ON THE eve of the Oscars, rising star Matthew Mills posted his nomination for the newcomer-of-the-year award. (Feb 26)

Mills capped a commanding defensive performance by scoring the first goal of his fledgling career as Cherries battled back to earn a share of the points.

The teenager, on loan from Southampton, also displayed great fortitude and kept his head after unwittingly playing a part in the visitors' goal in the 22nd minute.

His unfortunate deflection off Paul Hall's tamely-struck effort wrong-footed Cherries goalkeeper Neil Moss and left Sean O'Driscoll's side in undeserved arrears.

But Mills was on hand to restore parity when he climbed above the Rovers defence to head home Wade Elliott's hanging cross on the stroke of half-time.

"Looking at the league table, you would say a point wasn't bad, but reflecting on the performance, I think three points would have been deserved," said Mills, who scooped the sponsors' man-of-the-match award.

A cat-and-mouse opening set the tone with the first half-chance falling to Tranmere after 16 minutes when defender Michael Jackson got on the end of Jason McAteer's free kick, only to see his header drift wide.

Cherries' response was immediate and Elliott tested Jon Achterberg after stepping inside from the right and riding two challenges, but his 20-yarder was well held by the Rovers goalkeeper.

Achterberg could then only punch Elliott's teasing centre as Fletcher looked to pounce, and, when the loose ball had found its way to John Spicer, his shot was turned around the post by Ian Sharps.

There was more than a hint of good fortune about Rovers's goal with Moss appearing to have Hall's scuffed shot well covered until a wicked deflection off Mills diverted it into the back of the net.

"I thought he was going to have a clean connection and it was going to hit me in the midriff or on my thigh," recalled Mills. "But he didn't hit it very well and that's what fooled me really. There wasn't much I could do about it."

Cherries looked for an instant riposte and Warren Cummings's bellicose drive was charged down by Sharps before Mills rose at the near post to head Stock's corner wide of the opposite upright.

A cleverly-worked free kick saw Brian Stock tee up Garreth O'Connor and although the Irishman's blistering drive from the edge of the box was tipped over by Achterberg, referee Iain Williamson opted to award a goal kick.

But Cherries levelled on the stroke of half-time when Mills rose superbly inside the six-yard box to nod home Elliott's centre from the right following another patient build-up.

It was a memorable moment for Mills and one he could share with his father Colin and girlfriend Sam who were both among the Dean Court crowd.

Mills said: "It was a great cross, the type I thrive on when I go up for corners. It hung there nicely and I fancied my chances. It was a great feeling to score my first senior goal after seven games. I'll take that ratio throughout my career!"

On the balance of play, it was a deserved equaliser for Cherries, although goalscoring chances and goalmouth action were both at a premium during a contest for the footballing purists rather than the spectators.

"We were disappointed to concede after going 1-0 up," said Rovers manager Brian Little. "I thought we stopped them getting chances, which was the real plan, and once we went 1-0 up, we hoped we might sneak it.

"I think Jon (Achterberg) had to make one save in the first half and we all felt he should have done better with the cross for the goal, but he does so well for us that it's always difficult to criticise."

Rovers teenager Chris Dagnall, who had caused Mills and Southampton so many problems in last season's FA Youth Cup, went close to restoring the visitors' lead when his cross-shot flashed wide of Moss's right-hand post in first-half stoppage time.

Achterberg gathered with ease after Fletcher had outjumped the Rovers defence to meet Spicer's high cross at the start of the second half before Jackson was booked for a tackle from behind.

A sweeping move saw Elliott's pass send James O'Connor scampering free down the right, and, after the Villa loan man had dispatched a thumping cross into the mixer, Spicer saw his first-time effort deflected over the top.

Elliott sliced a volley into the North Stand after being picked out by Spicer's cross, and, in terms of chances, that was about as good as it got in the second half.

Little added: "We knew it would be a difficult game so from our point of view, we are happy with a draw. I think we would have taken a draw before the game.

"We didn't want them to get into full flow and I think you could see they were a bit worried about us as they played with just one up front.

"I think both sides looked at the game and didn't want to lose so it ended up a bit of a stalemate. Both sides cancelled each other out.

"When you are the away side, you don't want to lose games like this but when you are the home side, you could really do with winning them so, in that respect, I think we came out slightly better."