ITEN Match Preview: Tranmere (A)
Rovers will be looking to improve upon Saturday’s 2-1 loss to Fleetwood when they travel back to the North West to take on Tranmere in an important game in-hand this midweek.
This clash, rearranged after an October postponement due to the home side’s well-documented pitch issues, presents Darren Moore’s side with a big chance to close up on the top six, a chance that Rovers can ill afford to pass up if they are to maintain their push for promotion.
An Injection of New Blood
The gaffer will have been delighted to bring in four new players during the final week of the January transfer window, although none of them started the game at Fleetwood. The narrow defeat may create an opportunity for some fresh faces to come into the team and hopefully reinvigorate a Rovers side looking for inspiration in attack, with Fejiri Okenabirhie and Devante Cole pushing for starts after cameos from the bench and loan signing Jacob Ramsey figuring to feature for the first time.
Ramsey feels the most likely to come in providing he is up to speed, as James Coppinger continues to manage his games and may not be best suited for the sandy Prenton Park pitch. Ramsey’s enthusiasm and direct play in the middle of the field may provide Moore with the spark he is looking for in his forward line, although he has spoken of the versatility in the Aston Villa loanee enabling him to be used in the central midfield as well.
Reece James was left out again at Fleetwood in favour of Cameron John’s physicality, so the manager’s choice at left full back will be an interesting one. John has not been at his best in the unorthodox role he has found himself in of late whilst James has excelled, particularly against so-called lesser League One sides like Southend, against whom he was very influential.
Micky’s Men in Dire Straits
Tranmere’s form is in the gutter and the team find themselves six points adrift of safety in League One, compounding their misery with a slack 2-0 defeat away to doomed Bolton at the weekend.
Their pitch may be seen as a bit of an equaliser against the pass-heavy style of their visitors but the issue surrounding their decrepit drainage system is costing them as fixtures including Liverpool Women’s WSL games and Tranmere’s own lucrative FA Cup tie with Watford – which they eventually won to earn a shot at Man United – falling foul of the problems which saw this fixture originally called off on the morning of the game.
Micky Mellon has been busy in the transfer market himself, bringing Andy Cook back to the club from Mansfield last week and also adding highly-rated Everton defender Morgan Feeney on loan. Cook joins James Vaughan in arriving to boost the side’s ailing attacking ranks with Vaughan, a savvy pick-up from Bradford who is having a productive season, debuting in the Bolton loss. With Morgan Ferrier out of goalscoring form, Cook may come straight in alongside Vaughan giving the attack a touch of unpredictability.
Former Rovers player Luke McCullough also signed on back at Tranmere last week having recovered from his latest serious knee injury, suffered in a loan spell at the club from Rovers last season. His return coupled with the arrival of Feeney help bolster defensive ranks sorely hampered by injury, with Peter Clarke currently injured and Liam Ridehalgh doubtful too. Loanee right back Kane Wilson deputised at left back against Bolton whilst Calum Woods has also been playing out of position.
This will be the first meeting between the sides since Rovers won the League One title in 2012/13, a season in which Tranmere were the surprise leaders for much of the campaign before fading and ultimately missing the Play-Offs. They were relegated the following year and soon found themselves in the National League but have bounced back superbly to return to the third tier.
Rovers have won the last four games against Tranmere going back to 2008, with the Wirral side’s last victory coming in February of 2007 as a Chris Greenacre goal gave Ronnie Moore’s side victory at Prenton Park during a season in which they finished two places ahead of Rovers in 9th. James Coppinger is the only survivor in either side from that game to now.
Rob Jones was the match winner for the visitors in the last game between the sides, netting his 8th goal of a legendary season in a 1-0 victory at the Keepmoat that guaranteed Rovers a top six finish, whilst it was a last-gasp Iain Hume strike against his former team that won the last meeting on Merseyside, during a remarkable run of away form that became the backbone of the side’s title victory.
Manny Monthe’s return from suspension is a welcome one for Tranmere, and may allow them to revert to manager Mellon’s preferred set-up of a back three to combat Rovers’ newfound strike power. Monthe, likely to be flanked by Sid Nelson and perhaps also Morgan Feeney, has the size and strength to dominate Niall Ennis, meaning the young forward may have to give way to Fejiri Okenabirhie or else move to a wide role despite his recent goalscoring form.
Okenabirhie possesses the strength and guile to combat Monthe and so should be considered for his first start as Rovers’ true #9. His efforts in the centre should allow the wide players – be that Kieran Sadlier and Jon Taylor or some other combination featuring Ennis or Jason Lokilo – to exploit space behind Tranmere’s wing backs and create goalscoring opportunities for Okenabirhie. The decisions Darren Moore makes in this area before the game could be the most important in deciding who comes out on top once the whistle blows.