Chances were at a premium for Chris Wood at Newcastle even before a breakthrough in their pursuit of Alexander Isak but he took the only one that arrived at Tranmere to guide Eddie Howe’s team into the third round of the Carabao Cup.
The Newcastle manager has vowed to treat both domestic cup competitions with genuine intent this season as he seeks to deliver a first trophy to Tyneside since 1969. It needed the introduction of Kieran Tripper to turn the contest Newcastle’s way at Prenton Park, where Wood and Jamal Lascelles both scored from corners delivered by the full back, after Elliott Nevitt had given Rovers the lead in superb style. But the comeback was deserved, and the imminent arrival of Real Sociedad striker Isak in a club record £63m deal will only increase the early season optimism at St James’ Park.
Joe Willock was the only starter from Sunday’s pulsating draw against Manchester City to retain his place as Howe rang the changes. To rotate 10 players is always a risk, certainly away at a club with a proud reputation for cup upsets, but Newcastle’s team contained plenty of experience and established players in need of playing time. The strategy appeared justified as the visitors made a positive, confident start only to be prised apart by Tranmere’s first incisive attack of the game.
Rovers rejected a four-figure sum to promote a betting company during the tie in keeping with their long-held opposition to gambling advertising in football. Tranmere’s owners, Mark and Nicola Palios, backed a ninth minute round of applause in memory of Olivia Pratt-Korbel, the nine year-old girl shot dead inside her home in Liverpool on Monday, and the stadium responded with a moving ovation.
Newcastle controlled possession from the outset without creating any clear-cut openings against a strong Rovers’ defence. Elliot Anderson dragged a shot wide from distance when found in space by Matt Ritchie and Willock’s attempt to release Chris Wood on the counter-attack was foiled by a fine interception from Jordan Turnbull.
Micky Mellon’s side have won once in the league this season and languish in 17th in League Two as a consequence. The breakthrough that stunned Newcastle and Prenton Park, however, was work of the highest quality. The home side played their way through Newcastle’s press with a one-touch triangle that ended with Lee O’Connor sending Josh Dacres-Cogley sprinting clear down the right with a deft chip. The right wing-back was too fast for the recovering Sean Longstaff and crossed low for Nevitt, who found the top corner from close range via a touch off goalkeeper Karl Darlow.
It was a moment to cherish for the Tranmere goalscorer. The 25-year-old only turned professional in July 2021 and made his professional debut 12 months ago having played Sunday league and non-league football for Burscough, City of Liverpool, Bootle, Waterloo Dock and Warrington Rylands 1906. A fine education and a fine goal.
The night threatened to get worse for Newcastle when defender Emil Krafth was taken off on a stretcher with a serious looking injury after a heavy challenge. From the resulting free-kick, delivered by his replacement Trippier, Anderson had a goal-bound header diverted out for a corner by Kyle Jameson. Trippier took that too, and his second touch of the contest produced the equaliser for Jamal Lascelles. The Newcastle captain peeled away for a back post header that struck the unwitting Jameson and dropped kindly to his feet for a second bite. Lascelles made no mistake from close range.
Tranmere captain, Kane Hemmings, was booked for sliding into Darlow as he closed down the visiting keeper, who was hurt but able to continue.
Howe’s team started the second half brightly too, with Jacob Murphy and Ritchie stretching the home defence out of their comfort zone, and took the lead courtesy of another precise Trippier corner. The England international’s set-piece sailed just over Hemmings at the near post and the towering Wood, somehow escaping the attentions of his marker, powered an unstoppable header past goalkeeper Mateusz Hewelt.
Tranmere placed their Premier League visitors under sustained pressure late on but an equaliser was elusive. Substitute Sven Botman was close to adding a third for Newcastle with a thumping header from another Trippier corner only for Hewelt to save impressively.