In the space of a week we’ve somehow gone from an unbeaten start to the league season to having picked up only two wins in our past nine games, such is how relentlessly ever-changing the world of football is.
Having had the EFL Trophy game on Tuesday night to begin piecing together the response to last week’s first league defeat of the season, a strong performance and victory in this upcoming game against Tranmere Rovers would be just the response required after the doubts raised in that 4-0 loss to Rotherham United.
The big quandary right now remains how Mark Robins responds to the loss of Wesley Jobello. Having seen what Gervane Kastaneer and Charlie Wakefield might be able to offer over the past couple of games, it wouldn’t be that surprising if the answer, until we can act in the January transfer window, is a change of formation.
In an otherwise forgettable game on Tuesday night, the most interesting thing to come out of it was that we played with a diamond formation in the second half. Given the lack of wide options and the abundance of central midfielders in the squad, it is understandable why that formation would be tempting to Mark Robins.
Although it is a deviation from what worked so well at the start of the season, it keeps the back four and midfield three effectively in the same roles, with the front three adjusting slightly – with the benefit of affording more support to Matt Godden up front.
With Jordy Hiwula the natural choice to move into a front two with Godden and Callum O’Hare perhaps best-suited to playing as a number 10, the main selection conundrum would be in central midfield.
Liam Kelly playing the holding role and Jordan Shipley on the left side of the diamond seem pretty nailed-on, leaving it between Liam Walsh and Zain Westbrooke to play on the right. Walsh may have been brought in as the back-up for Kelly at the base of midfield, but he has shown signs that he probably has more to offer further up the pitch than in the defensive third, which, for me at least, would make him the better option than Westbrooke for that remaining midfield slot.
Last Time We Met
Our last meeting with Tranmere Rovers came during our previous season in exile, as Steven Pressley’s side travelled to Prenton Park on a miserable run of form in the post-Leon Clarke period of that campaign and while we were left without a fit striker in the squad to choose from. With Carl Baker struggling to provide us with a focal point and the rest of the team struggling for confidence, an early penalty sent Tranmere on the path to a victory that ultimately did little to keep them from the first of what became two relegations in as many seasons.
Manager – Micky Mellon
The man responsible for Tranmere’s recovery from those back-to-back relegations, Micky Mellon has led the side that he was a former player of to back-to-back promotions – both via tense Wembley play-off finals – back to where they were five years ago. Tranmere have started slowly this campaign, with their rapid progress in recent years seem to have caught up with them a little bit, although having lost their top scorer, James Norwood, on a free transfer over the summer has been a severe hindrance to Mellon’s hopes for further progress.
A manager not particularly allied to a set system or playing style, he has a pragmatic approach about working out the strengths and weaknesses of the players available to him. This leads to plenty of tinkering with tactics and personnel, which can make Tranmere a very unpredictable team to assess how they might line up or who will play heading into games.
Who To Look Out For?
Tranmere hedged their bets this summer in replacing the goals of James Norwood with several different players, rather than pinning their hopes on one. After much tinkering, the ex-Shrewsbury Town and Bristol Rovers man, Stefan Payne, has emerged as the new figurehead of Tranmere’s attack. Often criticised as lacking effort and effectiveness outside the box, Payne has developed a habit of coming alive in the penalty area, scoring four in 10 appearances this season.
With an array of quick forwards and wingers to pick from, it seems likely that Tranmere will try and use their pace on the break as a way to cause us problems in this game. Corey Blackett-Taylor and Rushian Hepburn-Murphy – ex-Aston Villa and Villa loanee, respectively – are their quickest forwards, although have been started sparingly this season, while former Walsall man Morgan Ferrier is another option to cause us problems running directly at our defence. In addition, right-back, Jack Caprice, is another who is absolutely rapid, even if he isn’t the most diligent defensively.
There is experience in midfield via the 37 year-old David Perkins, who can still break the play up very effectively, and the subtler touch of 34 year-old Darren Potter. Also in central midfield is likely to be the creative spark of Ollie Banks, who can spread the play, drive forward, and get shots away very effectively at this level after finally adding consistency to his game since joining the club last summer.
At the back, Tranmere have the dominant figure of Manny Monthe in central defence, who can marshal the defence and provide a set-piece threat at the other end. In goal, captain Scott Davies is an excellent shot-stopper who has been a key figure in their rise in recent years, even if he has he odd error in his locker.
Areas To Exploit
Although Tranmere are struggling, they have tended to do better against the better teams in the division. That might suggest that they are effective spoilers who’ll sit deep, waste time and frustrate teams into submission, however, they don’t defend particularly well – especially at full-back – and instead, play with a fair degree of energy in closing opponents down high up the pitch.
That will make this game an important test of this team in the wake of the Rotherham result. Tranmere will have looked at that game, along with several of the goals we’ve conceded this season, and relish the opportunity to force errors against a team looking to play out from the back. While we’ll need to reduce the times we put ourselves in avoidable danger from playing out, if we can keep our composure, Tranmere’s pressing game will present us with opportunities to get in behind them.