Record Last Season + Quick Summary:
National League - 2nd; W 24 / D 10 / L 12 / F 78 / A 46 / Pts 82 (won the play-offs)
Edged out by Forest Green Rovers in the previous season’s play-off final, Tranmere Rovers were determined from the outset not to allow a repeat of that disappointment taking place. However, Micky Mellon’s side were well off the pace in the opening dozen matches of the National League, plummeting as low as 18th, their lowest ever position at any time in their long and storied history. The Birkenhead outfit rallied from that embarrassment, suffering only two further defeats in 2017 and the strike partnership of Andy Cook and James Norwood proving extremely effective. Macclesfield Town were too far out in front to truly catch, and their 4-1 victory over Rovers proved to be a minor setback.
The extension of the fifth tier’s play-off system meant that they were fresher than their opponents Ebbsfleet United in the one-leg semi-final, which proved to be a decisive factor in extra time, Tranmere eventually running out 4-2 winners. In the Wembley showdown with Boreham Wood, the sending off of Liam Ridehalgh wasn’t the catalyst for the Herfordshire club to dominate proceedings; indeed, it was the Super White Army that struck first, but the lengthy amount of stoppage time did level things up. Norwood once more came up with the goods when it truly mattered, settling the tie with 10 minutes to spare and sending them back into the EFL after three years in the wilderness, but not for want of trying.
Top Goalscorer: Andy Cook (27 goals in 39 starts/3,490 minutes)
Manager/Head Coach: Micky Mellon; as a midfielder in his playing days, the Paisley-born man carved out his niche mainly in the north-west of England, most prominently for Blackpool, Burnley and Tranmere themselves, in what is a noticeable trend with League Two managers in 2018/2019. Initially dividing his time between the Turf Moor academy and managing Fleetwood Town (in an era when the latter were still very much a part of the non-league pyramid), the latter role was made permanent in 2009.
Eventually negotiating the then-Conference North via the play-offs in 2010, they got all the way to the deciders in the league above, before being routed 8-1 on aggregate by AFC Wimbledon. Mellon made no mistake the following season, winning the title and accruing over 100 points in the process. He was harshly dismissed by the ambitious Cod Army board, with the coastal club occupying seventh in League Two in 2012/2013.
His next mission was assisting David Flitcroft in keeping Barnsley in the Championship, which they managed to do on the final day. Flitcroft was sacked in November of the same year, but Mellon stayed on for several more months before also having his contract terminated.
He took up the cudgels at recently relegated Shrewsbury Town, he guided them to promotion back to League One at the first time of asking. With Salop struggling in 2016, he made the drop to Prenton Park before he was sacked, and will be now hoping to once again reach the third tier.
Ins: Ollie Banks (Oldham Athletic), Manny Monthe (Forest Green Rovers), Harvey Gilmour (Sheffield United on loan), Mark Ellis (Carlisle United), Paul Mullin (Swindon Town), Jake Caprice (Leyton Orient) & Shamal George (Liverpool U23s).
Outs: Mitch Duggan (free agent), Eddie Clarke (Fleetwood Town), James Wallace (Fleetwood Town), Drissa Traoré (free agent), James Kirby (Stockport County), Elliot Rokka (free agent), Devarn Green (Southport), Jay McEveley (Warrington Town), Andy Mangan (Bala Town), Jack Dunn (free agent), Jeff Hughes (Larne), Andy Cook (Walsall) & James Alabi (Leyton Orient).
Predicted First XI & Shape:
Tactics: There are several plausible shapes for Mellon to try out with the current roster at his disposal. Looking at recent friendlies and the number of centre backs in the senior side, I think three of them are likely to feature in most instances. Luke Pilling has competition in the form of Shamal George, who signed earlier today. Both are adept at organising and communicating with their defence to ensure the structure remains solid. They will receive no shortage of help in this regard from captain Steve McNulty, who I have seen several times in the flesh when he was plying his trade for Luton Town. Infamous in the lower leagues, his looks are deceptive. Whilst he doesn’t possess any pace to speak of, his positioning is excellent, as is his uncanny ability to pick out teammates with a wide range of passes.
McNulty could be joined by Ritchie Sutton, who plays best as one of the wider centre backs in a trio, as he’s equally at home on the flank as he is in front of the goalkeeper. Manny Monthe is a giant defender, who lives up to his size with his aerial prowess in both boxes. Zoumana Bakayoko returns to Prenton Park shorn of some the raw speed he used to have, but he still relishes getting up the wing and supplying crosses for the strikers. His skills are mirrored on the right-hand side by Jake Caprice.
In midfield, Ollie Banks is the closest Tranmere will have to a holding midfielder in a 5-3-2. He’s adept with both feet and this allows him to play searching balls over the top of the opposition’s defence for strikers to run onto from more angles. Ollie Norburn is an all-action central midfielder, who has found his niche in a white shirt. He should take command of free kicks too, and most of their positive play will be conducted by him. Connor Jennings can operate off the frontmen and in attacking midfield, so he will be the link man in this XI. He’s adept at shooting from range and using his good control of the ball to beat his marker and bring others into action.
Up front, James Norwood can comfortably start from the wing and cut inside, making him difficult to track. Equally, he has a variety of finishing techniques, as his sizeable haul from last term is testament to. His threat should not be underestimated. At the present time, he might be partnered by Paul Mullin, who can play across the top end of the pitch and is best utilised as the target of lofted crosses.
Predicted ‘Area’ of Finish: Mid-table mediocrity; going slightly against the narrative of a promoted National League side being able to amble their way to a top-seven place in the EFL’s basement division, Tranmere nevertheless look the better equipped of the two from the fifth tier to have a positive impact. Mellon has slowly assembled a squad that contains numerous individuals that have attracted heavy interest from higher up the pyramid, and for good reason. They are a little short up front, but they have tactical flexibility from the bench (Larnell Cole and Ben Tollitt in particular) that can help nullify that issue, should a new player not be signed in time for the start of the campaign. Their defenders will undergo more frequent, thorough examinations than they have experienced recently, and it will be interesting to see how well they can cope.