Tranmere’s form in December was exceptional, as Micky Mellon’s team thrust themselves back in to the play-off pack. Unfortunately, that run came to a crushing end on the Fylde coast on New Years’ Day.
Tranmere travelled to Lancashire on the back of five straight league wins, including a 4-1 success at home to Fylde on Boxing Day. However, as kick-off approached at Mill Farm and the wind viciously whipped heavy rain up the pitch, things were about to unravel.
A surprise on the teamsheet was the return of Liam Ridehalgh in place of Eddie Clarke, the young full-back dropped despite being one of the stand-out performances over the last month. Otherwise, Rovers were unchanged.
Within minutes of the game starting, it soon became clear Tranmere were not at it. James Norwood’s low shot was all they had to show for the opening exchanges, and soon enough the home team took the lead.
Awful defending and poor goalkeeping had the hosts 3-0 up by half-time, Tranmere finding it impossible to string more than 2-3 passes together at a time. Banks, Norburn and Jennings tried to get things moving in midfield, but the passing was off. The support from the front two was severely lacking, Norburn showing his frustration with Norwood’s positioning on at least one occasion.
The balance we have benefitted from through Clarke and Mottley-Henry was gone, instead Liam Ridehalgh had a quiet game at left-back and Larnell Cole utterly ineffective at right midfield – he showed no willingness to beat his man. But losing that pace and attacking intent on both sides, Rovers were narrow and disjointed.
Scott Davies went off injured at 3-0, and the half-time whistle was frankly a relief.
Clarke was introduced for Cole at half-time and he instantly offered at least a little threat up the left.
Hopes that the strong wind that hampered Rovers a little in the first half may assist them in the second were soon dashed as the hosts remained in control and went 4-0 up. Ollie Banks pulled a goal back with a fine curling strike from the left side of the box, but an opportunity to get back in it at 4-2 was wasted by Andy Cook, the striker opting to chip the keeper when through on goal instead of keeping it low. The keeper saved, the chance gone.
Another goal for the hosts finally led to some of the travelling fans leaving, but most of the 1400 or so braved it until the end. They got some reward at least, Connor Jennings winning and scoring a penalty.
With two more consecutive away games to come, Tranmere must sort themselves out, and fast.