Barrow AFC meeting the opposition.

Tranmere Rovers start their 2023-24 League Two season on Saturday afternoon at home to Pete Wild’s Barrow AFC. 

It has been a great summer for The Whites, that may be down to opinion, as players of a high calibre have been recruited in the likes of goalkeeper Luke McGee and strikers Luke Norrris alongside Kristian Dennis. 

Dennis was a right handful when he played against Tranmere last year, netting a brace thus The SWA are undoubtedly very excited to see what he can do at Prenton Park. 

There is still more to be done, for me, as I’d quite like Ian Dawes, backed by technical director Nigel Adkins, to add a couple of defenders, midfielders and attackers to the squad but having Charlie Jolley and Kieron Morris back fit feels like signings in itself. 

Barrow AFC, managed by Pete Wild, finished ninth in May and will provide a strong test on the weekend. To hear more about The Bluebirds, I spoke to Lewis Haigh ahead of the ninety minutes. 

How long have you been a Barrow fan? What was your first experience of the club? 

I’ve been a Barrow supporter since 2015, being 11 at the time and part of a family who dislike football for some very odd reason. I didn’t go to a whole bunch of games that season… but I did actually get to watch us bottle a 3 – 1 lead against the Rovers! 

Best and worst moments during your time supporting The Bluebirds? 

Best moment undeniably has to be getting promotion back into the football league. Special moment for all the fans and we’ve done well to keep ourselves in it and hopefully this season we can have our best finish yet! I would have to say that I haven’t really witnessed a ‘worst moment’ as I started watching the club properly at a point where things were on the up! Perhaps looking over our shoulders the first two seasons we got back into the EFL knowing relegation was a real possibility! 

Pete Wild is Barrow’s manager as the former Halifax and Oldham boss was appointed in late May 2022. What is his playing style like as well as his relationship with supporters? 

Pete Wild is a brilliant manager, the fans adore him and we trust he will always do the right thing for the team and for the club. His playing style is very much trying to maintain a good shape on the pitch, having the lads work hard out of possession and utilising wide players to create problems that we can score from! 

Josh Gordon scored 15 goals last season but moved to Burton Albion in the summer. How big of a miss will he be? Who are the players to keep an eye out for now? 

I’d say Josh is going to be a miss for us! Not only was he a massive fan favourite, he was tricky, had an incredible leap on him and as you say scored 15 important goals for us last season. I would hope the signings we have made can make up for the loss of his goals, not only up front but from midfield as well as we didn’t score many goals from there last term. 

My suggestions on the players to watch this season would be Jamie Proctor, Dean Campbell, Ben Whitfield. I personally think Jamie is where we will see the loss of Josh Gordon’s goals made up, I predict him to be our top goal scorer. Dean Campbell I think is one of our best signings this summer, from watching him in preseason he is good on the ball, technical and creative hence why I think he will be up there providing goals to the team come the end of the season! Ben Whitfield is here for similar reasons, had the most assists for us last season, incredibly creative and hard working and I think we can see something similar from him this season.

Paul Hornby became the Owner of Barrow quite recently, how well has he been doing in this role? What does the club look like away from the pitch? 

I think it is very, very easy to see the impact Paul has had on the club since his arrival. We are moving forward constantly, securing tenancy of improved club facilities in Manchester, the progress of the stadium has been immense, with two new semi-permanent stands being built and the away end being reformed to now hold over 900. That in itself will allow us to capitalise financially on the bigger away followings some teams bring. Moreover, himself and Iain Wood have backed Pete in the market to bring in the kind of players he has been after and again, they have looked to secure deals for players who can become footballing and financial assets to the club. It has very much become about progressing the club constantly and I hope we continue to see it on and off the pitch. 

Tranmere and Barrow last faced each other in late December 2022 as a late goal from Striker Kane Hemmings won the game for the visitors. What are your thoughts on The 


I was at that game and I was not happy with watching that goal go in! Despite that, I have to say I think the Rovers have done some decent business particularly with the addition of Luke Norris. I expect the Rovers to finish in a similar position as last term if not better!  

This Summer Barrow have signed: Right Winger David Worrall, Striker Jamie Proctor and Midfielder Dean Campbell amongst others. With the window still open, where else do you think needs strengthening? 

First of all I am incredibly pleased with most of the business we have done as a club this summer. I still expect perhaps another player to come through the door especially with the mutual contract termination between the club and Richie Bennett. I believe we need another CB to make up for the injury to Mazeed Ogungbo primarily.

How excited are you for this season to start? Who are you looking forward to coming up against and what are your expectations? 

This season is the most excited I have been for a season of football in my entire life. The competition this term is immense and I fully expect us to solidify a mid table spot once again. I am excited to play Morecambe obviously with it being our actual local rivals, I particularly enjoyed my trip to Bradford last season. I think Gillingham, Wrexham and Stockport will be good fixtures to watch as well. 

Saturday afternoon sees Tranmere return to Prenton Park for competitive football for the first time in three months. It has been a great summer for The Rovers as players such as Luke McGee, Kristian Dennis and Luke Norris have been recruited. It feels nice to be back! 

Everton FC meeting the opposition.

Tranmere Rovers face an Everton XI on Saturday afternoon at Prenton Park as both clubs continue their preparations for the 2023-24 season. 

The Rovers come into the fixture, which will be their first at home since the season ended in early May against Northampton Town, on the back of two behind closed doors friendlies. 

Ian Dawes’ side beat Fleetwood before losing against Rochdale at The Campus.

Josh Hawkes and Charlie Jolley both impressed as they had a great afternoon in front of goal in the first game. However, Jordan Turnbull was sent off against recently relegated Rochdale as he gave a penalty away.

Everton stayed up on the final day of their Premier League campaign with a narrow victory against AFC Bournemouth at Goodison Park. 

The Blues also have a game against Wigan on Saturday thus it will be interesting to see who they field. 

I spoke to freelancer Tactically Matt ahead of the ninety minutes. 

How long have you been an Everton fan? What was your first experience of the club?

Since the day I was born. With a day from Liverpool and a full family of Evertonians, I had zero choice in who I supported. I went to my first game at Goodison Park at the age of six and I will never forget it. Manchester City at home, we drew 2-2 with a last minute equaliser and I’ve been in love with the club ever since, unfortunately.

Best and worst moments in your time following The Blues?

There’s not been many good times as an Evertonian, but I’d do anything to go back to the David Moyes days. Limited money, but the players that came in always had a point to prove. They worked for each other and played for the badge. Goes back to the old saying ‘you don’t know what you’ve got until it’s gone’. I wanted a big investment but I’d do anything to go back. Worst times? These last two seasons. The stress of a relegation battle is like no other. Genuine sleepless nights and anger. Especially when some of my work is based around talking about Everton, it was a horrible time and I hope it never happens again.

You’re well known for your great tactical analysis as you write pieces for The Bullens View and other well respected outlets in your role as a freelancer. When did your love for analysing the game deeply start and when did you start getting your work published?

Around four years ago, I ruptured my ACL and consequently was unable to play football. Two years later, when I thought I was fully recovered, I did it again. In those four years, I’ve spent time coaching football and decided that if I can’t play, I need to be involved in some way. I started learning the game from an analytical perspective and made this Twitter account in August of 2021. Nearly two years later, I’m writing full-time with multiple freelance opportunities and have had an amazing experience so far.

Everton survived relegation with a narrow victory from an Abdoulaye Doucoure volley against Bournemouth at Goodison Park on the final day of last season. What are your thoughts on the campaign when you take a look back on it? 

Terrible. A club the size of Everton can’t be involved in relegation battles, it’s as simple as that. The club has been run into the ground and we’re paying the price now. Things are looking rosier under Sean Dyche, but with our financial problems, there’s still a lot of problems at the club.

How have the club attempted to address their issues in the summer and how well do you believe they have done with Ashley Young being the sole signing so far?

It’s been a slow start, but it’s not easy with our limited budget. Also, it’s not an attractive club for players at the moment, with the off the pitch issues and on the pitch struggles. Ashley Young is probably a smart signing, considering his experience and versatility, but it’s hardly exciting for Evertonians.

Manager Sean Dyche was appointed in late January as Frank Lampard made a poor start to the season. What are your thoughts on his playing style and relationship with the fans so far? 

I think fans are slowly buying into it all. At the start, there were a lot of people who were sceptical, but you can see he’s implementing a structure from top to bottom and is demanding a lot from the players. Hard work and commitment is all Everton fans want, and he gets that out of every single player.

How do you think Lampard did as boss? Was it the correct time to part ways?

Unfortunately for him, he’s simply not good enough. A nice guy and he connected with the fans, but tactically, we were all over the place. It wasn’t the correct time, really, it should have been done a few months before.

It all got a bit messy last season with Owner Farhad Moshiri and other board members staying away from the club in reported fear of being hurt by fans. What are your thoughts on those at the top and what would they need to do to get themselves back on the side of the fans? 

There’s no turning back, in my opinion. The board all has to go. The evidence shows that they’re massively underachieving on the pitch and have caused financial mess off it. The fans thank Moshiri for sorting a state of the art stadium, but it’s time for him and the rest of the board to depart.

Winger Dwight Mcneil netted 7 last season. How important is he to the team and how would you describe his playing style? Who would you say are Everton’s other one’s to watch? 

He’s extremely important. His work rate and crossing ability are so suited to Sean Dyche’s system. He started slowly under Frank Lampard, but you can see that Dyche gets the best out of him. Expecting a big season from him. Nathan Patterson and James Garner are ones to watch next season, for me. Both have struggled with injuries, but with a full season under their belt, hopefully we see what they can do. 

Tranmere last played Everton competitively in 2001 as The Whites won 3-0 at Goodison Park. What are your thoughts on The Whites?

I think most Everton fans want to see Tranmere doing well. Over the years we’ve had players join the club on loan, former youth players often make the move there. Maybe it would be a little different if they were competing in the same league, but it’s a club I’ve always checked the results of, especially when the likes of Lewis Warrington were there on loan.

What type of team can we expect Everton to field at Prenton Park?

I think it could be a lot of youth players. Everton also have a friendly against Wigan Athletic, where I imagine more of the first-team will go.

What are your thoughts ahead of the 2023-24 season? How confident are you that the club can again avoid the drop? 

If we get a few more players in, I’ll be excited for a full season under Dyche. With a pre-season learning his methods, hopefully we can start well and show a bit of consistency, especially with the manager. I believe we will stay up, but that rests on Everton signing a striker, a couple of wingers, and a centre-back.

Rovers are back in action at Prenton Park for the first time since the League Two season ended in early May as they face an Everton XI this Saturday. 

Rochdale AFC meeting the opposition.

Tranmere Rovers will face the recently relegated Rochdale on Tuesday afternoon as Ian Dawes’ men continue their preparations for the 2023-24 season.

The game comes a few days on from a 4-1 win at The Campus as The Whites came head to head against Fleetwood. 

Charlie Jolley and Josh Hawkes stood out with fantastic attacking performances, the former forcing an own goal with a powerful cross and the latter netting twice. 

It has been fantastic to watch Jolley so far this Summer after he spent the entirety of the last campaign on the treatment table. It will be great to see what he can do in the upcoming year, the forward line is certainly looking stronger.

Ahead of the friendly tie against Rochdale I spoke to the club’s her game ambassador Charlotte Cromarty who told me all about what is happening at The Dale as they prepare for life in the fifth tier.

How long have you been a Rochdale supporter and how did your first experience of the club come about?

I have been a Rochdale supporter all of my life! My mum and dad are big Dale fans so it was always going to be the case for me, I had baby grows and the kits when I was little then my love for the club and going to football grew as I got older and I went more! Unfortunately I can’t remember the exact game and score line but I remember being a 4 year old girl that was obsessed and in awe of our mascot Desmond the Dragon. When I was this age, Desmond and the pies were the only reason I wanted to go to the football with my dad haha. Then as I started going more and I got older, that’s when it was just for football and enjoying the game! 

My first match as a season ticket holder was the 1998/1999 season and we lost 2-0 at home to Torquay United. Even though we lost, I absolutely loved everything about it. The football, atmosphere, the buzz around the stadium and just being part of something. It honestly felt like home and I was excited to go to football every weekend. When my mum and dad split up, I was really young and it was mine and my dads thing to go home and away matches, that’s when I really did become passionate about the sport. 

You’re the host of HerGameToo Twitter spaces and have featured in the Absolute Football Podcast, could you tell us a bit about yourself and what you do?

I’m Rochdale’s #HerGameToo club ambassador, so I work with the football club to help match day’s safe and enjoyable for females. If any reports of sexism do occur whether it be aimed at a home supporter, member of staff or away supporter that’s been linked to a Rochdale game then I help solve the issue and with the help of the campaign and club find a solution to the offence. I also work with the community to help promote the message that ‘Football is for all genders’. The Twitter spaces are a way to help spread messages, educate about the campaign and also highlight topics! We recently did one about diabetes in football which was a real eye opener! 

Podcasting has honestly changed my life for the better, I struggle with my anxiety and depression. I’ve always been open about my struggles and podcasting has helped me massively with my confidence. I work full time and have my two boys but I used to struggle at night when the kids were in bed because I then never really had anything to do. The pair of them and work are my life, but then podcasting really did help me and still does. It’s a social life for me, gives me the chance to talk about football but also gives me opportunities to make friends and speak to people that also have the same passions. It really is an amazing thing to be involved in.

I’m involved in two podcasts, my own which is ‘The Dale Way’ which is all things Rochdale and match analysis but from a female’s point of view. The second one is ‘The Absolute Football Podcast’ which consists of myself, Sam, Josh, Lucas and Keira. Each week the team rotates and we analyse the weekend’s Premier League football, recap the table, speak about the EFL Leagues and briefly the European leagues too but it’s honestly so much fun. We have started doing guest episodes too, I am starting my own ‘Lower League’ spin off show and we are introducing a WSL show so it’s going really well and growing each day. The refreshing thing about it too is that we are getting the same familiar faces that tune in every week and interact in the live chat. These people really do make our days and it makes theirs also, their lonely nights are now tuning in to us talking football and we all keep each other company and have discussions and share our views on football. It’s brilliant! ‘The Absolute Football Podcast’ is live at 8pm on Monday and Thursdays on YouTube and twitch, but all previous episodes are available to watch on YouTube too. We are also on all social media platforms and audio listeners can listen to it on Spotify, Amazon and Apple Music.

Last season’s relegation to the National League will most probably be the worst moment of your time following The Dale. However, what are the other best and worst moments?  

There’s so many amazing memories supporting Rochdale. Most people laugh at me when I tell them who I support, but I’ve been extremely lucky as a Dale fan. I’ve seen two promotions, a play off final, play off semi finals, several games that took us on cup runs against big teams. My first favourite cup memory was in 2003, I was absolutely besotted with a striker called Paul Connor, he was the first football player I really did enjoy watching and took a liking to, we played Coventry in the FA Cup and beat them 2-0. Connor scored and then a club legend Gareth Griffiths, that was a memory I will always remember. There was a newspaper article which Paul Connor featured in and I still have it saved now haha! 

In 2014 we beat Leeds in the FA Cup which was one of my all time favourite games, goals from Scott Hogan and a brilliant chip over the keeper from Ian Henderson secured us a fourth round tie. 

A Stephen Davies equaliser in injury time to get us a replay against Tottenham at Wembley was absolute limbs. I ended up falling over rows of seats in front of us that day and a lot of cuts and bruises! 

The Play Off Semi Final against Darlington in 2008 was exactly the same too, absolute limbs. We won on penalties and that secured us a play off final spot against Stockport and a trip to Wembley which was just surreal. We unfortunately lost the final but the memory of that semi final was just fantastic! I remember my dad accidentally elbowing me in the nose celebrating and I ended up having a nosebleed ????????.

My all time favourite memory though has to be our first season in league one, it was just so surreal and different to league two! Walking out at St Mary’s and beating them twice in that season. We just missed out on the playoffs too. It really was my favourite season watching us!

My worst memory would have to be relegation seasons, it’s always hard but the covid season we went down. Watching it on tv and not being able to support the lads was awful! Also last season as you said was really tough, we unfortunately finished bottom of League Two and will be playing national league football this next season. I’m really worried as we have never seen us in this position before and listening to other fans that have been in the same position, it’s really difficult to come back up.

Why did it all go so wrong during the 2022-23 campaign? 

I think it’s been a downward special for a few seasons now, relegation from league one under Brian Barry Murphy was the start of a real bad few years for the football club. We then lost him and some big players unfortunately, he went to Manchester City’s academy, we lost big names such as Ollie Rathbone, Matty Lund and many more. Then an attempted hostile took place and unsettled the club, the employment of Robbie Stockdale happened during that specific time. We gave Stockdale one of the biggest budgets the club have given a manager in a long time, but unfortunately some of the signings made just weren’t good enough! Even though we struggled during the 21/22 season, the board put their trust in Stockdale and gave him another transfer window which again unfortunately didn’t really help us, the players we signed didn’t really perform then a few games into the 22/23 season the board made the decision to sack Robbie Stockdale, Jim McNulty was interim for a couple of games and then they appointed Jim Bentley! The fans were unsure about that appointment but backed it, performances and results seemed to improve for a few games but then unfortunately the same cycle happened again. Bentley brought in some decent players, Scott Quigley who performed well until he picked up an injury then he didn’t really perform the same, Danny Lloyd who was a fans favourite was the small glimmer of hope in an awful season, Owen Dodgson a loanee from Burnley helped settle the back line a little bit too and performed well but unfortunately it just wasn’t to be and the bad run continued! It really was diabolical! The board then made the decision again that season to part ways with Bentley and McNulty again finished the season as interim manager before being given the job permanently! He brought some positivity to the end of the season, although we were adrift at the bottom of the league, we did get some good results and picked up points under him!

How have the club attempted to address their issues in the summer and what more needs to be done? 

Something needed to happen, recently there’s been a really big divide between the fans, the club and the fans but also some uncertainty towards the board and chairman, which is understandable as it really has been a downward spiral of negative seasons that have progressively got worse! It really isn’t good enough! The appointment of Jim McNulty happened, he came out and addressed some issues in an interview and explained what he wanted to do and what he expects the players to do and be. That was a positive for us fans! We haven’t got a big budget so we have sold players in the summer, Ethan Brierley to Brentford, Toby Mullarkey going to Grimsby, Richard O’Donnell to Blackpool and Abraham Odoh moving to Harrogate. We have also cut wages by moving on the likes of Liam Kelly and other people who were reported to be high earners at the club. We have also been asking for outside investment to try and help the club as well, we are fan owned so we rely on player sales and cup runs which we haven’t managed the last few seasons, so that and the covid season has really taken its toll financially on not just Rochdale but many football clubs as a whole! 

Player wise I feel like we have strengthened well in areas that we needed to. Jim McNulty plays possession based and likes to play football, so we have got goalkeeper Louie Moulden on loan from Wolves, he has national league experience from his season loan at Solihull Moors last season. Midfield was also a struggle for us last season as has been since selling Ollie Rathbone in my opinion, we signed Adam Clayton from Bradford who I feel is somebody we have been crying out for, a tough CDM that will protect the backline and also put tackles in. The permanent signing of Harvey Gilmour from Halifax and loan of Cody McDonald from Stockport I think will compliment Clayton well, they are more attacking and will be the legs of midfield and hopefully create chances we have struggled to in previous seasons. The attacking addition of Kairo Mitchell I think will help, we really struggled attacking wise last season and didn’t really have many options in that department so he will be another choice as well as Ian Henderson, Devante Rodney and Tyrese Sinclair! 

I think these additions are well established players in the National League, have experience in this division already so hopefully it will help! 

Jimmy McNulty was appointed Rochdale manager on a two-year deal in May, he had been at the club for eight years as a player and a caretaker. What are your thoughts on him getting the role permanently? 

I am going to be honest here, at first I wasn’t happy with the appointment of Jim. No disrespect to him whatsoever but I personally thought we needed somebody well established in the National League and has the experience that could help us stabilise and then get us back into the football league. When I heard Jim’s interview and what he wanted to do at the club, how honest and open he was but also how passionate he was about Rochdale, it changed my opinion on the appointment! Keith Hill didn’t have the experience when he took on the job at Rochdale but he had ties to the club and genuinely cared, McNulty is exactly the same, he cares about the club at a personal level as he’s been here for so long and that’s something I feel we haven’t had properly. So that to me brings me hope that his decisions will be at the club and fans best interests! He knows Rochdale inside out and will have the best intentions! I also can’t fault his efforts previously as interim manager, it was the clubs worst performing squads and he managed to get results and performances from that group of players both Stockdale and Bentley couldn’t! So now I sit back, think logically and take it all in, I’m actually very happy with the appointment! 

Rochdale’s Chairman is Simon Gauge. What are your thoughts on him and how the club is being run away from the pitch? 

I will forever be thankful for Simon Gauge and the rest of the board of directors because those particular people and The Dale Trust, all worked extremely hard and took the club on while we were going through the difficulties off the pitch with the attempted hostile takeover! They are part of the reason we still are fan owned and have a football club today because it could’ve gone a completely different way! Fortunately it didn’t! I think the frustrations of the fans are completely valid because of the troubled seasons on the pitch we have been having and some of the decisions previously to do with keeping Stockdale and Bentley a bit too long when they were underperforming! Fans think if they acted sooner, it could’ve possibly changed the outcome of last season or we would’ve at least had more of a fighting chance! 

I think fans just want transparency and honesty of what’s happening at the club, regular updates too! He came out and told the fans that we need outside investment to be able to compete with the club competitively now, we can’t just run on being fan owned because we can’t financially compete! It’s really quiet on that note so the fans are again getting frustrated! I think we just need transparency and communication so we know what’s happening!

Devante Rodney bagged eleven goals last season as he finished as the club’s top scorer. How important is he to the team and how would you describe his playing style? 

Devante Rodney is vital to our team and was last season, we unfortunately lost him for a few weeks due to injury towards the end of the season and it really did show how much we missed him! Not only is he experienced and somebody we need in the dressing room, but he’s somebody that communicates with the younger lads on the pitch and helps them. He has shown that in the previous two friendlies! He links up very well with Ian Henderson too! He’s been used more in a front three and I personally think that will continue, whether it be with Sinclair and Mitchell or Henderson (he doesn’t play every game due to his age), I think he will be extremely vital again to the team! 

Who would you say are Rochdale’s other one’s to watch? 

Ian Henderson, Rochdale’s highest ever goal scorer! It says it all really, he’s somebody that you can never write off in a game! Creative but also a goalscorer, he struggles pace wise with him being older now but he’s a proven goalscorer! 

Tyrese Sinclair had a very tough last season, he was scoring and creating chances but when Jim Bentley came in, he was sent on loan to Altrincham! He got assists and scored chances there too, so I think he will also be one to watch this season!

Harvey Gilmour was at Halifax last season and bossed their midfield. They won the FA Trophy too. I think he will be a steady midfielder who will play most games alongside Clayton and McDonald.

The last time Rochdale and Tranmere came head to head was in mid-April in a game that will be remembered for all the wrong reasons by Tranmere fans. What are your thoughts on The Whites?

I’ve always liked playing Tranmere and they are a club I’ve always checked for the results. I have a lot of Twitter followers that are Tranmere fans and they have always been very complimentary of Rochdale and spoke highly of us, apart from Keith Hill haha!

I was very surprised you struggled last season as you were one of my favourites to get to the playoffs! But I’m really hoping you guys have a good season and someday soon regain a higher league status! 

Next season Rochdale will play in the National League, you probably don’t need a reminder of that. Are you looking forward to any aspect of it? 

I’m actually really looking forward to it! I personally think it’s going to be a massive challenge for us and I don’t think it’s going to be easy by any means! I would take a top/middle half finish now! I think we need to stabilise and find our feet in the National League, I’ve been warned it’s extremely difficult to get out of! There’s some really good teams that are challenging, but I’m looking forward to it! So many new grounds to visit, old friends like Halifax that we haven’t played competitively for a good few years and the return of the local derby games with Oldham! 

It’s going to be a very new experience but I’m looking forward to it! (I don’t know if I will in a few months time though, I may take that back)

Rochdale will play in The National League last season after finishing rock bottom of League Two in May. 

The last game between The Dale and Tranmere resulted in a 2-2 draw, which will be remembered for all the wrong reasons, as Richard O’Donnell scored a spectacular own goal in the first half before a 2-0 Rovers lead was surrendered in the 93rd minute. 

Southport FC meeting the opposition.

Southport FC meeting the opposition. 

Tranmere Rovers continue their preparations for the 2023-24 season with an away trip to Southport FC’s Haig Avenue on Tuesday night. 

They started their friendly schedule off with a goalless draw against Vauxhall Motors on Saturday afternoon, The Motormen shone that day but recently signed Rovers keeper Luke McGee showed what he can do as he produced a fantastic acrobatic save just before half time. 

It has been a busy summer and it will continue to be one, Nigel Adkins has come in to oversee the work the coaches do as technical director and all the recruited players have won promotion from the division in recent times. Club legend Connor Jennings has returned too!

Sandgrounders fan Warwick Monk spoke to me in depth ahead of the midweek match about all things Southport including the times the two sides faced each other in The National League. 

How long have you been supporting Southport for and how did your first experience of the club come about? 

I’ve supported The Sandgrounders since 1981. Southport had been in non league for 3 years since losing their football league status to Wigan Athletic in the re-election vote 1978. Unfortunately our board at the time decided to decline the invitation to join the newly formed Alliance league (now the National League) in 1979 possibly due to travel costs and our crowds plummeted. By 1981 the local paper asked the local population to rally around to save the club from possible disaster and boost numbers through the turnstiles. Hence as a schoolboy I turned up and was totally hooked!

What have some of the best and worst moments been?

The best time undoubtedly for me was seeing Southport at the old Wembley Stadium in the Final of the FA Trophy in 1998 vs Cheltenham Town. 

The worst time for me was the unbelievable 2002/03 season. In November we were 4th in the league and had appeared on Match of the Day as we knocked Notts County out of the FA Cup 4-2 at Haig Avenue. Then we witnessed one of the biggest spirals down the league, Phil Wilson left in February and we brought in Mick Walsh who was an unmitigated disaster. We lost at Stevenage on the last day of the season with a massive away following knowing we had to win to stay up. We didn’t!

Southport finished 18th in the National League North last season, surviving relegation by a point and ten goals. What are your thoughts on the campaign when you take a look back at it?

Last season was one of those years all clubs have with horrendous injuries. We lost our new striker Nyal Bell in a pre-season friendly for the whole season and to be honest never replaced him adequately. We had a decent defence but just couldn’t score goals and with other injuries and such a small squad and a limited budget we scraped to survival on the last day of the season at Leamington after losing our last 8 league matches. We did at least win the Lancashire Challenge Trophy for some silverware thankfully. 

How have the club attempted to address their issues in the summer and how well do you believe they have done?

Since May the club have released around 8 players and brought in 5 so far with a few more expected in the next month before the season starts in August. The big signing so far is striker Marcus Carver on a season long loan from Scunthorpe United. He was our leading scorer a couple of seasons ago before we sold him to Hartlepool who were then still in the football league and was an opportunity he couldn’t turn down. The Port fans are ecstatic to have him back.

We’ve also brought in two excellent experienced signings in goalkeeper Chris Renshaw from Curzon Ashton and Harry Flowers, a 6ft 5in central defender from AFC Telford, plus two talented highly rated young full backs in Freddie Sass from Mossley and Matty Thomson from Bamber Bridge. I think we need an experienced head in midfield and a couple of wingers, we had 5 trialists in our first friendly with a strong Blackpool team, lost 3-0, and one in particular looked decent. Hopefully we pick up a few more lads and then we can make a push for the playoffs touch wood this season. 

53-year-old Liam Watson is manager of Southport, he was appointed on a permanent basis in 2018 after his time as caretaker and had been at the club two times before that. What are your thoughts on him and his playing style? 

Liam Watson. Hmmm! ????

He splits opinions at the club amongst our fans, you only have to read the fans forum, Port Chat, to see that! I personally like the guy and he has given us some great times over the years. Yes his style of play isn’t for everyone, direct and robust but people seem to forget some of the flair players he’s had in his teams over the years and progressed their careers, whilst making the club over a million in transfer fees/resale bonuses.

He’s obviously realised we needed big changes from last year’s squad and is in the process of sorting that. We shall see how it works out but he is under pressure after last season’s end of season results. Good luck Liam!

Ian Kyle is Southport’s Chairman. How well are Southport run away from the pitch? 

Ian Kyle and his wife Clare have been amazing especially through COVID-19 and after we lost our previous big investor Phil Hodgkinson who left to take over at Huddersfield Town, his boyhood club he had supported all his life. 

Ian had to  make some very difficult and cost cutting decisions to keep the club afloat and become more sustainable with the great work by Clare in our fabulous clubhouse with our corporate and social events, birthdays, weddings etcetera. I have to mention that Ian and the board are ably assisted by the most incredible bunch of volunteers that keep the club ticking over day by day. Legends, a lot of them and so important in non league football. 

Jordan Archer netted ten league goals in 28 appearances in the 2022-23 season, how important is he to the team and how would you describe his playing style?

Jordan Archer is a great lad and loves Southport FC. Totally committed to us travelling from the Midlands, his brother is the highly talented England under 21 Aston Villa player Cameron Archer by the way!

Last season he gave his all but I think even he will admit he missed having a foil next to him, but he’s now got his foil back in Marcus Carver! The double act is back and they will both flourish, of that I am 100% convinced as long as we finally get some luck with fitness and injuries. 

Who are Southport’s other one’s to watch?

We have a few young lads who will go onto the football league for sure but I’ll just mention two in centre back Adam Anson first who is a classy footballer who is very comfortable with the ball at his feet.

Then midfielder Josh Hmani who works tirelessly and has a shot on him, he needs to shoot more. He stood out a couple of seasons ago when he was playing for Marine in their televised FA Cup tie versus Tottenham Hotspurs.

Tranmere and Southport competed against each other on a regular basis when The Rovers were in The National League, what are your thoughts on The Whites? 

I always enjoyed our recent tussles with Tranmere especially with Steve McNulty at the back for you guys. What a player, a Colossus and a complete pain in the butt! ????

I was surprised to see Micky Melon leave last season and it will be interesting to see how Ian Dawes gets on. He did well in his first caretaker role before Keth Hill and I thought he might have got the job then. 

How much are you looking forward to the new season? What are your goals and expectations? 

I’m very much looking forward to the new season and hopefully seeing some much needed goals and entertainment after last season. Hopefully we will make the Playoffs and get promotion but we would dearly love a good run in the FA Cup and pluck a massive money making tie. You never know another trip to Wembley would be nice too in the Trophy. A man can dream!

I’m particularly looking forward to our friendly versus FC Isle of Man, something a bit different for our supporters.

Anyway, all the best to Tranmere for the season and your loyal supporters. 

Southport FC play their home matches at Haig Avenue. Tranmere travelled here last summer and won 4-1, trialist Joel Mumbongo shone up front but went off injured. 

Northampton Town FC meeting the opposition.

In their final game of the 2022-23 season, Tranmere Rovers take on Northampton Town at Prenton Park on Bank Holiday Monday. 

The Rovers’ last outing brought a one-all away draw at AFC Wimbledon, academy graduate Sam Taylor netted the equaliser as Jordan Turnbull and Josh Hawkes were heavily mentioned when supporters named their man of the matches. 

It has been an uninspiring season, to say the least. However, with players such as Taylor now coming on to the scene as Harvey Saunders has found his goal scoring boots there are some that are positively looking forward to a new, fresh campaign. 

In the past few days though, the hope has decreased as criticism has risen with the managerial appointment of Ian Dawes. Dawes has been at the club since 2020, under two different sacked managers and only won two of his past eight in his most recent interim role. Neill Danns will be his assistant. 

The game against Northampton Town brings a challenge, as they all do, with The Cobblers needing to win to secure automatic promotion into League One. This is something that interim boss Ian Dawes likes the idea of, facing an opponent who has something to fight for. 

The fixture will be televised on Sky Sports, Rovers fans hoping that their side puts in a performance that reflects those of their last two home games as they beat Swindon and Grimsby Town, keeping clean sheets in the process.

Ahead of the match, I spoke to the Northampton Town podcast ‘It’s all cobblers to me’.

Hi ‘It’s all cobblers to me’, could we start off the last ‘meeting the opposition’ feature of the season by telling me how long you have all followed Northampton?

The four of us have a range of time scales between us but the majority of us have been following the Cobblers since the mid 90s!

What are some of the greatest and worst experiences you’ve had watching The Cobblers?

The greatest are the Wembley 97 Playoff Final win, the promotions of 2000 and 2006, the League Two title winning season of 2016, the win over Liverpool at Anfield in 2010 in the League Cup and the lockdown playoff final win in 2020.

The worst are any relegation season and thinking we might have been going out of business completely in 2015 before Kelvin Thomas stepped in. Going out of the FA Cup to teams like Canvey Island and Oxford City weren’t very enjoyable either!

Could you also give me a random fact about Northampton? The place or the club.

Comedian Alan Carr is the son of former Cobblers player and manager Graham Carr.

Last season Northampton finished fourth in League Two and are now placed third. If The Cobblers win at Prenton Park they will get promoted on the day but if they fail to do so and Stockport win their game at Edgeley Park, Northampton will be in the Play-offs. How would you describe the way that this campaign has gone? What needed to be improved from last year?

It’s by no means a guarantee now that Stockport go into the final game at home to Hartlepool and we go to Tranmere probably needing to win. Also nothing is taken for granted after last season! The season picked up where last season left off, though, and we’ve built a much better all round squad, which is lucky because we’ve been in double figures for injuries for the last couple of months. Players have been played out of position, young players are stepping in, some are playing through the pain barrier and everyone is really putting in an incredible effort to try and win promotion.

With promotion in sight and the club unbeaten in their last four, what will the mindset of the players going into the game against Tranmere be like?

Win to get promoted – it’s as simple as that for us now.

In the January transfer window, players such as Goalkeeper Tom King from Salford and striker Tete Yengi from Ipswich Town were recruited. How much of a good window was it?

It was OK in terms of bumping up the numbers. King was a fantastic replacement for Lee Burge when he was injured for a few weeks. Yengi, along with fellow loanee D’Margio Wright Phillips, haven’t been used as much. Will Hondermarck, signed on an undisclosed fee, has been outstanding.

Are you excited to see the way they progress as we look ahead to next season? Former Brackley Town boss Jon Brady has been at Northampton since 2021. What is his playing style like as well as his relationship with the fans?

He’s been great since moving up from the youth teams two and a half years ago and he’s really brought the squad and fans closer together with the club now really in it together. His playing style, crafted with assistant manager Colin Calderwood, is one of picking and choosing the moments to attack and using pacy, powerful players to keep us up the pitch.

Northampton’s chairman is Kelvin Thomas. What are the current plans around the club and how do fans view the way the club is being run?

The fan base is a little split but we think he’s doing a very good job under difficult circumstances around the rebuilding of the East Stand and all the difficulties that’s entailed.

One man to watch out for on Saturday afternoon is Sam Hoskins as he has 21 goals in all competitions this season. How would you describe his playing style and his importance to the team?

Hoskins has had his best ever season for the club and his goals tally has taken him to the EFL Player of the Year award last week. He’s all action and can play in a lot of different positions and seems to have found his scoring boots this time around!

I was just wondering what Sean Dyche’s son Max is like? He’s a centre back and rose through the academy at Northampton. Is the future bright for him?

He’s still a bit raw but he’s learning all the time and scored his first goal at the weekend against Bradford. He’s dominant in the air and just needs to work on his positioning now.

Where will the key battles be played out at Prenton Park?

Probably in the midfield areas where we need to take control of a game. If Hondermarck, Sean McWilliams and Marc Leonard can set the tone then we can hopefully make a strong start.

What is your score prediction?

I have to be optimistic and I’ll go for a 2-1 Cobblers win.

The last time the two clubs met was in early December as a goalless draw was played out at The Sixfields Stadium. What are your thoughts on The Whites? It has been a greatly uninspiring season as promotion hopes were dashed far earlier than expected.

It’s seemed like a frustrating season for you but you also seem to be able to pull out a result at any given moment so you should be tricky opponents for us.

Tranmere Rovers return to Prenton Park this Bank Holiday Monday following a one-all draw at AFC Wimbledon. The Rovers’ last three home games against Northampton Town have resulted in two defeats and a win, getting beat 2-0 in late October 2021 as Kion Etete and Sam Hoskins netted. 

Grimsby Town FC meeting the opposition.

Grimsby Town FC meeting the opposition. 

Tranmere are back in action on Saturday afternoon as they host Paul Hurst’s Grimsby Town at Prenton Park. 

The Rovers were pegged back, from a 2-0 scoreline, on Tuesday night as they returned back to The Wirral with a point after a trip to Rochdale. 

A very strange own goal and a penalty from Josh Hawkes put Ian Dawes’ side into the lead against The Dale but it was far from a great performance throughout and heads dropped when Danny Lloyd netted for the hosts with twenty minutes left to play. 

I think it’s probably safe to say that there is an apathetic feeling at the moment from Rovers supporters, it is a case of just playing the remaining games whilst securing a future manager. I just hope The Palios’ footballing plan does work as they keep on promising that next season will be better! 

Ahead of the weekend’s game, I spoke to Grimsby Town supporter Jordan Richards who gave me his thoughts on the club’s first season back in the EFL. 

Grimsby Town were promoted from the National League via The Playoffs last season and are currently placed 12th as we enter the final few games of the 2022-23 campaign. How would you describe the past year?

It’s been a whirlwind really. Winning the National League Play Offs in the way that we did was something special and I’d be surprised if any club was to copy the same fate. A top half finish in our first season back in League Two is possible and I’d be happy with that as I felt we came up a little unprepared. I think we’re more than capable of kicking on next year. 

Grimsby had won one of their last seven until they picked up a great three points against Barrow on Tuesday night. How will that affect their mindset ahead of the game against Tranmere?

The Barrow win would have done us the world of good. I think in that run of seven there have been games where we deserved more than what we did get but that’s the story of our season. The players look a little tired with all the games they’ve had to play but they seem to be buying into what Paul Hurst is asking. 

In the January transfer window, players such as full back Josh Emmanuel from Hull City and full back Owen Gallacher from Crawley Town were recruited. How have they settled in and were all the issues that needed to be addressed focused on?

I think Josh Emmaul is too good for this league, sadly I can see him leaving in the Summer. Gallacher has really struggled, it was a signing that doesn’t really make sense as we already have great players in that position (LB). George Lloyd has made an impact, he’s everything I want in a striker: fast, agile, hard-working and an eye for goal. 

Grimsby’s manager is former Shrewsbury Town and Ipswich boss Paul Hurst, who came back for his second spell with the club in 2020. What is his relationship with the fans like and what is his playing style?

The relationship with Hurst is an interesting one, I’ve always had great respect for him even when he left us for Shrewsbury Town in 2016 There is a part of the fanbase that do think that we can and should get someone better in though. In my opinion, Hurst is a safe pair of hands. Hurst can spot a good player and his footballing style is somewhat decent. We like to play from the back a fair bit but we can easily adapt to go long if need be, both have worked this season. I think we’re an all round solid outfit. 

Grimsby are owned by Jason Stockwood. What is his relationship with the fans like currently and what are the current plans around Blundell Park?

He’s been a breath of fresh air since replacing John Fenty, the past two years has been nothing but progress to rectify the ruins of the previous regime. This season we sold the most season tickets we’ve ever sold, which I feel is a real testament to the hard work he has put in. The upcoming plans are exciting with  a new training ground being the most ambitious of the lot. We’re a really ambitious club that does things the right way and that’s great to see. 

One man to watch out for on Saturday afternoon is Harry Clifton as he has netted nine and made four assists this season. How would you describe his playing style and his importance to the team?

He’s easily been our most standout player this season. He gives 100% every game and I’d say he’s the fittest player I’ve seen since I started supporting the club in 2014. He drives forward a lot which has enabled him to get a fair few goals. I think he’s a player who has really benefited from playing under Hurst as he has been able to express himself and this is great to see, especially considering he’s one of our own. 

It would be wrong to talk to a Grimsby Town fan without asking about Otis Khan. How has he done during his time with The Mariners?

He’s had a very stop start season. He started the season injured but when he’s fit he’s a good asset to have. There was a month around November and December when he was really on fire with a winner against Cambridge in the FA Cup and against Stockport County in the league. I think if he can stay fit then he’ll be successful at Grimsby. 

Where will the key battles be played out at Prenton Park? 

The main area, for me, is the defence. Although we have conceded a fair few recently, on our day we can be really difficult to break down. Luke Waterfall, Niall Maher and Andy Smith are all excellent. George Lloyd and John McAtee are great for us at the other end. 

What is your score prediction? The last time the two clubs met was in early December as Jake Burton netted in a 2-1 Tranmere loss.  

I was at the previous meeting and I thought we were full value for the three points. I thought Tranmere were poor. I believe we can go to Prenton Park and get a result, even in the most dead rubber of games. I’ll go with a 2-1 Grimsby win even if our most recent trips to The Wirral have been far from ideal.  

What are your thoughts on The Whites? Since Ian Dawes stepped in as interim manager, following the dismissal of Micky Mellon, Tranmere have continued failing to impress and dropped a two goal lead against Rochdale in midweek. 

Tranmere are a club that I’ve always respected, a good club with a good set of supporters to go with it. It’s obvious that Tranmere haven’t had the season they would’ve hoped for. I think in the Summer if they manage to get the right managerial appointment and if they can add some quality then there’s no reason why they won;t be able to challenge for promotion. I’ll be really intrigued to see what happens going forwards. 

Tranmere return to Prenton Park on Saturday afternoon after their poor showing against Rochdale in midweek as Ian Dawes’ side host Grimsby Town. 

Rochdale meeting the opposition.

Rochdale FC Meeting The Opposition. 

Tranmere came crashing back down to reality with a 2-1 defeat away at Crawley Town on Saturday afternoon as The Red Devils came back from an early Harvey Saunders strike.

Saunders struck his second in four games as the Crawley keeper slipped when coming out for the ball, The Rovers’ defending was laughable as they easily let the hosts back into the game. 

Adding to the laughter, Kane Hemmings missed another penalty. It has not been a great season for him, especially when you consider the high standards Tranmere expected when they signed him from Burton Albion.

The defeat came six days after beating Swindon Town 1-0 at Prenton Park, a performance which limited the visitors to very few chances. 

Personally, despite The Dale losing 3-0 at home to Bradford City on Saturday, I worry for Dawes’ team going into this one. Rochdale will be wanting to prove themselves against a club that should be competing for promotion and they will need to give their fans something to cling on to as they are six points from safety. 

Danny Lloyd has been incredible for Jim McNulty’s side since he was recruited in early December and I expect him to score if fit. 

I spoke to Rochdale AFC Fan Page, @RochdaleFan, ahead of Tuesday night’s game. 

Rochdale finished last season 18th and are now placed right at the bottom in 24th as we enter the business end of the campaign. What are your thoughts on how the past year has gone? 

It’s been a year to forget. Extremely tough on and off the pitch. Looks likely that bar a miracle happening our 102 years as an EFL club is coming to an end. Sooner it’s over with the better now for me.

Rochdale have won two of their last four but go into the game against Tranmere on the back of a 3-0 battering at home to Bradford City. How will that affect their mindset going into the game against The Rovers?

Just when we looked to be building some momentum with 7 points from 9, we were back to what we have been accustomed to for most of the season on the weekend against Bradford. A defeat that pretty much confirms our relegation. If we are going to stay up (near impossible now), we are going to have to win every game left and even that might not be enough. So, I would expect they would at the bare minimum be fighting for everything but I wouldn’t count my chickens with this group of players.

What are the reasons behind the struggle? 

Where do you start? You could write a book on all the reasons behind our struggles this season.

The board has to take some of the blame. Their lack of experience of making footballing decisions have proved costly. 

For example, giving Robbie Stockdale the summer, who also himself has to take some of the blame. He was the one responsible for recruiting the worst and most unlikeable Dale squad in our club’s history.

Then you have not sacking Jim Bentley earlier than what they did, who also himself has to take some of the blame too. He will go down as one of if not the worst Dale manager in our club’s history. Didn’t embody our club’s philosophy and was tactically inept with non-existent in-game management.

But mostly, it all comes down to the players for me, who for most of the season have been an embarrassment.

In the January transfer window players such as Goalkeeper Jake Eastwood, Centre Back Rhys Bennett from Morecambe and Striker D’Mani Mellor from Wycombe were recruited. How have they settled in and were all issues addressed? 

We found a real asset in centre back Toby Mullarkey – Easily top half League 2 / lower half League 1 player for me. Owen Dodgson has been solid without being spectacular at left-back. D’Mani Mellor more recently has started to show a little something, yet it seems that with him he wants to do the right things, but he just doesn’t have the ability to pull them off.

The less said about Jake Eastwood the better though – Disaster of a signing! Rhys Bennett came with a lot of hype and hasn’t lived up to it. Dan Adshead got injured before he could even have his first training session with us.

So, overall I would say our January transfer window has been very hit and miss. We are still however crucially missing a physical ball winning midfielder, which for me was a priority for us to sign in January and still is going into the summer.

Rochdale’s interim manager is former player Jimmy McNulty. How would you describe his playing style and relationship with supporters so far?

Jim McNulty is highly thought of by Rochdale fans. Has been a great servant for the club over the years. His play style is very much patient possession based, playing out from the back through the thirds and wants us to be fluid in the attacking areas of the pitch with a lot of interchange from our attacking players.

Would you say it was the correct decision to sack Jim Bentley in late March? 

In the end, yes, though the sacking came about two months too late. He should have been sacked after us losing back to back games against at the time two fellow relegation rivals (Hartlepool and Colchester) at the end of January.

Rochdale’s chairman is Simon Gauge. What do supporters think of him and what are the current plans that they have for the club? 

Simon splits fans’ opinions. I do think he has the best intentions for the club at his heart. That’s shown with him putting money out of his own pocket into saving the club from multiple hostile takeover attempts. Also, with his plans to bring much needed external investment from the right investors into the club to stabilise the club, build our own training facilities and make us a community family football club. 

But, his lack of experience of running a football club is massively tarnishing his reputation. I mean this in the nicest way possible, he and the rest of the board need help from someone of experience that has been there and done it in the game to join them on the board to make the footballing decisions.

One man to watch out for on Tuesday night, if fit, is Ian Henderson as he has netted 7 in all competitions. How would you describe his playing style and his importance to the team? 

Ian Henderson. The all time leading Rochdale goalscorer. Give him a chance he will score. Very much a penalty box poacher type of striker. Though I do think we are a better team without Henderson in it. Henderson doesn’t have the pace he used to have or the strength to provide much of an outlet. Better coming off the bench for me.

It would be wrong to not ask about former Rovers man Danny Lloyd, who now plays for The Dale. How good has he been? 

 I can’t speak highly enough about Danny Lloyd. The impact he has made since arriving in December is remarkable. He has everything you want from a player playing for our club. Leads by example on and off the pitch. Always give his all. Makes things happen going forward. Stands up when things aren’t going well. It speaks volumes that he’s only been here half of a season and he’s mine and many others players of the season without doubt.

Where will the key battles be played out at The Spotland Stadium?

In the midfield I think. Rochdale will try to get our creative players like Ethan Brierley, Liam Kelly, Danny Lloyd and Abraham Odoh linking up. If they are allowed time on the ball they will cause Tranmere problems. Though Tranmere could attempt to combat that by physically imposing themselves on a Dale midfield that is lacking in size and physicality just like Bradford did successfully on Saturday. Will be interesting to see how that battle goes.

What is your score prediction? The last time the two clubs met was at Prenton Park in mid October as a 1-1 draw was played out. 

Expecting another close game with the points being shared with another 1-1 draw.

What are your thoughts on The Whites? Since Ian Dawes has taken over as interim manager, he was Micky Mellon’s assistant, Tranmere have won only one of their five games.

Tranmere was one of the teams I backed to get promoted this season, so surprised to see you so low in the table.

Rochdale’s Spotland Stadium. 

Tranmere lost 1-0 when they last travelled here, in mid September 2021. Danny Cashman struck an 84th minute winner for The Dale. 

If I’m being honest, I can see The Rovers getting comfortably beaten this time round. I’m expecting a Danny Lloyd goal, if fit.

Crawley Town meeting the opposition.

Tranmere had a bit of a mixed Easter, still being overseen by Ian Dawes as the club are yet to appoint the new manager, Rovers got beat by Carlisle United on the road before beating Swindon Town narrowly at Prenton Park. 

Harvey Saunders scored against Swindon, his second in four games after having a long run without a goal and Dawes’ team were made to battle for the three points in a 4-4-2 formation instead of the usually favoured midfield diamond. 

Up next stands a challenge away at Crawley Town, a club that Tranmere got another narrow win against. Jordan Turnbull struck before Dom Telford missed a penalty which could have levelled the scoreline in the last meeting btween the two sides, only six weeks ago. 

Crawley have had a poor season and are inside the relegation zone going into this one. 

Ahead of the game on Saturday afternoon Reuben Watt , Chair of the club’s supporters alliance, spoke to me and gave his thoughts on the battle to safety. 

Hi Reuben, thank you for your time answering the upcoming questions. Could I start off by asking you how long you have been following Crawley and what some of your best and worst experiences have been during that time?

Sure! I have been supporting Crawley since 2010 and had a season ticket for about 4 of those years. I now mainly go to away games. Highlights for me would be playing Man Utd at Old Trafford, beating Leeds in the FA Cup and just being able to travel around the country to watch us play. Worst experience has probably been this season with us being in a relegation dogfight. 

Crawley Town FC finished the 2021-22 season 12th and are now positioned 23rd as we enter the final few games of the 22-23 campaign. How would you describe the past year?

Poor. After a fairly promising pre-season transfer window signing the likes of Telford, keeping Morris and Nichols (or so we thought!!), we never thought we’d be this close to the relegation zone.  

With everything so close at the bottom, Hartlepool United are unbeaten in their last seven. How much of a worry is relegation?

Very worrying. Hartlepool’s form has come at the wrong time for us and now relegation is really out of our hands. 

In Crawley’s last home game they picked up a good point against Bradford City. Do you believe this will give the team some confidence going into the game against Tranmere or will the most recent outing have more of a say? 

Our home form is better than our away form and so for home matches, our confidence is fairly high! 

What are the reasons behind the struggle?

Distractions off the pitch, having a number of different managers in one season, letting go of players and replacing them with weaker players

In the January transfer window, players such as midfielder Ben Gladwin from Swindon Town, defender Kellan Gordon from Mansfield Town and midfielder Jack Roles from Woking were recruited. How have they settled in and were all key issues addressed?

It’s been a mix. Gladwin has played well when he’s been fit but injuries have affected him. Gordon has been okay. He hasn’t stood out but also hasn’t been the worst player on the pitch. Roles has been poor but he has shown small glimours of hope.  

Crawley’s manager is former Swindon Town boss Scott Lindsey, who was appointed in mid January. What are your thoughts on him, his playing style and his relationship with fans?

Since he has come in, the football we are playing has improved. It’s hard to judge what he’s really like when he hasn’t had a pre-season for him to bring in his players and have time to work on tactics. Fans want him to do well, he is passionate and isn’t afraid to speak his mind. 

Crawley is owned by the relatively controversial cryptocurrency firm WAGMI United. How would you describe their time at the club and how have they gone about addressing the issues that they have faced so far?

Interesting to say the least. Their tenure didn’t start off the best with our current manager being suspended due to an investigation by the FA, they have gone through 6 different managers (caretaker and permanent), let go of a player as he was ‘too small’ to a relegation rival, and so, they could’ve had a better start! They did however lower ticket and season ticket prices which we are thankful for. 

One man to watch out for on Saturday afternoon is Dom Telford as he has netted nine in 37 League Two matches this season. How would you describe his playing style and his importance to the team?

He is a poacher but unfortunately Crawley’s current playing style doesn’t really suit him. We have struggled to get the ball up to him and so he hasn’t scored as many as he did last season. I do think he is quite underrated by the Crawley fans as he is one of our highest goal scorers. 

Where will the key battles be played out at The Broadfield Stadium?

Crawley are struggling to score and so our defence and goalie will need to be at the top of their game against you a lot. Crawley will need to rely on a smash and grab. 

What is your score prediction? The last time the two clubs came head to head was February 28th as a goal from Rovers defender Jordan Turnbull was enough to seal all three points.

1 nil Crawley with Telford scoring the winner. 

What are your thoughts on Tranmere this season? The Rovers, who are currently being overseen by interim gaffer Ian Dawes have been far below expectations.

I personally thought that this was going to be Tranmere’s season to escape League 2 but I was wrong.  You seem to be lacking a goal scorer having scored one of the fewest amount of goals in the league. The game should be a good battle!

Crawley Town’s Broadfield Stadium. Tranmere have won both of their past two games here, the last coming in January 2022 as Jay Spearing netted for The Whites in the 65th minute.

Carlisle United FC meeting the opposition.

Tranmere Rovers put in a promising performance under the lights of Prenton Park last Friday in Ian Dawes’ first home game back as interim manager, following the dismissal of Micky Mellon. 

Rhys Hughes scored a fantastic free kick, it went down in the books as an own goal from the goalkeeper but you have to make your own luck and full-backs Ethan Bristow and Josh Cogley continued to make great runs down the wing. 

It was Mateusz Hewelt’s first game back in net for a while, the experienced Joe Murphy being favoured recently, and he made a fantastic save to keep a point before picking up the man of the match award for his efforts. 

Next up are Paul Simpson’s Carlisle United, on Friday afternoon, who will be looking to bounce back following their narrow away defeat at Leyton Orient last time out. 

Ahead of the game at Brunton Park, I spoke to Carlisle supporter Ben Pitkeathly and it’s safe to say he’s feeling optimistic about the club’s future. 

Carlisle United finished last season just outside the relegation zone and are currently positioned inside the play-offs as finishing inside the automatic promotion spots is a possibility. With us getting into the latter stages now, how would you describe the campaign? 

Unexpectedly brilliant, up there with one of the best seasons I’ve had following the Blues. I was expecting a mid table season and laying the foundations for a promotion charge next year, but we’ve surpassed all expectations. I still expect us to get promoted either through the playoffs or automatically. Recent games have been poor, but every team has a dip in form and there’ll be more twists and turns.  

Carlisle were beaten 1-0 away at Leyton Orient in their last outing, do you believe that will have any say on their mindset going into the game against Tranmere?

It’s become a must win for us. The gap between us and those below us has become a worry. We’re struggling to score goals so we could do with a confidence building win to put us back on track and possibly leapfrog Stevenage.  

What are the reasons behind the success?

Simmo simple as that, plus a few gambles that have paid off. We’ve got the majority of the recruitment right with a good blend of experience and youth.  The emergence of Owen Moxon as one of the best midfielders in the league along with Kristian Dennis’ goals has got us in the position we are in.  

In the January transfer window, players such as Fleetwood Town striker Joe Garner and Middlesbrough left back Jack Robinson were recruited. How have they settled in and were all the issues that needed to be addressed focused on?

We lost striker Jack Stretton in January so more depth in that area was needed and we brought Garner back again. He brings a bit of gamesmanship and nastiness which we needed up top. Alfie McCalmont looks a great addition, a little terrier in midfield and someone I’d love us to get permanently. Robinson hasn’t featured much due to the form of Jon Mellish but showed promise in some substitute appearances. We brought John Kymani Gordon in from Palace and he looked too good for the level but has faded in recent weeks.  

Carlisle’s manager is England U20 World Cup Winner Paul Simpson, he was appointed in late February 2022. What are your thoughts on him, his playing style and his relationship with fans?

The best manager in the league, said without a hint of bias. Taken us from a broken club with a poisonous atmosphere and has reunited the city with its team. He’s a Carlisle lad and instils his passion in the team which gets results. His style is solid and gets the best out of the players we have and there’s plenty of combinations to use. He’s seen as the messiah by the fans and whatever happens this season he will always be in favour.  

The Blues are owned by Andrew Jenkins, a man who has spent more than sixty years at the club. How would you describe the fans’ relationship with him, the work he has recently done and the upcoming plans?

He’s taken a back seat in recent years due to age and is not well liked. But in fairness he has got many of the big decisions right recently so credit to him for that but again too late to repair the relationship with fans. It’s time for him to go and for new investment to propel the club  to its true potential. 

One man to watch out for on Saturday afternoon is 33-year-old Kristian Dennis as he has netted (18g + 4a in 22g). How would you describe his playing style and his importance to the team?

A true poacher with a superb first touch and instinct in the box but he’s been off the boil recently. Not sure he’ll start but we could do with him finding his shooting boots again.  

Where will the key battles be played out at Brunton Park?

Most games in League two are won or lost in midfield and we dominated that area in the wins against you this season. But we can’t score at the moment so if it clicks upfront, we’ll be better for it. 

What is your score prediction? The last time the two clubs met was in early November as a late Neill Byrne goal wasn’t enough to stop Tranmere exiting the FA Cup up in Cumbria.  

2-0 Carlisle, slow start to the first half but get a goal before half time and then pick Tranmere off on the break when you search for an equaliser.  

What are your thoughts on The Whites? Since Ian Dawes has been in interim charge Tranmere have drawn both of their games 1-1, their last outing being against Harrogate Town at Prenton Park.

Seems too much loyalty to Micky Mellon has been your downfall. You’ll be better from a fresh start with a new manager in the summer.  

Brunton Park is the venue of this Good Friday fixture. Tranmere have won two of their last three fixtures here, dating back to a 3-2 thriller in February 2021. However, a late goal from Neill Byrne wasn’t enough to keep Tranmere in the FA Cup against United in November.

Harrogate Town meeting the opposition.

Harrogate Town FC meeting the opposition. 

When Micky Mellon was dismissed, it was decided that his assistants Ian Dawes and Andy Parkinson would be Tranmere’s interim managers whilst the search for the next appointment develops. 

I personally hope that the new man, whoever that may be – hopefully The Cowleys or Karl Robinson, comes in before the 2022/23 season finishes so he/they has enough time to see which players need to leave or stay. 

However, in the meantime Dawes will get The Whites playing a diamond in midfield, as he says that it gives the team a lot of passing options, and the system picked up a point away at Colchester United last time out. 

Harvey Saunders scored that afternoon, his first in twelve and the pacey forward will be hoping that he can add more to his tally as soon as possible. 

Rovers’ next challenge is a Friday night tie at home to Harrogate Town, The Sulphurites are placed 20th in League Two thus will be fired up to keep away from the drop zone. 

I spoke to Town fan Neil Hirst ahead of the game. 

Harrogate Town finished 19th in League Two last season and are currently placed 20th as we start to enter the business end of the campaign. How would you describe the past year? 

I think it’s fair to say a mixed bag.  For perspective, my personal goal for Harrogate this season was much the same as the previous season – the unambitious but hopefully realistic ambition of staying in division 2.  The previous season, we got off to a flyer and after smashing Swindon 3-0 in the first game, we were buoyant.  Things basically went downhill up to Christmas with some heavy defeats, the goals dried up and the soul crushing dropping of points in the last few minutes on more occasions than I care to mention.  A decent festive season followed and then thankfully, the January transfer window opened and we’re grateful it did.  I knew after watching Rochdale that we had at least one team that was considerably poorer than us so the hope was that there were some other teams that would fail to scoop up the points to keep out of the bottom two.

In the January transfer window, players such as Bradford City defensive midfielder Levi Sutton and Pittsburgh Riverhounds winger Toby Sims were recruited. How have they settled in and were all the issues that needed to be addressed focused on?

The transfer window was undoubtedly successful and plenty of the lads who joined in January have gone on to secure first team spots.  We essentially have a new back four (suspensions and injuries aside) with fullbacks Founds and Sims full of energy and two experienced and physically strong centre backs in O’Connor and Eastman.  The latter has been an absolute beast and fellow relegation candidates Colchester must be kicking themselves for letting him come to us.  In the engine room, Levi Sutton has been a useful addition and offensively, Kazeem Olaigbe who we got on loan from Southampton has been a revelation. All in all, some great recruitment work.

Harrogate’s manager is Simon Weaver, son of Owner Irving Weaver. He has been at the club since 2009. What are your thoughts on him, his playing style and his relationship with fans? 

I’ve been pondering this one for a while.  We’re doing well to compete and stay in with a chance of maintaining our division 2 status.  If I’m being critical, his ‘in-game’ management doesn’t always inspire and I think that he can sometimes take too long in making subs/changing the plan if it isn’t working.  In terms of his playing style, the team has definitely evolved, likely due to the January squad additions.  We might not wrack up that many wins but we’re not losing that many either.  As for his relationship with the fans, I stand right by the dugout so get to see him at quite close quarters.  There have been many occasions, especially at away games, that he’s been booed and fans have been asking for him to go.  That has definitely subsided now.  As a person, he doesn’t seem that animated at all.  If you think of Klopp as the manager winding up the crowd, full of charisma and totally engaging, Simon Weaver is the polar opposite.  It doesn’t make him a poor manager or a bad person, he just isn’t that character.

As mentioned above, Irving Weaver is the Owner of The Sulphurites. What are your thoughts on him, the relationship he has with fans and the plans that he has for the club? 

The Chairman is well thought of in my opinion.  The latest financials on the club show a £1.1m loss in our second season in division 2 and there is a clear reliance on Irving who has injected a further £700k into the club from June ’21 – June ’22.  Importantly, the fans are now seeing the ground being developed (partly to achieve the minimum standard for a division 2 club) but also the infrastructure and youth/junior and ladies team developments.  

One man to watch out for on Friday night is Luke Armstrong, he has 12 goals and 3 assists in 40 games.  How would you describe his playing style and the importance to the side? 

Luke Armstrong’s most obvious asset is his aerial ability.  He wins headers and a lot of them.  Very strong at holding the ball up, Luke is deceptively nimble and grafts hard which endears him to the crowd.  Importantly, he scores our goals and is an important lad defensively on set pieces.  People of an age might remember his dad, Alun Armstrong who played for plenty of clubs such as Middlesbrough and Ipswich.

Where will the key battles be played out at Prenton Park? 

Tranmere fans will have to keep an eye out for Olaigbe who is pretty rapid and usually on the left side of the park.  There’s also some great darting runs from Pattison who is a fan favourite.  

My stand out memory from Tranmere’s last visit to Wetherby Road was your right back Dacres-Cogley.  I thought he was thoroughly amazing with top notch quality crossing and great runs.  There is no doubt that he could play at a higher level given his standard.

What is your score prediction? The last time the two clubs came head to head was last October as Tranmere defender Jordan Turnbull scored a second half equaliser at Wetherby Road. 

Whilst I live in Skipton in North Yorkshire, I was born and raised in Mossley Hill, Liverpool so I’ve always had a soft spot for Tranmere.  I remember being in the Dovedale Towers pub for that FA Cup match with you and Southampton twenty odd years ago.  However, as my son was born in Harrogate, I have adopted them as my team and won’t hear of any other result than us coming away with something.  I think we’ll score but I think you will too.  If I’m bold, I’ll say a 2-1 Harrogate win but we do like a draw so the rational part of me is saying 1-1.

What are your thoughts on The Rovers? Are you expecting a bounce back as Micky Mellon was recently relieved of his duties? Tranmere are far away from where they would have hoped to have been. 

It’s clear you’ve been through a rocky patch and I think Micky’s time was clearly up given the results.  The match on Friday, from a managerial perspective, are the two extremes.  You’ve got the longest serving manager out of the 92 clubs in Simon Weaver versus Ian Dawes who has been in the role less than a fortnight.  Will there be a bounceback?  Well, hopefully not on Friday night but looking ahead at April, with the possible exception of Carlisle (who we beat 1-0 away from home no less, admittedly with an own goal), you’ve got some highly winnable fixtures in April so yes, there really should be.  With some more than decent players, I’m sure you can finish the season on a high.

Rovers are back at Prenton Park this weekend, they have a mixed run of form here as they have won and lost one of their last three. Harrogate were beaten 2-0 when they last travelled to Merseyside, Lewis Warrington and Kane Hemmings netting in the second half.