Four the fourth time in five home games, we play host to opposition from the north-west. Fleetwood aside, they’ve come with their respective problems – but Tranmere, unlike Rochdale or Blackpool, are in real danger. Ahead of their first league visit to South Bucks in five-and-a-half years, Stuart Feltham talks us through his side’s bumpy return to the third tier and how they might pull off a great escape.
This season was always likely to be tough, with League One survival the aim. That said, have you been surprised that you have spent most of it in the bottom three?
I said at the start of the season I’d be happy anywhere above the drop zone come the end of the season, but I also didn’t want a dogfight until the end. I don’t think that’s changed. I am disappointed to be where we are. We’ve shown the odd glimpse of good football and being able to grind out results, but the season hasn’t gone our way yet. I’m still hopeful that we can get out of it and stay up. We’ve made some decent signings and we’ve got some good players coming back from injury. I didn’t expect it to be easy – there was no way we were going to be able to go on a promotion push – but I had hoped it would be better than it has been.
I’ve noticed a fair bit of criticism of Micky Mellon from Rovers fans. For you, and with the team on probably its worst run of the season, is he the man to steer you the safety – or indeed stay in charge if you do go down? In Micky we trust! Personally, I’m sticking by him until the end of the season.
We’ve got a vocal minority calling for his head and who think we deserve something we’ve not earned because of our history, but we all know that history means nothing in football.
Micky is a former player who understands the fans, the club and the chairman. He knows what the fans expect and he’s shown that he’s tactically savvy. How many managers will drive out of the ground and flag you down to talk about the game you’ve just watched? I’m not sure there are many others who are as passionate and connected to the fans.
If we go down and if he’s lost the dressing room then questions have to be asked, but at the moment I have to ask, “Who are we going to get who’s better?”.
Do you think factors like the state of the Prenton Park pitch and your FA Cup run have hindered your league progress? The pitch is shocking and it’s certainly not helping, but we can’t make excuses out of that. I watched good teams in the 80s and 90s play good football on pitches worse than that, so we can’t blame the pitch for our league position. It certainly doesn’t suit some of our more creative players who like to run with the ball, though, and perhaps that’s why we’ve struggled for goals this season.
The FA Cup was great. It was brilliant to come from behind at Watford and beat them at Prenton Park; and regardless of the score, it was brilliant to watch the boys line up against Man United. It’s moments like that which make all the hardship and pain of the last 20 years, trips to places like South Park and Dover, and our rising from non-League all worth it. We have a club to be proud of again. Has it affected our season? Probably, but I don’t think we can use that as an excuse either.
Who have been your star/key players and why? It’s difficult to pick star players. Manny Monthé has been solid at the back. He’s young and improving all the time and I think it’s fair to say that the Super White Army have really taken him in as one of us. He’s a potential future legend if he hasn’t already secured that status with two Wembley wins. Winger Kieron Morris has been instrumental in several of our games (as you’ll know), but I think he’s struggled a bit with the pitch. Midfielder Ollie Banks is a real talent and was playing some great stuff before injury. I’m hopeful that him coming back into the team will kick-start our season again. I’ve also got to mention veteran midfielder Neil Danns; I thought he might have been past it when he was signed, but I’ve become a massive fan. He does seem to divide opinion, though. Oh, and “We’ve got Andy Cook!”.
Last of all, how do you see the game going? Score prediction welcome! I think it’s going to be another scrappy game. We’re likely to ping the ball long to the front two and try and get something that way. We’ll be looking to keep a clean sheet having been leaking like the Titanic of late. We need to start nicking games and winning 1-0 if we’re going to survive, but in truth I think it’s likely to have goals in it as we’ve not been scoring many in recent games. And so with all that said I’m going to say Wycombe 2 – 3 Tranmere to set us on the road to survival. You’ve got to be optimistic!