HAVING showered each other with praise beforehand, Danny Wilson and Ronnie Moore were nevertheless delighted to see their respective teams prove far less amiable in pursuit of three precious League One points.
Unfortunately for the neutrals, however, while industry was in plentiful supply, moments of inspiration were at a premium, with both managers later describing this match as “a game of chess” and Harry Maguire warning Sheffield United face plenty more battles of will between now and the end of the season.
“The mental side of football is absolutely massive now,” Maguire, the United centre-
half, said. “Especially in a division where the margins for error are so slim.
“You’ve got to stay switched on all the time because if you don’t then you’re going to get punished and mistakes can be costly. Those of us at the back love matches like that one. Keeping a clean sheet is what motivates us.
“Going forward as a unit we could have done a bit better, shown a little bit more spark.
“But there are still lots of positives we can take away with us.”
In tandem with the excellent Neill Collins, Maguire used sheer force of personality to nullify the threat posed by Tranmere Rovers’ Jake Cassidy who arrived at Bramall Lane searching for his 12th goal of the campaign but departed having failed to influence a contest dominated by defences.
Maguire, aged 19, has been on a remarkable journey since making his United debut 20
months ago. Against the league leaders, he showcased the talents which were recently rewarded with a first England under-21 cap and earned admirers at both Championship and top-flight level.
“Experience is the biggest thing,” Maguire continued. “When I first came into the team I had jelly legs whenever I went out on to the pitch.
“I was really nervous about playing in front of 20,000 people but now I absolutely love it. I don’t think anything of it at all. In fact, I actually prefer it.”
“The only thing I’m focused on is working hard with United,” he added. “There’s always lots of talk when you play for a club like this one. Lots of rumours and the like.
“It doesn’t bother me though because what I’m concentrating on is trying to ensure I’m playing in the Championship next season with Sheffield United.”
Moore had paid tribute to his counterpart’s ability and resilience ahead of kick-off and, on the eve of this fixture, took great pride from Wilson’s decision to reciprocate in kind.
Two of the division’s most respected and accomplished managers, they both sprang surprises in an effort to gain the upper hand before expressing a degree of satisfaction about the final outcome.
Wilson, who deployed winger Ryan Flynn in a central midfield role after losing Kevin McDonald to injury, said: “It was a game of few openings but Tranmere are where they are on merit.
“There were times when we could have done with a little bit more magic or composure but we knew beforehand that we were going to be in for a really tough and difficult game.”
Barely a cigarette paper separates these two rivals in the table but, in every other respect, they are worlds apart.
Moore, having galvanised a previously faltering squad, has embellished the options at his disposal by peppering it with some astute and inspired loans.
Nevertheless, despite Rovers’ remarkable progress so far, the 59-year-old knows that even flirting with promotion will be deemed a success at Prenton Park.
A luxury Wilson, by his own admission, is denied having come agonisingly close to restoring United’s Championship status last term.
Any lingering doubts about the weight of expectation shouldered by the former Northern Ireland international and his players evaporated on the morning of the game when shareholders used their annual general meeting to leave Wilson and the club’s board of directors in no doubt promotion is demanded.
Still third in the table, United are well positioned to achieve that objective.
With Rovers also displaying impressive attention to detail and discipline, clear-cut opportunities were few and far between with Nick Blackman and Cassidy firing high and wide either side of an fierce drive from United’s Tony McMahon which drew an excellent save from Owain Fon Williams.
Max Power twice went close with long-range efforts before Shaun Miller and Blackman enjoyed chances to break the deadlock
“The only thing missing was a goal,” Moore said.
“But we did everything that we’d planned to do and we did it well. We’ve come here and competed with the team I regard as being the very best in this competition so we’ve got to be pleased with the result.”