Leyton Orient FC meeting the opposition.

LEYTON ORIENT MTO.

Following the signing of Dynel Simeu and Paul Glatzel on a season long loan on Transfer Deadline Day, Micky Mellon’s Tranmere are back in action on Saturday afternoon as they travel south to Brisbane Road where they will face Leyton Orient.

Richie Wellens Orient have started this campaign in exceptional fashion and are currently top of the League Two table whereas The Whites continue to struggle on the road. Tranmere’s last away win in ninety minutes did come in this fixture last May though, giving some cause for optimism.

O’s fan, Mat Roper, spoke to me about how Wellens’ side have started this season and much more!

Last season, Leyton Orient finished 13th in League Two as Aaron Drinan finished top goalscorer in all competitions with 16 goals. How do you reflect on the campaign as a whole?

It was hugely frustrating even for us! Started really consistently under Kenny Jackett but then a combination of covid and injuries (along with our manager seemingly “losing the plot”) saw us dip dramatically. Richie Wellens came in, steadied the ship & we finished like a train! 

This summer, The O’s have signed four players on permanent deals as a further two have been brought in on loan. One of the players to go the other way is former Tranmere man Otis Khan. How happy are you with the club’s business and what are your thoughts on Khan during his time at Brisbane Road?

Otis tried really hard but a combination of not playing in the right position and not quite reaching the heights he was probably capable of did for him.

Like most clubs you could always say you want more, but on the whole we haven’t done too bad. We have bought in two players of real quality, kept the players we wanted (that was just as important) and added some hopefully flourishing younger talent. Overall, I would score a very solid 8/10.

The former Salford and Doncaster gaffer Richie Wellens was appointed by Orient in March. Is the future bright with him at the club and how would you describe his playing style?

I go by the thoughts of others. Swindon fans raved about him and that combined with a promotion and PJT win is good enough for me. 

Wellens likes to play a high pressing high tempo game built on expansive football. 

The biggest thing I believe is he is forward thinking and infectiously positive as well as seemingly never wanting to settle for second best.

Nigel Travis is the Chairman of The O’s, what are your thoughts on him and the way that the club is run?

Like the transfer business, you could always do more, but on the whole we are in safe hands. The reputation of the club has been restored since the disaster of 2014-17, we have our EFL place back and are hopefully pressing for a second promotion in 6 years.

Who would you say are your side’s key players and where will the key battles be played on Saturday afternoon? Touching on the strengths that your team has, where do you believe Wellens’ side will finish come May?

Our new CDM Idris El Mizouni from Ipswich is key. He has bundles of quality on the ball & could well be the difference Saturday.

If we keep a clean sheet then I would say it would take a very brave man not to back us to win. Tranmere, for my money, are always a threat but you haven’t started too well so it might be a great time to play one of the fancied sides and at home. 

Even before a ball was kicked, I fancied the top seven. Yes, there is a massively long way to go but based on just 540 minutes there is no reason not to think we couldn’t dream higher!

How do you see the upcoming game panning out? What is your score prediction? The last time the two teams encountered each other was at Brisbane Road in May and Kane Hemmings struck the winner for Rovers.

It likely depends on how you guys approach the game. Do you come to stifle the O’s or try and win the game? I can see it being tight for 45 but fingers crossed we find a breakthrough & allow for an open game. I can see LOFC winning 2-0 or 2-1.

If you have been keeping up with The Whites this summer, what are your thoughts on the business that they’ve done and how do you think they’ll do this campaign? 

As I said, IMO, Tranmere are a threat at this level. They are a “bigger” club along with your Swindon’s, Doncaster’s and Bradford’s. That brings pressure though and it is obviously a bit of an indifferent start. 

It would appear there was a really high turnover in and out and that they have tried to add experience and raw talent. That can be exciting but is it a case of it may take time to gel? Could easily see a scenario whereby Tranmere hang around mid table then if all the parts cluck they make a decent run in the second half of the season and gain a play off finish.

Leyton Orient’s Brisbane Road. 

Colchester United FC meeting the opposition.

Following the midweek Carabao Cup action where Tranmere got beat against Newcastle United after Colchester United got beat against Brentford, Rovers and Colchester will face each other this weekend at Prenton Park.

Micky Mellon’s side have a much better return from their home games in comparison to how they do on the road thus they will be excited heading into this match after losing last time out against Newport County.

Before the game, I caught up with Max Harrington who spoke to me about all things United. 

Last season, Colchester finished 15th in League Two as Freddie Sears finished top goalscorer with eight goals in all competitions. How do you reflect on the 2021-22 campaign as a whole? 

The campaign on a whole was poor, we were battling relegation for most of it under Hayden Mullins. He then went and Wayne Brown took over and we looked like a completely different side. Picking up results and pulling away from the relegation battle to finish 15th, most fans would have ripped your arm off for that half way through the season.

This summer, four players have been brought in as well as one loanee as players such as Brendan Wiredu and Shamal George have moved on to pastures new. Are you happy with the business that the club has done so far? Would you say that there are still some positions to be strengthened? If so, what positions would they be? 

There hasn’t been much business mostly because we have a number of players who are still under contract for this season. I wouldn’t class Huws as a new signing as he was with us last year but Newby and Hornby have been decent so far. Most U’s fans would have been unhappy and worried with the lack of signings and key players leaving but Hornby has stepped up to replace George and Marley Marshall Miranda has come through the academy and been outstanding, can’t say we’re missing Wiredu too much with him in there. I still think we need a winger but apart from that we’re fairly set.

The former Maldon and Tiptree gaffer Wayne Brown was appointed United manager in mid-January, of this year. Is the future bright with Brown at the helm? How would you describe his playing style? Also, is it great seeing him back at the club considering he was the former head coach of the club’s academy sides? 

I still think the jury is out on the future under Brown, but so far it’s looked ok. His play style is fairly direct which is frustrating as we have some really good technical players. Strangely we played our most open football against Premier League side Brentford, I think fans would like to see us play a bit more on the ground. Brown was a fantastic player for us, it’s actually his third stint in charge, the two previous spells didn’t go so well and he didn’t get the job full time. He’s a legend at the club for his playing time and let’s hope he can be one for his managerial time too.

Robbie Cowling is the current club chairman, what are the general fan thoughts on the way that the club is being run? 

There’s been a slow decline at the club for the last 10-15 years, the club will never be in trouble financially under Cowling and is probably close to being self-sufficient. However, I think it’s fair to say there is a lack of ambition from the top or at least they’d rather do things on the cheap. He’s certainly not the worst owner in the world but I think fans would like to see improvements on a number of things.

Who would you say are your side’s key players and where will the key battles be played out on Saturday afternoon? Touching on the strengths that your team has, where do you believe they will finish in the league table come next May? 

Our key players I’d say are Noah Chilvers and the full backs Junior Tchamadeu and Al Amin Kazeem, all who have come through the academy. Chilvers is a very technical centre midfielder who is our main creator and has an eye for a goal too. The two full backs are only 18 & 20 but have re-energised the side and are a constant threat going forward. They’re the definition of a modern full back and offer so much energy, they deserve credit for their defensive abilities too, especially Kazeem. As for where we’ll finish I’ve said it will be around 16th, not expecting a great season but don’t think we’ll go down like many other “experts” have predicted.

How do you see the upcoming game panning out? What is your score prediction? The last time the two clubs met was March 26th, Colchester won 1-0 with Junior Tchamadeu scoring a last-minute winner. 

If our last trip up to the North West is anything to go by, Stockport away, then it’s not going to be a pretty game. We sat back for pretty much all of that match, hopefully we will come out and play a bit more. We’ve been very hit and miss recently so lets hope we’re more hit on Saturday. I’m still going to go for a Tranmere 1-0 victory though.

If you have been keeping up with the Rovers this summer, what are your thoughts on their business and how do you believe that The Whites will do throughout the 2022-23 season? 

I’ll be honest I haven’t been paying too much attention to Tranmere this season. Jon Nolan seems to be a good player at this level, I recognise Charlie Jolley from previous FM saves and he was good there so he must be good in real life too! Tranmere have a good coach and you just expect them to be there or thereabouts.

Colchester United play at The Colchester Community Stadium. The game here, against Tranmere, this season is 25th March 2023.

Newcastle United FC meeting the opposition.

NEWCASTLE UNITED meeting the opposition.

Tranmere return to home comforts, after games on the road against Hartlepool United and Newport County, as Micky Mellon’s side will face Newcastle United in Carabao Cup action.

This is a game in which many home supporters are looking at the money that Rovers will receive more than the actual ninety minutes, due to the level at which United operate as was seen on the weekend as they drew 3-3 against Manchester City.

However, looking into the match which will be televised on Sky Sport cameras I caught up with Alex Richardson as he gave his thoughts on all things regarding The Magpies. 

Alex, thank you for your time answering the upcoming questions. Could you tell us a little bit about yourself and what Newcastle United means to you?

Hi Ethan, being brought up in a football-mad family, all supporting our beloved Newcastle, there wasn’t any choice for me to support anyone else other than The Magpies, and I couldn’t be happier. Following the team home and away now for over 13 years, also making the trip down to Prenton Park this Wednesday, it hasn’t been the best decade to support us, but thankfully things look on the up.

Last season, Newcastle finished eleventh in the Premier League after starting the season with relegation fears. We’ll soon talk about the manager, Eddie Howe and the new relatively controversial ownership, but how would you reflect on the 2021-22 campaign as a whole? 

The first fourteen games were dreadful, I remember only going to the games for the day out and had to accept that nothing else mattered at that point as we were definitely headed for our third stint in the Championship since 2009. Ever since the end of Ashley’s tenure, there’s been a complete change in the city, not even just on matchdays. Granted it was a slow start to Howe’s time at the club, frustrating at times – the real side started to show at the back end of January, seeing us go on a nine-game unbeaten run, within that, making St James’ have a fortress feel, resulting in turning over Arsenal in the penultimate game of the campaign.

This summer, the three biggest incomings are Matt Targett, Nick Pope and Sven Botman as United have improved their backline significantly. Are you happy with the transfer window and if you could strengthen one final area, what would this be?

A clear problem last season was the defence, the number of goals, cheaply, that we would let in were ridiculous – it was charitable at times. Our goal difference was a sorry sight. These additions, along with the ones we made in January, have been smart and have all impressed since coming in so far. Although they might not be the prettiest of names, Matt Targett in particular, was a given after last season’s performances, relishing in a position we have struggled to fulfil in recent years, and with Trippier on the other side, we soon recognised vast improvements.

As for more incomings as three is far from enough, a backup centre forward to knock Chris Wood down the pecking order could be likely, or a winger to balance out the pressure put on our talisman, at times, Allan Saint-Maximin.

We are deprived of quality and depth up front and although Callum Wilson is renowned for his goal scoring ability, and there isn’t any doubt about that, injuries hinder him a lot, seeing him likely to miss ten games, minimum, per year. So someone who is able to come on and change games with one chance, or be prepared to lead the line once Wilson is in the treatment room is the priority in my opinion.

Bournemouth legend Eddie Howe was appointed manager on November 8th, 2021. How bright does the future look with him at the club and what are your thoughts on his new long-term contract? Also, what would you say his playing style is?

An appointment that was maybe frowned upon and not backed after hearing the names we were initially rumoured with soon changed the opinions of not just Newcastle fans, but those up and down the country. A manager who has instilled a mentality in this club that is deserved of one our stature and someone who oozes class. I do hope he can be our “Sir Alex” type of manager in terms of his length of tenure at our club, granted to be hard in the modern game.

His long-term contract was a no-brainer, we were up there with Liverpool and Manchester City in terms of form at the back end of that campaign – results drastically improved and not only that, we began to control games the way we wanted to, and dominate sides where appropriate.

Setting up with a 4-3-3, seeing one sit in front of the back line, and two either side in the role of box-to-box midfielders and one in a more advanced role, it has been clear what Eddie Howe has tried to do since day one.

Being a team who press high up the pitch, as opposed to previous management where sitting deep and counter-attacking was our only plan, means standards had to change from day one and as stated by many around the club, training sessions and just overall management of the game has drastically improved.

The club was taken over by the Saudi Arabian Public Investment Fund with Mehrdad Ghadoussi and Amanda Staveley being the two front runners. This ownership is seen, by some, as relatively controversial. What is your opinion on them? 

Like many Newcastle fans, and supporters up and down the country of their own club, the only thing I want to see is my team succeed, for it to be enjoyable week in, week out and have hope, whether that be for individual games or just simply, success. Being neglected as a club for thirteen years, we pleaded for a takeover, a new lease of life away from Ashley and with that, our club was deemed attractive enough to become the richest club in the world.

We, all, as Newcastle fans understand that morally, it is not the name we want over our club, we need to educate ourselves on all activity that goes on and not side with anything that isn’t our club and solely our club. After all, all we want to do is support Newcastle United.

Who would you say are your side’s key players and where will the key battles lie during a Wednesday night game set to be filmed by Sky Sports cameras? Do you believe, as you’re facing a League Two side, that Howe’s chosen eleven will be strong? Also, whilst we are on the strengths the team has, what do you view as a realistic ambition for the Prem this campaign?

In a fixture where I am expecting changes to be made, having 5 games in a two week spell, naming a side for an early cup tie is a tough one to call. A player I would like to see in the Newcastle eleven is Elliot Anderson. A 19-year-old who thrived in a loan spell at Bristol Rovers last season is on the fringes of our side, Howe has seemed to have made the call to not loan him out this season and slowly embed him into our side, and what better opportunity to do that. Looking calm and dangerous every time he’s on the ball, with the right chances, this lad could be with us for quite some time.

Asides from that, Saint-Maximin, Joelinton and Bruno Guimaraes are all ones to keep an eye on, should they feature, all having an element of quality within themselves in their own rights.

I expect to see rotation, but hopefully not too much, still having the foundations of our squad but with some chances for those needing to make an impression. I expect a good seven or eight changes, at least, from our normal line up.

As for our campaign as a whole this year, anywhere between 8th – 10th I view it as a successful year, an improvement from our previous years but still that little bit off those in and around the European spots, a place we wouldn’t have dared to have dreamed of this time last year. An enjoyable cup run somewhere in there certainly wouldn’t go amiss.

How do you see the upcoming match panning out? What is your score prediction? 

Our form in domestic cup competitions is horrendous, having been knocked out by Cambridge in the 3rd round of the FA cup last year, we’ve experienced embarrassment. Since our revolution, using history isn’t really something that we can do as it is a completely different football club nowadays.

Realistically, I can’t see much more than a dominant Newcastle performance, but I do think you’ll keep it low scoring to an extent, I’ll go for 0-2 to the visitors.

If you have been keeping up with Tranmere, or know a little bit about the club, what are your thoughts on them and how do you believe they will do as they chase promotion to League One?

Attending University down in Liverpool, I managed to get to a couple Tranmere games last year and intend on doing so this campaign if I get a spare weekend.

As far as I’m aware, with the squad you had last season, promotion might have been such an overachievement to the point your squad wouldn’t have been ready for the forthcoming season, had you been in League One.

Still looking at last season, that push for promotion was ridiculously close in which I don’t think, as a fanbase, you should feel too hard done by. I fancy a play-off position, and from what happens then on could genuinely be decided by a flip of a coin. The best and worst feeling in football.

Newport County meeting the opposition.

NEWPORT COUNTY MTO.

Following the goalless draw in the North East against Hartlepool United, Micky Mellon’s Tranmere are back on the road as they travel to South Wales to face Newport County. The Whites have had a poor time away from home during the last year but after a relatively positive two games they will be hoping to maintain their form.

Ahead of the game, I spoke to Ed Bridges from @1912Exiles, on all things regarding The Exiles. 

Last season, County finished eleventh in League Two. How do you reflect on the 2021-22 campaign as a whole?

A season of three thirds! We were bang average for the first few months, struggling for consistency and not sure of our best XI. After Mike Flynn left for Walsall, and particularly following James Rowberry’s appointment as his successor, we had a bounce and were unplayable for the best part of four months, looking creative and exciting mostly thanks to a trio of bright young loanees in midfield and 25-goal-striker Dom Telford (all of whom have now sadly departed). We then fell away in the last two months of the season, limping home to an eleventh placed finish, which felt like slim rewards for our efforts, but the table doesn’t lie.

This summer, five players have been brought to Rodney Parade and among these signings is Tranmere academy graduate Declan Drysdale. Are you happy with the business that the club has done in the off-season? Would you say that there are still some positions that need to be strengthened? If so, which positions would they be?

Unlike previous years, we got our transfer business done early, which settled some nerves. On paper, the signings look good: Adam Lewis (LB, on loan from Liverpool), Aaron Wildig (MF, free transfer from Morecambe) and Declan Drysdale (DC, free transfer from Coventry) are probably the names which have got people most excited – but we’ve also signed some young talent in Sam Bowen (MF) and Chanka Zimba (SC) from Cardiff City. Four games in though, there’s a feeling that we haven’t quite settled yet – the young players need to find their feet at this level, and many of the loan players didn’t get a full pre-season with the team. I doubt we’ll know our best XI until mid-/late-September. On Drysdale specifically, he’s settled reasonably well but blotted his copybook by getting sent off at Bradford last Saturday (so may miss the game against Tranmere depending on the length of the ban).

37-year-old James Rowberry was appointed manager in October 2021 stating that he had ‘big shoes to fill’ following Michael Flynn’s time at the club. Is the future bright with Rowberry at the helm? What is his playing style? 

James Rowberry has generally played a 5-3-2 with wing-backs, but occasionally has played a 4-4-2. Either way, the key last season was having a dynamic and energetic midfield who would press high, force mistakes and then counterpunch by surging forwards. We can expect more of the same this season, but it may take a few months for that to bed in with so many new faces. We keep the ball well on the deck, which makes a refreshing change from a few seasons back when we played a much more agricultural brand of football.

Newport County are a unique club in the sense that they are owned by their supporters. However, Gavin Foxall is the chairman. What are some of the greatest things that Foxall has brought to the club and would you say that being owned by the supporters’ trust brings any challenges?

The way it works at Newport is that members of the Supporters’ Trust elect the people we want to represent us, and they then appoint to the Board of the football club. It’s not as direct a system of democracy as many of us would like – but in reality, we’ve not been deluged by people wanting to put themselves up for election, so the result has sometimes been uncontested elections and apathy. Having said that, the club has managed to remain incredibly well-run even amidst the challenges of COVID, consistently turning a profit and staying sustainable. At a time when so many clubs at our level are beholden to charlatans, capricious celebrities or crypto-nonces, Newport County are a model of prudence. It may not be sexy, but by god it’s reassuring.

Who would you say are your side’s key players and where will the key battles lie come Saturday afternoon? Touching on the strengths that the side has, which league position do you view as a realistic ambition for this season?

Of the established players, Cameron Norman at right-back (or wing-back) creates an awful lot down our right-hand side and represents a key threat. In midfield, the diminutive James Waite can be a bit of an ‘angry wasp’ in the centre of the park, full of energy and covering a lot of ground; it doesn’t always lead to something, but he has proved capable of scoring eye-catching goals. At this stage, on the evidence we have, I think many of us are expecting another mid-table season – but it’d be great to have a cup run or two to get the blood pumping.

How do you see the upcoming game panning out? What is your score prediction? The last time the two clubs met was in late February 2022, County came out on top with a 4-2 victory.

There’s a lot of nervous expectation around the place. We haven’t won a home game since 5 March – we may put that right midweek against Salford, but if not then the atmosphere at Rodney Parade could be unpredictable. We’re always optimistic on the pod though, so I’m saying we’ll have stuffed the plastic parvenus from Salford and will eke out a steady 1-0 win against Rovers.

If you have been keeping up with Rovers this summer, what are your thoughts on their business and how do you believe The Whites will do as they have recently adopted and favoured a back five system? 

I’m afraid that my pre-season research on our opponents extends as far as reading the When Saturday Comes season preview, which predicted you’d go up through the playoffs this season and also waxed lyrical about Elliott Nevitt. I always enjoy our games against Tranmere (Wembley notwithstanding), and I can’t help but feel that – like Bradford – this level is slightly beneath you. So I’ll settle for you getting promoted as long as we can take six points off you on the way. Fair?

Newport County play at Rodney Parade, the last time Tranmere travelled here they were defeated 1-0 as Alex Fisher netted the winner. 

Hartlepool United meeting the opposition.

Hartlepool United FC – meeting the opposition.

Following Tranmere’s 3-0 victory at home to Gillingham on Saturday afternoon, where they displayed the quality that they possess, The Rovers are back on the road this Tuesday and this brings a test in itself as the club’s form on the road is a concern for Micky Mellon’s side.

The side that they will come up against are Paul Hartley’s Hartlepool United, who have had a tricky start to the season. Before the game, I caught up with Pools fan Lewis Stott.

Last season, Hartlepool finished 17th in League Two and they were knocked out of the EFL Trophy at the Semi-Final stage with a defeat against Rotherham United. How do you reflect on the 2021-22 campaign as a whole? 

It was a very good first season back up, it was a shame to lose Challinor but the cup runs and surviving comfortably was more than we could have asked for.

This summer, twelve players have been brought to the Suit Direct Stadium as three loanees have arrived. Are you happy with the business that the club has done in the off-season? Would you say that there are still some positions that need to be strengthened? If so, which positions would they be? 

Nope not at all, not many additions I’m excited for to be honest. We need to strengthen the forward line massively, Umerah is very good but apart from that there are no real striker options. 

Whilst on the topic of players coming in, it would be unfair to mention the players that have left as centre back Neil Byrne joined Tranmere. What is your opinion on Byrne and would you have liked him to stay at Pools? 

I thought Byrne should’ve been player of the season last year, he was so consistently good and I think that we will miss him this season. Even though the defenders we’ve brought in aren’t bad, I would love him back.

Beloved gaffer Dave Challinor was replaced by Graeme Lee last November as Challinor was appointed manager of Stockport County but it is Paul Hartley that is the Hartlepool manager now. Is the future bright with Hartley at the helm? What is his playing style? Also, what were your thoughts on the Challinor departure? 

If he’s backed, Hartley will do well in my opinion. His track record in Scotland speaks for itself really, just needs a bit of adjusting to the English game. His play style is a bit unclear to be honest, he came in saying he was going to play attacking football then we got battered so now we are playing more like we did last season. However, I feel like it could change back at any point. With Challinor I was gutted he left as I think he is one of the best managers in the league and could have taken the club forward.

Owner Raj Singh bought the club at the end of the 2017-18 season. What are some of the greatest things that he’s brought to the club and if you could change one thing, what would that be?

The Play-Off Final is an obvious one, he backed Challinor well that season so I’d give him credit for that. However, if I were to change anything I’d want him out as false promises with the budget this season is really splitting the fan base.

Who would you say are your side’s key players and where will the key battles lie come Tuesday night? Touching on the strengths that the side has, which league position do you view as a realistic ambition for this season? 

I’d say Josh Umerah is our biggest threat, he’s looked great so far this season with very little service and support. Apart from him, the same as last year there’s Sterry and Ferguson who are the best set of fullbacks in the league in my opinion. However, it seems like Tranmeres fullbacks are good as well so that’ll be a good battle. At this point I can’t say any higher than 20th as we’ve not looked great in any game really and look like we lack a goal scorer.

How do you see the upcoming game panning out? What is your score prediction? The last time the two clubs met was in mid February as Hartlepool won 1-0, the goal came from a Peter Clarke own goal.  

I think it’ll be a tough game for us, it doesn’t help that Rovers won on Saturday as that’ll make the confidence sky high. However, I’ll say 2-1 Pools.

If you have been keeping up with Rovers this summer, what are your thoughts on their business and how do you believe The Whites will do as they have recently adopted and favoured a back five system? 

I feel like Tranmere always start off mid table and climb their way up slowly but I can’t see you getting in the playoffs this year to be honest. There have been some good signings such as Byrne, Turnbull and Bristow but then some I’d question like Jameson and Lewis. I feel like Mellon is past it now as well, I’d suggest that you need to freshen things up.

The Suit Direct Stadium is the home of Hartlepool United. The last time Mellon’s Tranmere visited here was in mid-February as they were defeated 1-0.

Gillingham FC meeting the opposition.

Gillingham FC meeting the opposition.

Last season, The Gills were relegated from League One as a managerial change which saw former Millwall gaffer Neil Harris being brought to the club wasn’t enough to maintain their third division status.

The Gills have started this season in a fairly mixed fashion, winning one and losing one, and next they travel to Merseyside as they come up against Micky Mellon’s Tranmere. The last meeting between these two club’s at Prenton Park finished in a 2-2 draw, ahead of Saturday afternoon’s match I caught up with Gills fan Lewis Browning.

Lewis, thank you for your time answering the upcoming questions. You’re a freelance sports reporter for Mail Sport, Kent Sports News and others but what does Gillingham mean to you? How long have you supported the club for? 

Gillingham means the world to me! Football plays such a big part in all areas of my life, and Gillingham is the main part of football for me personally. So yeah, huge.

I was quite a late bloomer when it came to getting into football. My first game was in 2007 when I was eight – we lost 2-1 and it rained a lot. 

Last season, Gillingham were relegated from League One as Vadaine Oliver finished as the club’s top goalscorer with eleven in all competitions. How do you reflect on the 2021-22 campaign as a whole?

It was a disaster to be honest with you. Everyone knew it would end badly with Steve Evans, but no one could have predicted it would be that bad. The squad was awful, the atmosphere was toxic and I hated going until Neil Harris came in. Thank God that’s over now, but we’ve paid the consequences. 

This summer, there has been a relatively big turnaround as thirteen new players have been brought to Priestfield Stadium either on a permanent deal or loan. Are you happy with the business that the club has done in the off-season? Would you say that there are still some positions that need to be strengthened? If so, which positions would they be?

I’m happy with the business but it’s no secret we need a few more through the door. As you say, there’s been a big turnover of players and it will take time for the new squad to gel, but it was needed because last year’s squad was really poor.

We’ve probably improved the personnel even though we’re in a lower division. We still need a centre-half desperately, as well as a wide player and maybe another striker. 

Former Millwall and Cardiff City gaffer Neil Harris was appointed earlier this year. Despite the relegation, Is the future bright with him at the helm? What is his playing style?

Harris did everything but keep us up last year. When he came in we were 10 points adrift, and we went down on goal difference. 

It felt like we were going to stay up but it wasn’t to be. I can’t believe we’ve bagged a manager of his quality – we’re very lucky to have him. He’s perhaps known for being a bit direct, but we’ve definitely kept the ball better in this division so far and I think he knows we can do it with the kind of players we have right now. 

Paul Scally is Chairman of The Gills and has been so since 1995. What are some of the greatest things that he’s done at the club in the last 27 years and if you could change one thing, what would that be?

I won’t lie, I’m bored of talking about him! He saved our club from almost certain liquidation in 1995 and he clearly had a lot of love for it. We’ve enjoyed promotions, Championship seasons and a title winning campaign but the love is clearly gone and he’s stepped aside for a little bit, appointing Paul Fisher as co-chairman. It’s been a breath of fresh air. I just wish Scally was a little bit more caring towards his employees and honest in what he says, because he’s reportedly told a lot of lies and not followed up on his promises on too many occasions. 

Who would you say are your side’s key players and where will the key battles lie come Saturday afternoon? Touching on the strengths that your side has, which league position do you view as a realistic ambition for this season?

I think our midfield is very good. We’ve been lining up with a 4-2-3-1 and Shaun Williams, Olly Lee and Ben Reeves are a very good trio for this level. They’re comfortable on the ball and creative, so that will be interesting to watch. 

I’d probably say the main man is Jordan Green. He’s come from non-league but he’s been so, so impressive so far. He’s quick and tricky and draws a lot of fouls. Teams are teaming up on him at the minute.

Ambition is promotion, but it’ll be hard with the turnover of players. I think a top 10 finish this year before really pushing for promotion next year. 

How do you see the upcoming game panning out? What is your score prediction? The last time the two clubs met was in 2019 as a 2-2 draw was played out at Prenton Park.

It’s a weird one really. I thought Tranmere would be right up there but you’ve obviously lost your first two games and that’s been a shock. You’ll be desperate to get on the board at home but we’re a good side. Maybe 1-1. 

If you have been keeping up with Rovers this summer, what are your thoughts on their business and how do you believe the Whites will do as they aim to play with a back five on a consistent basis?

It’s good to give your side an identity so good to see Mellon trying to do that. As I say, I really did expect you to be up there – I like the signings of Jon Nolan and Joel Mumbongo, and I do think you’ll be competing at the right end of the table come May. Good luck!

Gillingham FC play at the Priestfield Stadium Tranmere’s game here will be played on March 11 2023.

Mansfield Town meeting the opposition.

Mansfield Town meeting the opposition.

Micky Mellon’s Tranmere are back in action on Saturday afternoon as they travel to Nottinghamshire where they will come up against Nigel Clough’s Mansfield.

Both side’s started the season with a defeat, thus they will both be desperate to win at least one of their first two games of the League Two season.

Rovers came up short against Stevenage, a Kane Hemmings second half strike not enough to salvage a point as Steve Evans’ side regained their lead late into the 90. Mansfield lost against Salford, at the Peninsula Stadium.

The big talking point for the travelling Super Whites will be whether they can get some luck with a back three that doesn’t include Tom Davies or new signing Jordan Turnbull. Mansfield Musings gave their thoughts on all things Stags.

Last season, Mansfield were defeated in the League Two Play-Off Final by Darrell Clarke’s Port Vale. How do you reflect on the 2021-22 campaign as a whole? 

A rollercoaster ride, a winless run of twelve games, a record breaking run of straight home wins, more than two points per game for 2/3rds of the season. Clough aimed for the top seven and delivered, despite falling at the final hurdle. We’re aiming for the automatic positions this time around, despite a losing start.

This summer, Nigel Clough has added two players on a free permanent basis in Hiram Boateng and Scott Flinders. Are you happy with the business that the Stags have done so far? Would you say that there are still some more positions to strengthen? If so, what positions would they be? 

Boateng and Christy Pym, our new first choice keeper, are an upgrade on last season. Riley Harbottle, a centre back on loan from Forest has looked good in preseason but is playing his first bit of EFL football. We need reinforcements in attacking areas for me, a bit of trickery or pace wouldn’t go amiss. In an ideal world you would probably like to see an experienced centre back too.

Clough was appointed manager two years ago. Is the future bright with him at the helm? What is his playing style? 

He has pretty much the universal trust of the fans. He has improved on the previous seasons league position in 21 out of 25 seasons he’s been a manager, so you have to trust the process, even if at times his tendency to squeeze players into the team outside of their best position can be frustrating.

Carolyn and John Radford are the club’s owners and Mansfield fans have had many positive things to say about them. What are some of the greatest things that they’ve done at the club and if you could change anything about them or what they’ve done so far, what would that be? 

They’re very generous owners that’s for sure, pumping in millions of their own money for so far very little reward on the pitch. The training ground we have is consistently labelled one of the best outside the top couple of divisions, players always rave about it when joining. They’ve already made the change I wanted to see a couple of years ago, by appointing a CEO in David Sharpe who has a background in football and can run the club on a daily basis whilst they’re out of the country.

Who would you say are your side’s key players and where will the key battles lie come Saturday afternoon at Field Mill? Touching on your side’s key players, which position do you view as a realistic goal for the Stags to finish in come next May? 

Stephen McLaughlin was last season’s player of the season, and I expect to see him in a wing back role on Saturday after he features on the left of a back three at Salford. The quality of his delivery is excellent. Rhys Oates is a constant danger with his explosive pace and power, combined with a willingness to shoot from anywhere. Hiram Boateng will look to pull the strings in midfield. As alluded to earlier, we have to ouch for the top three this season.

How do you see the upcoming game panning out? What is your score prediction? The last time the two clubs met was in mid-March, Elliott Nevitt came off the bench to score two goals that included the winner in the 95th minute. 

I believe Tranmere have a fair few injury doubts ahead of Saturday, which can’t be good after a poor start to the season last weekend. I think Mansfield will be favourites for this one and run out 2-1 winners.

If you have been keeping up with Rovers this summer, what are your thoughts on their business and how do you believe the Whites will do as they aim to play a back five with pacey full backs on a consistent basis? 

Not necessarily summer business but Kane Hemmings is as good a striker as you will get at league two level, he has goals in him and he’s a good link player as well. If we stick with our back five it will be interesting to see which team can execute it better.

Nigel Clough, son of recently promoted Nottingham Forest’s club legend Brian, has previously managed Burton Albion, Derby County and Sheffield United before being appointed Town manager in 2020. ‘He has pretty much the universal trust of the fans’. 

Stevenage F.C meeting the opposition.

Stevenage meeting the opposition. 

The League Two season commences this weekend, with Tranmere facing Stevenage at Prenton Park on Saturday July 30th. Last time round, when the two sides met on the Wirral Peninsula, Mellon’s side would take the three points after Kieron Morris netted in the 48th minute.

However, the visitors that day would win the game against Tranmere that followed and there has been a lot that has happened since. I caught up with Boro fan Reece Donnelly who gave me his thoughts on Stevenage’s summer and managerial change towards the end of last campaign.

Last season, Stevenage escaped relegation to the National League as they finished 21st, how do you reflect on that campaign as a whole?

A rollercoaster but ended with a shining light at the end of it. Steve Evans got a real grip on this team and club and made us hard to beat, won us games and after a season of struggle the fans identified with the team again. But let’s not mess about, we were lucky Scunthorpe, Barrow and Oldham were as bad as they were. 

We went into the season with so much hope and whilst there were flashes under Revell it was abundantly clear he wasn’t ready, Tisdale was second choice and was the disaster we expected. But whilst we had good players and some form of a team, with a properly experienced manager at the helm and a lucky escape, it felt time for a proper reset come the season’s end which we’ve now got. 

The squad had some good players last season, it could never just properly click and threaten at the level. Creating a split in-between the club and its Fanbase. It’s all looking up now though!

This pre season, The Boro have had a big player turnover, are you happy with the business that the club has done and what would you say is a realistic ambition for the new season?

Yes, extremely. Bringing in multiple different profiles to create a versatile side prepared for different games. Very impressed. Danny Rose and Jordan Roberts are there to compliment Norris Reid and List. Dean Campbell looks like a really technical midfielder and a smart acquisition. Kane Smith and Taye Ashby Hammond have been picked up as outstanding players in the division below. Those are just a few of them but what impresses me most is the different profiles mean we’re ready for however games may go. 

Steve Evans is Stevenage’s manager, what are the general thoughts from the fanbase of him and what would you say his desired playing style is?

I think as a guy who has been there and done it, I think it’s exactly what we need. He knows what it takes to win and the character needed to be the underdog success which is what we are. A lot of our success as a club was under Graham Westley and whilst there are clear differences, they feel quite similar which is what we can identify with as fans. 

What I would say the difference is whilst they can more than compete physically Evans does try to play short sharp direct football and looks to stamp authority on games.

Phil Wallace is the chairman of Boro, what would you say are the feelings of the way that the club is being run at this present moment?

I think there was concern over ambition before the Evans appointment but since we’ve had quotes from Evans and the actions since suggest whilst we live within our means, we do everything we can to succeed. After Gillingham I doubt Evans is joining a similar situation ever again. There is no doubt he wants the best for the club which means that this is a defining spell for Phil in his ownership.

Who would you say are Boro’s key players? Who do Tranmere need to look out for on Saturday afternoon?

It’s impossible to know given all our signings but league two winner last season Dan Sweeney will make a huge impact on us with his composure on the ball in the spine. Jake Reeves has been making things tick in midfield since his arrival and Elliot List and Luke Norris can be a threat to any side. Norris, which you found out in our last encounter. 

How do you see the upcoming game panning out? Your score prediction? I’m going with a narrow Tranmere win!

I think Stevenage are going to set up to be difficult to break down and I feel there is a fair amount of pressure and that might play into our hands a little. With a lot of the side able to counter effectively too I feel this game might be able to suit Stevenage but there’s no doubting the threat you offer. I’ll say 2-1 Stevenage but maybe that’s just that pre season optimism.

If you have been keeping up to date with Rovers this pre-season, what are your thoughts on their business? Micky Mellon has brought in players such as Reading full back Ethan Bristow and young centre backs as Rovers look to change their playing style to a back five.

I think there’s actually quite a bit of pressure on Tranmere this year due to the size of the club and I think with a touch of long term feel about what Tranmere want to do I don’t know how that might translate. You’ve lost a fair bit of know-how and whilst I like some of the players bought in, they need time and I’m not sure how they translate to how Mellon has liked to play. Intriguing.

Touching on Stevenage’s pre-season, as we did with question two, would you say there are any other areas that the club will look to strengthen as the transfer

window remains open for a little while?

We’re expecting business to be done. I’ll be quite surprised if a game changing winger/10 or a centre mid doesn’t come through the door. An inquiry from Ryan Broom was turned down but our squad looks to be superbly built. Only one way to see if it pays off now.

Why Tranmere’s Win Over Chelmsford City in 2017 Could Be a Glimpse into the Tactical Future.

Why Tranmere’s Win Over Chelmsford City in 2017 Could Be a Glimpse into the Tactical Future 

With Tranmere’s League Two season set to commence on July 30th with a home game against Stevenage, the club have seemingly decided to change its style of play and use a 5-3-2 formation as seen in the Pre-season friendly against Huddersfield Town. Rovers fan Chris Watson took a look at previous changes in formation.

To a lot of Tranmere fans the thought of Micky Mellon being described as tactically ingenious is somewhat far-fetched. He is usually viewed as, at worst, stubborn, or, at best, pragmatic depending on your point of view. While last season may have offered up a diet of largely tasteless fare, Mellon’s promise of ‘risky’ football for the coming season could be ambrosia to the Prenton Park faithful. Tranmere’s transfers over the summer have looked to fit into a very different system to that of the previous campaign, with young, dynamic players able to hold a high-line, press, and allow a more progressive, modern style of football to be played. It is this way of playing that could see Mellon come full circle tactically at Tranmere, with the return of the five at the back system that has been used exclusively throughout pre-season. 

During Mellon’s first season in charge of Tranmere, in 2016/17, he flitted between a flat 4-4-2 and a midfield diamond in his first few months at the helm. When he lost both of his wingers in quick succession, he opted for something more radical and switched to a 5-3-2. It was this formation that ultimately propelled Tranmere to 95 points and a play-off final at Wembley. And yet, upon reaching the final, Mellon was unable to play this shape due to a lengthy injury list. In actuality, the system was not used at all during the play-offs following Lee Vaughan’s broken leg in the penultimate league fixture of the season. With injuries and necessity seeing the 5 at the back system almost entirely abandoned by Mellon over the following seasons, save for an occasional outing, pragmatism took over. A very traditional 4-4-2 became the norm, which could morph into a 4-2-3-1 as the second striker withdrew into the number 10 role.  

Upon his return, Mellon built his team around a watertight defence. The first 7 games of the 2021/22 season saw no more than 1 goal scored, with Tranmere racking up 8 clean sheets in their first 12 league games. While this was seen as a virtue by outsiders, and indeed some insiders, it became clear that it was adversely impacting the side’s ability to score at the other end. Twelve of Tranmere’s 21 league wins were by a single goal, including all 5 victories picked up on the road. Summer 2022 looked to rectify this by recycling an old idea from Mellon’s playbook. 

If we rewind back to that 2016/17 season, and a seemingly innocuous FA Trophy replay at Chelmsford City’s Melbourne Stadium, we can see the first time that Mellon dallied with a 5 at the back formation. There were several caveats with this game; it was a largely irrelevant cup game, a slightly rotated XI was used, the opposition were from the division below. Even taking these factors into consideration, it was still a bold move, but the comfortable 4-1 victory, backed up with another resounding 5-1 victory in the same competition against Barrow using the aforementioned shape emboldened Mellon to unleash it in the league. 

Last season’s squad lacked the personnel to play in this formation, there being only 3 senior centre backs on the books for one, and players such as Peter Clarke were ill-suited to a high-line. Here, then, is an example of the necessity by which Mellon felt 4-4-2 was the only suitable formation to play, however January saw the beginning of a shift in thinking and transfer policy. 

Having signed Kane Hemmings during the winter transfer window the previous season, it was now about how to provide him with sufficient chances to be the 20 goal striker required of a team with aspirations of promotion. Mellon’s solution was to go back to his radical 5-3-2.  

Tranmere fans had seen first-hand how effective this formation could be, not least in the 9-0 evisceration of Solihull, but it was the home defeat to Forest Green Rovers in January 2022 that showed how dominant 5-3-2 could be against a flat 4-4-2. Winning 4-0 was evidence enough, but it was the way in which Forest Green continually cut through or stretched Tranmere’s two banks of four that made the home side look very dated and staid tactically. The memory of this painful defeat would act as a blueprint for the following season. 

In James Vaughan, erstwhile striker at Prenton Park and current Sporting Director focussing on recruitment, there is somebody at the club with a vision of how modern football should look, and the type of person that should be playing it. The profile of players being signed by Mellon is significantly younger than in previous years, with the potential to generate profit from future sales another positive to this approach. While foregoing experience may be another aspect of the risk that Mellon has talked about, it should allow for a contemporary, high energy brand of football to replace the caution of last season. 

By going full circle, and returning to the halcyon days of early Mellon of 2016/17, or ‘Mellonball’ as the current vernacular would term it, Tranmere could see exciting, front-foot football that contrasts sharply to last season’s offerings. A young squad may take time to fully assimilate the tactical demands placed on it, and to adjust to league football more broadly, but the long-term benefits should outweigh any initial growing pains. As the ever prescient Doc Brown said, ‘We need to go back to the future.’ 

Huddersfield Town F.C meeting the opposition.

Huddersfield Town meeting the opposition.

Huddersfield Town surprised many by going all the way to the Championship Play-Off Final last May, where they were beaten by Nottingham Forest. Since then, they have lost their manager and some key players such as defender Harry Toffolo. 

However, there is still reason to be positive as a fan of the Terriers. I spoke to Matt from the ‘Takes that chance’ podcast ahead of their second to last Preseason game before the League campaign gets underway.

Last season, Carlos Corberan guided Huddersfield Town to the Championship Play-Off Final where they would get beat against Nottingham Forest. What were your thoughts on last season, how special was it? 

Last season was a bit of an Icarus season. We flew close to the sun and whilst doing so it was a fantastic, exciting and exhilarating ride, but whenever we have a good season it always feels like it’s going to be boom or bust. Sadly, it’s now a bit bust as players are being sold in droves.

Following the Play-off final defeat, Corberan’s departure was announced and he was replaced by Danny Schofield. What were your thoughts on Corberan’s time at Huddersfield as well as your thoughts on this managerial change?  

Carlos had a bit of a rollercoaster with us, it started well but dipped to an incredible low of 3 wins in 23. Last season it escalated to high levels as did his popularity. It’s a real shame to lose a talented coach through what many perceive as a lack of board ambition (although that isn’t the full story) and there are a few worries that Danny Schofield doesn’t have enough experience, but he does have plenty of good will being a Huddersfield cult hero as a player.

What would you say is Schofield’s playing style? This may have only been seen in the Pre-Season games this summer despite him being at the club since 2020.

He was part of the Corberan coaching staff so I don’t think it will differ hugely from last season. In terms of shape, Schofield has preferred a 4231 in possession with a 442 out of possession to press high. It was a tactic deployed sparingly by Corberan so it’s not a huge departure.

Huddersfield Town is owned by Card Factory founder Dean Hoyle, what is the general feeling of him from the Terriers fanbase? Is the future looking promising with him at the club?

A little mixed. Dean was hugely popular when he sold the club in 2019. Since his return he’s been a little quiet with his intentions moving forward which has set tongues wagging and imaginations wandering towards a belief that he may be here to asset strip to take money back out of the club owed to him in loans. I’m sure he’ll come out and allay some fears soon.

Who would you say are Town’s key players? This summer they have signed attack-minded players in Millwall’s Connor Mahoney, Solihull’s Kyle Hudlin and AFC Wimbledon’s Jack Rudoni.

Sorba Thomas has fantastic set piece delivery, he will be our main focal point again. Duane Holmes makes a nuisance of himself in the final third and Danny Ward is a good hard working forward and if he can stay fit will spearhead our attack. Our key players though are in defence. Lee Nicholls is the current player of the year and the keeper is incredibly solid. Tom Lees was hugely influential at the heart of the defence.

How do you see the upcoming game panning out? What is your score prediction for the game on Saturday afternoon?

It’s a friendly innit. Plenty of running, plenty interchanges and not sure anyone will be bothered by the score. 1-1.

Tranmere Rovers and Huddersfield Town have faced each other on 48 occasions, have you got any memories from these fixtures? What are your favourite and worst memories, the best goals and moments etc? 

Yeah, Tranmere were an absolute pain in the backside for us when i first started watching Huddersfield. Games at Prenton Park tended to be on Friday nights and we used to take a tonking every time or so it felt. Worst memory is probably either 1999 or 2002. We lost both at PP naturally but in 99 we absolutely dominated the game before losing 1-0 somehow. 2002 our old player Kevin Gray scored against us. It was quite early in the season and it was quite obvious we were going to be pretty naff that season. We were worse than naff.

Best goals and moments probably involve Marcus Stewart and a good 3-0 in 98, he scored with a half volley, back to goal which was pretty special. My last visit was in 2010 when Lee Novak scored twice. 

If you have any, have you got any thoughts on Tranmere either as a club or the squad?

I enjoyed growing up with games against Tranmere and when you mention them I immediately remember John Aldridge, Kenny Irons and Joe Murphy and the scoreboard at Prenton Park flashing up as “Joe The Horse Murphy”. Not sure I want that one explaining… 😄.

Overall it’s a good club which is probably unfortunate to be so close to Liverpool and Everton as I imagine they draw a lot of the local support. I still remember the schoolboy army lot and whenever I was in the away end you’d be guaranteed to have about twenty 13 year olds to the left of you vigorously forking you throughout the game 😂. Good times.

Touching on Huddersfield’s transfer business this summer, are you happy with the players that have been recruited and would you say that there is any business left to do before the season starts on the 30th? What are the realistic goals for the upcoming campaign?

I think this is a year where we step back to hopefully go forward. We’ve got some talented players in the B team which we’ll look to bring through and have signed some good young players like David Kasumu and Jack Rudoni. We’ve lost some big players though, so I think mid table with an eye on attacking the future is fine.