mid in second half which didn't suit), McCann, Hills, Allen, Short.
  • Players who can leave with their head held high: Bilic, Oster (who both looked value for money)

Back to normal service?

An Omen? -- Maybe...
Jenny Roberts (aged 13)
The game started off promisingly, with the occasional hint of fancy football from the blue boys and a few remotely decent shots at goal. However, our goalie, Safar, had the tendency to advance a little too far forward, and this prompted several dodgy moments. And so the inevitable goal arrived after what I had at first considered to be a harmless Tranmere attack. Gary Speed attempted a clearance which trickled into the corner of the net. The entire Main Stand erupted around me. I could have cried...

I considered it strange that this prompted the first strains of "Everton, Everton, Everton."  Even over the PA, the announcer forced himself to suppress his giggles as he confirmed the reddening Speedo as the scorer.

Within 15 minutes, Rovers were two up courtesy of a magnificent Aldridge effort. I found myself sinking lower into my seat... If someone had given me a 50p coin for each time we had missed an opportunity to score, then I would be rich enough to quit school and buy my beloved football club.

A third goal arrived in the second half, and despite the numerous corners, we were still desperately hoping for at least one goal to ease the pain. Even a desperate treble substitution (Graham Allen, John Hills and Gavin McCann on for Bilic, Speed and Stuart) could not assist the situation.

The highlight of the game? Probably Big Dunc's punch-up with Eric Nixon in the first half. The man of the match? Definitely Bilic, although Oster was a contender. HK's only mistake of the game was bringing Bilic off. The young lads to watch this coming season are Oster, Allen, and Cadamarteri (I don't know if anyone saw him play against Chelsea in the last game last season, but I thought he was excellent!)

Don't get too depressed, it's just a friendly. Anyway two years ago, we lost a similar match 3-1 and we finished sixth in the league in the season following that match. An omen perhaps? I certainly hope so!

Pre-season friendlies don't tell us anything
Robbie Newton
The annual visit to Tranmere usually ends with the same question: Why wasn't it staged at Goodison Park? Out of an attendance bordering on 7,000, around 2/3rds of them where behind the visitors.

Tranmere is a pretty easy place to get to when you know how, but when you only go once a year it's a bit more tricky. We were well aware that we needed to get to Birkenhead, so we hopped on the train to Moorfields, and once there headed for Platform 3, Wirral Line. On looking at the map we discovered that there were 3 Birkenhead stops, Birkenhead Park, Birkenhead Something else, and Birkenhead Central. The problem was, we had both forgotten which one we went to last year.

Anyway, we decided to get off at Hamilton Square instead, as it was in the middle of the three Birkenheads, where upon arriving we were told our Saveaway's weren't valid. Nice one. I wasn't exactly being weighed down with money, so I began to get a bit worried whether I would have enough to get in to watch the match.

We blagged our way on to the bus with our invalid saveaway's and got to Prenton Park earlier than we expected, half-an-hour before kick-off. Prices were 10 pounds for adults, a fiver for juniors. Phew, we made it in via the junior gate.

Prenton Park is a neat little ground for such a small and deprived club. It holds about 15,000 but only usually attracts the equivalent of our Park End. As already mentioned, the attendance was around 7,000 with around 5,000 (if not more) being Evertonians.

Last year we ran out 3-1 winners in the Liverpool Senior Cup Final, with an enterprising display of quality football. After the win over Rangers and on paper a stronger team than last time around, much more of the same was expected.

Unfortunately, the Tranmere team seems to have improved also, and the acquisition of a gobshite called Lee Jones will prove very good business indeed. The Everton team that ran out against Tranmere could well be the team that runs out against Crystal Palace on August 9 (swapping the keeper with Nev). Saffar, Barrett, Phelan, Watson, Bilic, Stuart, Grant, Speed, Barmby, Branch, Ferguson making up the 4-3-1-2 formation.

First Half

The game kicked off at a rather Sunday-afternoon-stroll-in-the-park tempo, with neither team willing to have a go for goal. There was plenty of fancy football from the likes of Grant, Stuart and Speed, but it was all meaningless stuff that was pretty but ineffective. It didn't actually contribute anything to the game.

Tranmere looked pretty useful on the break, but surely Bilic and Watson could cope with Jones and Aldridge.

I can't recall either keeper being tested until the first goal, which arrived after about 10 minutes. A harmless Tranmere attack suddenly gained urgency as their right midfielder skipped around Phelan. A low cross looked to be heading for the opposite stand until Gary Speed instinctively stuck out his left leg and diverted the ball past the stranded Saffar at the near post. 1-0 to Tranmere, oh dear me.

I wasn't at all bothered at this point. We've just beaten Rangers 3-2, and we've got enough millions of pounds worth of talent on the pitch to cope with a mid-table First Division side. Surely. And besides, it's only a friendly.

The goal, strangely enough, brought the first vocals from the away end, but there was no reaction from the people in blue on the field. Tony Grant started to give the ball away, Duncan Ferguson continued to belittle his so-called "legend" status, and Earl Barrett seemed to be on a mission to see how many times he could get caught out of position.

Things were going from bad to worse and that was confirmed when goal Number 2 went in five minutes later. O'Brien played the ball through to Aldridge -- who was most definitely off-side -- and he swept the ball past the advancing Safar. (The first goal should also have been ruled off-side, by the way.)

Things were getting a little embarrassing. Tranmere continued to punch holes in the Everton defence, having numerous chances to extend their lead. And here was me thinking the defence was sorted with Bilic added to it.

The only threat we managed to produce was when a scramble occurred in the penalty area but neither Duncan or Barmby could put it away (hence the need for a striker who can put the ball away [without wanting 50,000 quid for doing it]).

Tranmere almost got goal Number 3 just on the half hour but Aldridge's header bounced back off the crossbar. Half-time came and was greeted with half-hearted boos from a few Everton fans.

Second Half

Watson, Barmby and Grant were replaced by Short, Unsworth, Allen and Oster. Short and Allen went to centre-back, Unsworth to left-back with Phelan pushing up to left midfield, with Speed taking Grant's position and Oster playing wide-right, meaning that the formation had changed from 4-3-1-2 to a flat 4-4-2.

Things improved slightly with more desire to get forward and more pace when going for goal, thanks largely to John Oster.

Oster showed more evidence of why Man United and Newcastle were after him, twisting and turning his opponent. Just as it seemed things may get better, wallop, goal Number 3 for Tranmere. I don't know who scored and to be honest I'm not one bit bothered. All I can tell you is that Short is about as useful to our defence as Brett Angell was to our attack. He can't mark a piece of paper, never mind an opposing striker. Somebody crossed the ball in from the left, and then next thing somebody hit the ball into the bottom right hand corner.

A few minutes later the ball crashed against the underside of our bar (or have I got that in the wrong sequence?) and it was time to sit back and wonder why Everton were getting literally mauled by Tranmere Rovers.

The next fifteen to twenty minutes were so ineffective that I've forgotten what actually happened, and it was only a couple of hours ago. I got off with 5 minutes to go as I didn't really want to stay and watch another minute of such a pathetic performance.  I wish I hadn't gone at all. What a crap day.

Player Ratings

  • Safar 6 Couldn't really fault him for any of the goals, he made one good one-on-one block, but pretty average overall. He's well built, btw.
  • Barrett 6 I fail to see his defensive qualities. Could somebody point them out please.
  • Phelan 6 Not really in the game today.
  • Watson 6 Ditto.
  • Bilic 7 Man of the Match probably. I can't believe Dr Dave is not impressed. He can get out of a dodgy situation so easily it's uncanny. Oh, and by the way, I got it wrong, he came off some time *during* the second half, not *at* half-time.
  • Stuart 6 Er... a squarish kind of day. Been watching tapes of Ray Wilkins since Wednesday methinks.
  • Grant 6 Gave the ball away frequently and his touches didn't come off today. Also: he was far too negative, far too indirect, far too attracted to the right wing. Far too not good enough.
  • Speed 6 What a pile of you know what. Missed a couple of sitters and generally walked around without a care in the world.
  • Barmby 6 Committed but didn't contribute too much to the game. Doesn't seem to have much strength in his right leg; the little boy who won the penalty shoot-out at half-time on Wednesday night puts him to shame. Barmby's one shot of the game trickled wide so quickly that a snail saved it.
  • Branch 7 Ran and ran with enthusiasm (there's a surprise) but didn't really have a single chance. And who's fault is that. The midfield.
  • Ferguson 6 I think the less I say here the better. Poor.
  • Hills 6 On for someone (Phelan?), some time after the hour. I've been very unimpressed with what I've seen of him thus far.
  • Oster 7.5 On for Grant. Oh yes. He's a good'un.
  • McCann 6 On for Stuart?
  • Short 6 What can I say. Below par.
  • Unsworth 6 Average.
  • Allen 6 Forgot about him. Didn't make an impression, now whether that's good or bad is open to debate.

To Me, Every Match Matters!
Adie Shortiemon
I arrived at the ground and sat behind the goal; for one who hated the new strip on first seeing, I agree that it does look a lot better in real life, especially in the sun. The metallic finish does make it shine. I thought Gary Speed had drawn the short straw in wearing the long sleeved version but the program proved me wrong by showing him in another one. As for the program, did anyone notice that the photos of every EFC player were the worst ever seen?

Onto the Game. Poor -- very poor. I dont think I've ever been so depressed 20 minutes into a game.  We had a good view of Safar's first test (a corner from the left) which left him looking rather James like, missing the ball completely only for Dunc to head out for another corner. He did do better in the game later on but never looked completely in control.

Dave and Slaven had swapped places from Wednesday's match, in my opinion in order to give Earl a bit more cover on the right. Slaven looked completely in control, often telling Dunc what to do when defending. Dunc didn't look impressed, Slaven didn't seem to give a toss what he thought.

The ref was Mr David Pugh -- funnily enough from the Wirral. Some of his decisions seemed a little one sided but mostly he was fair. As far as I can remember he didn't book anyone, which surprised me as I expected Dunc to get one for fighting.

The assistant refs were Mr R Pollock & Mr I Shaw and these seemed more one sided, especially in the first half where a couple of times Tranmere looked offside and weren't given and Dunc didn't look offside but was given. Maybe its because I'm biased and was sat at one end!

To me, every match matters: Ok, it may only be a pre-season friendly but it obviously mattered a lot more to Tranmere than it did to us. They outfought us for every ball and I'm sure they had more players than us because every time they passed it was to someone in space.

After Wednesday I was optimistic; after yesterday I'm far from it. I'm not looking forward to the season; I can't remember a team that looked short in so many places. No bottle in midfield. What happened to Grant's silky skills that looked so well on Wednesday? What happened to all the running from all members of the team? What happened to the finishing? What happened to the cover when defenders went forward?

We need a goal scorer. We need someone who will fight in midfield (come back Barry Horne, all is forgiven). We need another central defender for when Waggy goes.

Oh my God!
Huw Marshall (aka Campfreddie on Irc)
Pre-season friendlies always seem to remind me of Cup Finals, glorious sunny days, crowds of blues mingling with opposition fans outside an unfamiliar pub, everybody on a high, buzzing with expectation for what's around the corner.

Anyways, I took my position in the Kop behind a hardened gang of the Tranmere frontline (average age 12 and a BD), and listened to their ramblings with a cheer in my heart. Yes, after several dismal weeks of a footballess vacuum, the boys were back in town.

The opening formation was the same as the Watson Testimonial (I think) bar the new Goalie, a young Hungarian with curious line in warming up. We were treated to Busby's new pre-match warm up of team jogging, or walking in Dunc's case. So, with humble and eager anticipation I awaited for the boys in blue or greenish blue (the new kit looks shit - even Chester would be embarrassed by it) to rip Tranmere apart, -- Oh dear, was I in for a shock.

When HK arrived, he said, and I quote..."With all due respect to Dave Watson, I don't think we need 7 or 8 new players."  On the evidence of today HK, must have thought 18 nearer the mark. Our formation at the beginning was straight enough 4-4-2 with the dodgy-looking Hungarian in Goal (home on the next flight I presume), Phelan and Barrett as backs, Bilic and Watson in the heart of defence, Barmby and Grant in the middle, Stuart and Speed operating on the wide with Fergie and Branch up front.

From the off, Tranmere bossed the middle of the park.  Grant was having a stinker and Barmby took half-an-hour to touch the ball.  The defence looked vulnerable due to the lack of cover directly ahead of them. Having said that, I thought Barrett and Phelan played very well, with Phelan my Man of the Match.  

Watson and Bilic looked a formidable duo, with Bilic very pleasing on the eye, but perhaps we need a bit of a Ratcliffe alongside him, -- someone with pace???  Speed looks as though he's reliving last season, -- it took about 10 games before he woke up!! -- but we all know what he's capable of so no worries there.  Stuart on the other hand looks limited; I'm sure he'd do well with Leicester or Coventry, but he's not the class act we need so badly.

Fergie was his usual self, putting himself about and creating openings for other players, but at present he's only operating in 2nd gear like Speed. Branch runs about a lot and tries hard and looks impressive, but he seems to achieve little, -- I hope I'm wrong but at present he ain't the answer to our problems (neither is that twat Ravioli).

I'm sure with Parky or Ince in our midfield, things would have been different.  As it turned out, Speed switched in to midfield with Barmby's uselessness excelling out in no-man's land. Who in their right minds would pay £1,000,000 for Barmby, let alone nearly £6 M?  He makes Mo Johnston look like the buy of the century.

At half time, trailing 2-0, HK rang the changes.  One thing in the second half cheered me up: young Oster. Yes, he does look 12, but he's one of the most exciting players I have ever seen, a lot of you will remember a certain R Giggs making his debut for the last 20 mins at Goodison Park. I reckon this kid has the makings of a £20,000,000 super star (OK, I'm getting carried away, but you have to look on these things positively).

The one thing that did worry me in the second half was the formation.  I've seen the Christmas tree and the diamond, but never before the amoeba. We had players all over the shop. Three centre halves in Bilic, Short and Unsworth, the latter two playing crap, with Unsy in a sort of left-back position behind Phelan???  Grant and Barmby vanished, along with Watson to make way for the aforementined three.

We were shapeless and at many a time clueless, with HK in the end sending on the rest of the kids in an effort to make the scoreline look realistic. At the moment, things for next season don't look too good.  We desperately need a couple of central midfield dynamos, especially if the rumours of Pieman Parkinson's retirement ring true.

I would be more than happy to see Oster start the season on the wing, but we need a proven goalscorer.  As with all of last season, we created loads of chances but no bastard looked remotely like putting the ball away. Bilic looks an excellent signing but we need more pace in defence, and I still think we need another goalie and more cover at right back, -- still no sign of O'Connor.

Match Summary
from Soccernet
Szab Safar experienced a nightmare start to his trial for Everton, who lost 3-0 at Tranmere.

The Hungarian international goalkepeer twice had to pick the ball out of the net in the first 17 minutes and it could have been much worse as Tranmere missed other great opportunities as they severely embarrassed Howard Kendall's men.

Safar, a 24-year-old who plays for Vasas Budapest, had no chance in the 14th minute when a Lee Jones effort struck Gary Speed and bounced inside a post.

Three minutes later Rovers player-manager John Aldridge raced through to beat Safar and Paul Cook added a third after 58 minutes.

Kendall was non-committal about Sabar afterwards, saying: 'He came over for just seven days to play in this match. He will be the first to know if there are any developments.'

But he was happier with John Oster, a £1.5million signing from Grimsby who joined the action as a second-half substitute. 'He did well,' said Kendall. 'He is a confident lad.'

Report © Soccernet
Prenton Prang
by David Prentice
SWEET tea is an effective treatment for shock. Fortunately the half-time brew served up at Tranmere would rot tooth enamel just by blowing on it.

Everton's frayed nerves needed more than a liquid restorative at Prenton Park on Saturday, after a pre-season friendly which saw them comprehensively outplayed. Afterwards both parties were playing down the significance of a match which Tranmere were clearly more pumped up for. But the significance for the Blues could be that Howard Kendall now knows the extent of the changes he needs to effect.

Tranmere's imaginative and intelligent forays yielded three goals, and with more incisive finishing they could have comfortably doubled that total. But strangely Everton's problems weren't exclusively defensive. Slaven Billc shone again, but the cover offered by the midfield trio was patchy.

The system which worked so effectively against Glasgow Rangers in midweek failed miserably against a team which flooded men into the midfield. It was only when Nick Barmby and Tony Grant came off and Kendall went 4-4-2 that the Blues steadied, if not rallied.

The half-time interval could have produced an infinitely more embarrassing scoreline than the 2-0 deficit they faced. After Michael Branch had failed to beat Nixon from 12 yards; the first of a number of telling bursts by Lee Jones produced the opening goal. He fired across the face of goal from Morrissey's pass and Gary Speed unluckily turned the ball past Hungarian triallist goalkeeper Szab Olcs Safar. That was in the l4th minute, and three minutes later John Aldridge produced a classic finish after racing clear of Everton's loose offside trap.

A minute later Aldridge climbed above Barrett but headed down against the post, then Liam O'Brien drifted into the penalty area, dribbled around Safar but was denied a goal by Bilic's excellent challenge. Branch hooked over the crossbar from Ferguson's head-down as Everton briefly pressed, but Tranmere still could have doubled their lead when Safar blocked from Lee Jones and Paul Cook was dubiously ruled offside as he raced clean through.

John Oster built on the bright impression he made last Wednesday when he was introduced at half-time. One penetrating dribble and cut-back gave Gary Speed an excellent chance, but he fired over the crossbar.

Tranmere deserved their third goal, crisply fired in by Cook after a sweet chest back from Lee Jones. Like their insipid new strip, Everton were washed out and a smart save by Coyne late-on denied Gavin McCann what would have been a consolation. It may only have been a friendly, but Evertonian hands were reaching for something slightly stronger than tea at quarter to five on Saturday.

Report © The Liverpool Echo

Tranmere Romp Home
By Graham Bell

HOWARD KENDALL kept cool at sweltering Prenton Park as he watched Tranmere wallop his newly inherited Everton. The Blues boss looked studiously unruffled as he chewed over the spectacle of a comprehensive 3-0 defeat.  It was, after all, only a friendly.

"We were dead," he said. "We looked a bit leggy - these things will happen in pre-season." Next came the predictable rider that results are of secondary importance three weeks before the only kick-off that really matters.  Thus he identified a glaring difference in psychology.  For Tranmere, Saturday afternoon was damned important.  As the junior Merseyside team, Rovers were fired up to put one over their more illustrious neighbours.  Right from the kickoff, it was obvious they were taking this annual curtain-raiser rather seriously.

While Everton stuttered shapelessly, Tranmere set about them with relish, running the midfield as they pleased and continually exposing an embarrassingly static defence.  Lee Jones had a field day, tearing round the back to latch on to balls played over Dave Watson and Slaven Bilic. Paul Cook, left free to control the contest from midfield, capped a fine performance with a second-half goal. And, not to be upstaged, John Aldridge turned back the clock with a classic strike of skill and opportunism. Is he really thinking of consigning himself to the bench this season?

Too many Everton players were plain anonymous. Not until teenage John Oster appeared after half-time did they show any sustained appetite for the contest. Kendall will take heart from the late showing of fellow youngsters Allen, McCann and Hills. But otherwise it was a collective off-day that kept the large Blues contingent in the Bebington Road kop understandably subdued.

It was difficult not to sympathise with Hungarian triallist Szab Olcs Safar, who endured a fiery baptism in the Everton goal. Kendall complained, quite rightly, about the international being left exposed and unprotected. All the more credit to him for a sound performance. There was nothing Safar -- or Gary Speed -- could do about Tranmere's opening goal after quarter of an hour. A low ball into the box from Lee Jones span off the Everton midfielder's boot into the net.

Aldridge's follow-up, two minutes later, was a classier affair, the boss running on to John McGreal's through-ball and converting with style. Eric Nixon got down well to save from Michael Branch and kept Duncan Ferguson in check. Otherwise he had little to do. Aldridge hit a post and Lee Jones, Cook and Gary Jones all missed chances before Cook wrapped it up with the third after 57 minutes.

Report © The Liverpool Echo

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