Tranmere Rovers’ “Super White Army” fanbase have been singing the praises of manager Micky Mellon for quite some time and with Tranmere’s upturn in form, there is a buzz among the Wirral ahead of Tranmere’s date with destiny on Wembley Way on Saturday. Many Tranmere fans are optimistic of a second successive promotion ahead of the League Two Play-Off final and they have every right to be.
Mellon took Tranmere on a remarkable run at the tail end of the season, going on a nine-match unbeaten run and securing wins in vital matches to secure a play-off place, narrowly missing out on automatic promotion with a 1-1 draw at Bury and most recently overcoming a resilient Forest Green side to secure their place at Wembley.
This poses the question as to what exactly has Mellon done to ensure that Tranmere are going for “two in a row”. In this head coach tactical analysis we will review the key aspects behind Tranmere’s promotion push.
Like a swiss knife
There is no disputing the fact that League Two top scorer James Norwood has been of critical importance in Tranmere’s promotion push, however, Mellon has developed a team capable of playing and adapting to various formations that cater to the collective strengths of the team and provide goalscoring opportunities against tough, firm League Two defences.
Mellon traditionally played an almost old-school style 4-4-2 with Conor Jennings or Paul Mullin often supporting Norwood as the second striker and this proved fruitful in the early stages of the season. However, Mellon adjusted the formation to more of a 4-1-4-1/4-4-1-1 towards the end of the season and this paid dividends for Tranmere. Whilst Norwood was continuing to deliver crucial match-winning goals, their defensive record was among the best in the league, conceding just three goals in 14 games with the defensive partnership of Manny Monthe and Sid Nelson/Mark Ellis proving to be a formidable force.
Tranmere also saw an upturn in successful forward passes particularly into wide areas with full-backs Liam Ridehalgh and Jake Caprice often joining the attack and delivering crosses into the path of Norwood and Jennings. Furthermore, in the 2-1 victory over MK Dons, Tranmere completed 72% of passes into the final third, their highest since the 2-0 win over Carisle United in September 2018.
Tranmere’s blistering upturn in form undoubtedly in part comes down to the re-emergence of full-back Liam Ridehalgh and midfielder David Perkins who is quickly proving to be a shrewd piece of business for Tranmere at the age of 36. With star-striker James Norwood grabbing the headlines the impact of players such as Ridehalgh and Perkins is easily forgotten but it is important to point out their role in ensuring Tranmere’s spot in the play-off final.
Tranmere have seen a significant improvement in their conversion rate in front of goal, averaging an expected goals ratio (x.G) of 1.48 throughout their nine-game unbeaten run and creating significantly more chances in front of goal from wide areas. A notable example of Ridehalgh’s contribution to Tranmere’s improvement of chance creation is the recent play-off fixtures against Forest Green Rovers, where he maintained a very good completed pass ratio of 82% in both fixtures.
Furthermore, Perkins, a dynamic central midfielder signed on a 18 month deal in January for an undisclosed fee has brought a different dimension to Tranmere’s play with plenty of energetic runs, an excellent range of passing with an average pass completion rate of 85% and successfully completing 75% of attempted dribbles which is an excellent statistic for a 36 year old. Of course, no article on Tranmere Rovers can be written without mentioning James Norwood.
The 28-year-old striker is in the best form of his career, scoring an exceptional 32 goals in 52 games, with an average xG ratio of 0.46 over the course of the season becoming the EFL’s top scorer whilst also scoring many match-winning goals. And whilst he looks certain for a move away from the Birkenhead club in the Summer, there is no disputing the fact that Mellon and his backroom staff have developed Norwood into a more complete player, capable of playing at a higher level and for that Mellon deserves a great deal of credit.
However, there are also some concerns which Mellon will want to address prior to Saturday’s Play-Off Final. Mellon will be frustrated at the lack of a clinical edge in the side when Norwood is not firing on all cylinders as shown in the first leg of the play-off semi-final against Forest Green.
It took a stroke of genius from Ollie Banks who scored a late contender for goal of the season to win that game and Mellon will be hoping that one of his triad of attacking options of Kieran Morris, Ben Pringle, Conor Jennings or similar players will be able to contribute when the game is needing a spark or alternatively, Jonny Smith may also be an option for Mellon to break down what will likely be a tough Newport County side who will not go down quietly.
Furthermore, in the seven fixtures leading up to the play-off semi-final fixtures against Forest Green, Tranmere conceded eight goals. This is in stark contrast to the three conceded in 14 games prior to this. However, three of those goals came in a 3-1 defeat to Crawley Town in the last fixture of the season with Tranmere playing a heavily weakened side. The loss of centre-back Mark Ellis through injury is undoubtedly a major loss to Mellon and Tranmere as Ellis and Monthe were forming an exceptional partnership at the back. It must be noted that Sid Nelson has done an effective job since being drafted in and deserves credit for steadying the ship ahead of the most crucial game of Tranmere’s season.
Mellon has got Tranmere playing a style of attacking, confident football which the passionate “Super White Army” are lapping up. Newport have proved stiff opposition for Tranmere this season and will come to Wembley with every intention of spoiling the potential promotion party but if Mellon can get this energetic Tranmere side to play to their full capacity on Saturday, there may well be celebrations on Wembley Way and the Wirral for a long time to come and Mellon’s name may forever go down in Tranmere folklore.
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