Chris Wood’s header eases Newcastle nerves after Tranmere make fast start

Eddie Howe has vowed to attack cup competitions with genuine intent this season and the introduction of £140m worth of substitutes against Tranmere showed Newcastle have the resources to match their manager’s ambition. They were needed to secure a third round tie with Crystal Palace on an awkward, bruising night at Prenton Park.

Elliott Nevitt, a striker who was playing non-league football just over a year ago, swept the League Two strugglers into a stylish lead before Newcastle recovered the tie through Jamal Lascelles and Chris Wood. Both scored from Kieran Trippier corners, with the England international one of several expensive substitutes who injected composure and strength into the visiting display. Lascelles scored while nursing a broken nose sustained early in the contest. Wood, his limited chances at Newcastle threatened even more by the imminent arrival of Alexander Isak for a club record fee, sealed victory with a thumping second-half header.

“Tranmere were very good defensively and powerful. We needed to match them and we did,” said the Newcastle manager, who was unable to provide an update on a proposed £59m deal for Real Sociedad striker Isak. “I’ve said repeatedly that we want to do well in the cup competitions this season. This was a test of our attitude and character and we passed it well.”

Joe Willock was the only starter from Sunday’s pulsating draw against Manchester City to retain his place as Howe rang the changes. Rotating 10 players is always a risk, especially away at a club with a proud reputation for cup upsets, but Newcastle’s team contained plenty of experience. The strategy seemed justified as the visitors made a positive start only to be prised apart by Tranmere’s first incisive attack of the game.

Rovers had 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.

Micky Mellon’s side have won once in the league this season and lie 17th in League Two as a consequence. The breakthrough that stunned Newcastle, 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 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 last July and made his professional debut 12 months ago having played Sunday league football and non-league 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 potentially serious knee injury following a heavy challenge. “He’s in a lot of pain and it doesn’t look good,” said Howe.

From the resulting free-kick, delivered by his replacement Trippier, Elliot 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 Lascelles. The Newcastle captain peeled away for a back-post header that struck the unwitting Jameson and dropped to Lascelles for a second bite. He made no mistake from close range.

“There was a blatant block,” argued Mellon. “It was schoolboy stuff and the referee hasn’t even seen it.”

Newcastle started the second half brightly too, with Jacob Murphy and Matt Ritchie stretching the home defence, and took the lead courtesy of another precise Trippier corner. The defender’s set-piece sailed just over Kane 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 Newcastle under sustained pressure late on but an equaliser was elusive. Substitute Sven Botman was close to adding a third with a thumping header from another Trippier corner only for Hewelt to save impressively.