My midseason assessment of Tranmere’s 2021/22 campaign. It’s been mixed, it now seems special.
Given we’re now 23 games into the league season, I thought it would be a good time to give my thoughts on Rovers for those who’ll want them (if there are any!) or for me to just look back on come May. This campaign so far has been mixed, I’d say, but there have been plenty of positives and considering we’re currently sitting in second I certainly won’t be moaning too much, which is probably a first.
So, we’re second but who are the teams around us and what do our results look like in terms of wins, defeats and draws?
Sitting first are Forest Green who are quite comfortable at the top with seven points and a chance to make it ten with a game in hand. Third, fourth and fifth? Northampton Town, Sutton United and Swindon Town. Port Vale have the chance to get into the automatic promotion places with two games in hand, having had plenty of games postponed for various reasons including a cup run and COVID.
Tranmere, after 23 games, have won 12 and lost 6. Perfectly showing that this season has been mixed, with the positives overshadowing the few negatives such as the cup exits which I’ll touch on a bit further down this piece. The Whites have drawn five, not a great cause for concern.
This year was always going to be quite quite tricky, even though it started in the best of fashions by getting Micky Mellon back into the dugout following his stint at Dundee United. The Scot had plenty to do to turn Rovers into genuine promotion candidates, having fallen at Morecambe in the play-offs without too much of a fight.
I’ll soon touch on the work the 49-year-old has done so far, firstly I’m going to state my favourite moment of the season before I do that.
Something which is emotional and has touched the hearts of many Tranmere supporters over the past year is the fight young Nate Gidman has put up to rid himself of a brain tumour, some probably even placing their challenges into perspective over the COVID era by thinking of him (this is something I’ve done). When Nate got given the news that his tumour was terminal, a fundraiser was created to raise money to give him the best of care and times at places that plenty of young children would love to go to.
Nate then made an appearance at Prenton Park, bringing a tear to many eyes by slotting the ball into the net in front of the Kop (even if his dad, Phil, did most of the work!) before celebrating with, his favourite show, ‘Thomas The Tank’ music playing on the tannoy. I caught up with Phil after this and he was saying how special that moment was for him, something that brings home how special the Rovers community is.
It’s extremely hard to top that, even though we’ve had plenty of special wins (beating Keith Hill on his return to the Wirral 4-0!).
Micky Mellon, upon return, was tasked with improving the squad and I feel this is something he has achieved, with players wanting to fight for their places in the team and the commitment and quality never really hiding.
Summer of 2021, 19 came in and 16 went out including the retirement of top goalscorer James Vaughan which was always going to be hard to recover from.
There have been plenty of new players who have impressed me, I don’t think none have in the way that Elliott Nevitt has though. The former Warrington Rylands striker proving his football league ability whilst his cheerful post-match interviews certainly etch him into the hearts of fans. He’s someone who wants to be here, someone who has something to prove and someone that is excelling. It was a love story before it even started as his name can be heard sung aloud on matchdays.
Mellon is a clever manager (there’s not many with books out!) and he’s someone who will never let fans down as some, in the dugout, have in the past. Even when results and performances don’t show how good of a manager he is or how good his team is, there are some (including myself) who sit very content knowing what is about to come.
We’ve seen this with our relegation scrap, we would’ve stayed up, in League One. We’ve seen this with our promotion in 2019, having a great start to ‘19 and we certainly saw this in our promotion the year before as we survived sitting 18th at one point to go up back to the EFL.
Again, we’re seeing it after a mixed start as many had to find their feet having been brought in from elsewhere. Micky knew the task in hand though, stating in a book Q+A at Birkenhead in mid-September ‘You put together football teams like you put together meals, you look in the cupboard and assess what’s there, I needed to go shopping!’.
The goalkeeping situation started with Joe Murphy being the regular number one and he was excelling, keeping Rovers in games at times with Ross Doohan being his understudy. However, when Murphy got injured with concussion at Rochdale Doohan came into the side to silence an article (from a Celtic fan) which slated Mellon for not giving the youngster enough playing time. Doohan has impressed, showing that the goalkeeping competition at Prenton Park is extremely strong. Mellon tipped the 23-year-old to be the future Scotland number 1 in the Q+A I mentioned before.
Scott Davies, signed in 2015 and instrumental in the promotions since then, has retired following his injury earlier on in the year (that brings a story of it’s own though).
Defensively, Tranmere are the best in the EFL having only conceded 14 goals this campaign. Peter Clarke and Tom Davies have forged a formidable partnership, Clarke having turned 40 in the past week and Davies being signed from Bristol Rovers. Left-back Calum MacDonald has had somewhat of a rocky start to the season. However, a poor summer suffering from shin splints has potentially brought this on as he showed what he was capable of last season. Josh Cogley has been sensational at right back though, with great defensive and attacking performances. Somewhat in reserve, but a strong starter when named, Lee O’Connor has proved me wrong as he now covers every blade of grass with Mellon certainly getting the best out of him at right-back and further up the pitch in midfield.
Another place of great strength is the centre, with fast wingers and experienced central midfielders keeping the team ticking going forwards and backwards. Jay Spearing and Sam Foley are the current partnership of choice in the heart, experienced pros who have had great success in the game. They’re both continuing their success throughout their performances and by teaching those who are upcoming including Chris Merrie, who has impressed whenever given the chance.
Someone who hasn’t been given much of a chance, alongside Merrie, is Ryan Watson as the 28-year-old has impressed on the pitch with a goal to his name so far in the league.
A solid source of goals are the wings, Kieron Morris having the season to remember as he sits top of the goal scoring tally with loanees Josh McPake and Josh Hawkes demonstrating what they can do from the left. The only cause for concern really is the form of both Liam Feeney and Callum McManaman, both showing little of what they’re capable of (in my opinion).
Before Oldham Athletic away, a game in which I was displeased with our performance, if you told me that Charlie Jolley would be a shining light about to be released I’d have argued when the best time for him to come in would be. The 20-year-old scored the winner that night and has since forged a formidable partnership with fellow youngster, also with something to prove, Nevitt. The two are now our go-to striking partnership and there can be very little complaints, watch the highlights of the game against Scunthorpe United and you’ll see why.
I’d like some players to be added to the squad, for depth and quality purposes. Following the injury of Nicky Maynard I feel like Rovers could add a striker. However, with the partnership mentioned above and a promising Paul Glatzel, I don’t know what he’d be given in terms of game time. This being a question that Mellon has probably thought of and answered, so we’ll see what the January window brings.
The only real annoyance of this campaign is that the club is out of all available cup competitions, usually strengthening the squad with the money they’re able to receive throughout their FA Cup adventures. However, I don’t think many are too fussed about the Papa John’s Trophy given the introduction of Premier League teams and the Carabao Cup brings a set of games in which many supporters would rather be focusing on the league.
This season I’ve done a few match reports for the Under18s, which has given me an insight into the talent that we have at disposal in the academy. Manager Alan Morgan is a great man to talk to, always up for giving interviews at the end of the game and he has drilled his team into being one of great solidiatry which has added to their footballing abilities. Ryan Stratulis and Kyle Hayde are two to watch out for.
I’ve also done some media work, for my website, with the women’s team as I’ve spoken to forward Laura Pennington and manager Marc Joyce. It’d be great to see them do well in their search for promotion, currently sitting second in their division.
Now we’re in the new year in a very strong position, I believe a title charge isn’t too far out of the realms of possibility. It would certainly be almost poetic that Mellon on return is able to get the club out of the fourth division, a division that his side was placed into in a very unfair fashion. I’d like the club to add a few players to add a bit of depth to the squad, keep hold of the very talented youngsters we have and see how long we can keep this very positive momentum going.
The final few months should be exciting as we are, once again, ‘Riding The Rover Coaster’.
Ubi Fides x