The news that top scorer Andy Cook had joined Walsall earlier today was hardly a surprise, but it was a blow for Rovers. The big striker moves to the League One club on a free transfer having fought hard to establish himself during his two years in Wirral.
Cook joined Rovers in 2016 from fellow National League side Barrow. He had enjoyed a fruitful couple of years at Holker Street, netting 38 goals in 48 league appearances. It was former manager Gary Brabin that brought Cook to Prenton Park and he would start the season in the starting eleven.
While he didn’t start life at his new club on fire, he was among the goals as Tranmere started the season in red-hot form. Rovers won five consecutive matches and Cookie would score two goals in those five, netting a total of four goals in his first 11 games. That eleventh game was a 0-0 draw at Sutton United, a game that spelt the end of Gary Brabin’s tenure as manager.
Rovers then played three games with Paul Carden in caretaker charge, Cook scoring twice in a 2-1 success at home to Woking. By mid-October, Micky Mellon was installed as manager, leaving a club two divisions higher in order to return to Prenton Park and be tasked with promotion.
Cook scored as Mellon was welcomed home in style, his first game a televised 2-0 win over local rivals Wrexham. It seemed a match made in heaven, and Cook scored five goals in his next five games and became a key part of Mellon’s team.
He continued to score goals in to the New Year, but as the season entered the home straight things got difficult. Cole Stockton had been recalled from a loan at Morecambe in League Two, and when given an opportunity, Stockton had started scoring goals as well.
Cook was a frustrated substitute in the game at Chester in early March, though in typical style he came off the bench to grab a dramatic, and stunning, late winner.
Mellon publicly questioned his fitness as starting opportunities remained limited over the coming weeks. GPS data was apparently showing a lack of movement, a key aspect of Tranmere’s attacking play. Meanwhile, the new three-man strike force of James Norwood, Stockton and Connor Jennings had pace and movement aplenty, and the team’s form in front of goal was better than ever.
Southport and North Ferriby had four put past them, Woking three, while Solihull Moors were reduced to nothing as Tranmere produced a startling display of goalscoring efficiency in a staggering 9-0 win.
Tranmere amassed 95 points and were still beaten to the title by Lincoln City, and by the time the play-offs started, Stockton was flying. Stockton hit two superb goals in the play-off first leg win at Aldershot, notching again in the second leg. He kept his starting place at Wembley, Cookie introduced as a second half sub as Rovers trailed 3-1. He was visibly frustrated, never one to hide his anger, he beat the turf in anger as a half chance went begging.
As the summer began and Rovers prepped for another 12 months in the non-league wilderness, speculation was rife that Cook would be off. Wrexham, managed by Dean Keates were interested, suggestions that a cash bid had been made by them, as well as by Notts County.
More competition for a starting place
Cook remained as pre-season got underway in July 2017, but there were more challenges just around the corner. Rovers brought in strikers James Alabi and George Waring, with Alabi netting five goals in his pre-season debut at Cammell Laird. Although Stockton was gone, Alabi now had the starting berth as the season kicked-off, Cook left to sit on the bench once again.
He was soon back in the starting line-up, and while he did get starts and goals, it was November before he properly settled. Rovers had endured a nightmare start, the formation was changed, wingers were signed and the Cook Norwood partnership flourished.
Tranmere went through December with a 100% record, Cook scoring five in the month as relegation concerns turned back in to promotion aspirations.
Aside from a New Year’s Day anomaly at Fylde, Rovers surged up the table, spearheaded by the front two, arguably the best partnership Prenton Park has seen since the halcyon days of the 1990s. Cook would score 13 goals from the end of February onwards, eventually ending the season with 28 goals, the National League’s Golden Boot and a promotion-winning medal.
Throughout his time at Rovers, Cook wore his heart on his sleeve and became a firm fan’s favourite for doing just. There goals helped too, of course.
There is no doubt that Mellon has helped Cook develop as a player massively from the one he inherited in 2016. He’s leaner, sharper, stronger and harder-working than even 12 months ago. He seems more clinical, too.
Cook refused to throw in the towel when he found himself out of favour, and the end result of that dedication – along with Mellon’s tough-love style of management with him – is a striker that is in demand with a host of League One and Two clubs.
It’s hard to see a goal scorer leave, but he has delivered what he was brought in to do. Score the goals to get Tranmere promoted. He’s also left us with some wonderful memories along the way.
Good luck in the next chapter, Andy.