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New Year notstalgia: The Day Higgy went in goal...

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New Year's Day 1997 will forever be remembered as the day that Dave Higgins secured his permanent place in Tranmere folklore. 

Higgy, already well on the way to becoming a true Tranmere legend after years of never-say-die commitment and willingness to run through brick walls for his team, was not only a fearless leader but also one of the most eccentric footballers you're likely to meet - the sort of character you rarely get in the modern game.

And so it came to pass that on January 1 1997, when goalkeeper Danny Coyne was forced off through injury and Rovers had no back-up on the bench (these were the days of only three subs), Higgy stepped forward, donned the number one jersey and went on to produce a quite remarkable performance as Tranmere secured victory at West Brom.

Rovers went into the game without a win in five games.  On that day at the Hawthorns, they lined up in a 4-1-4-1 formation, the system used regularly by John Aldridge in his fledgling months as manager.  Liam O'Brien provided a screen in front of the back four of Tony Thomas, John McGreal, Higgy and Gary Stevens, while Mogsy and Pat Nevin occupied the wings, with Ged Brannan and Paul Cook marshalling midfield.  Brannan in particular was under instructions to break whenever possible in support of Aldo, our lone front man.

Coyne, who had only recently returned to the side in a long-running battle with Eric Nixon to be number one, suffered an inauspicious start and was still groggy from an accidental collision with Tony Thomas when Daryl Burgess gave the hosts the lead on four minutes.

Aldo, in typical fashion, only needed a single sniff of goal to restore parity on 17 minutes, before Coyne was in the wars again just after the half hour, colliding with the Baggies' Paul Raven.  This time, the Welshman was forced off the field, leaving Rovers short of a goalkeeper.  Teenager Alan Mahon was brought on for Coyne, Rovers reshuffled and Higgy took the gloves.

West Brom, backed by more than 14,000 home fans, understandably came under pressure to test Higgy throughout.  This Baggies team boasted the likes of Richard Sneekes in midfield and a strike-force of Paul Peschisolido and Andy Hunt in attack, and at half-time Bob Taylor was introduced for goalscorer Burgess as the hosts went for it.

But despite their attacking intentions, Rovers survived, with Higgy handling everything thrown at him in exemplary fashion.  And, with time ticking away, another chance fell Aldo's way and the 38-year-old player-manager duly netted his 16th goal of the season to give his side a remarkable victory.

Despite his brace, all Aldo's praise afterwards was reserved for his veteran defender, who kept a clean sheet and repelled the home attack for more than an hour.

That season may also be remembered for the 2-1 victory at Maine Road, Ivano Bonetti's late winner in front of the sky cameras in the 4-3 thriller against Portsmouth, and Lee Jones' last-gasp equaliser to deny champions Bolton 100 points, but as individual performances go, Higgy's would be hard to beat.

 

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