It’s been a busy old week of player activity at Tranmere Rovers with no fewer than seven new signings, six new contracts and four players confirmed as leaving the club.
There was a lot of talk on forums and social media about Micky Mellon’s lack of activity in the transfer market before this week. To be honest, though, there hasn’t been much movement through the EFL and Premier League so far in this window, so it was nothing to panic about.
But wanting to get the core of his squad for the new season together and have a full pre-season with them, the Rovers manager has made a number of signings as the team went back to work with pre-season training starting last Thursday.
Let’s assess how the squad is looking ahead of the new season…
Luke Pilling signed a new deal to stay at Prenton Park for another season. Luke is an impressive goalkeeper and a very capable understudy for Scott Davies. I hope he’ll get a chance to shine in competitions like the EFL Trophy this season. The goalkeeping department is looking strong.
In defence, Rovers signed a trio of players this week.
Sid Nelson returns to the club after a successful loan at the end of last season. Sid really impressed in those big games and reportedly turned down clubs in the Championship to sign at Tranmere and I’m delighted he has. His partnership with Manny Monthe was blossoming and we will get to see that continue in 2019-20.
Also added was former Huddersfield and Preston North End full-back Calum Woods. You need experience in the squad and he will provide that. Versatility is another good attribute to have, and he can play in a number of positions at the back, so that will be important as the season goes on.
Former Crewe Alexandra captain George Ray has also been brought in. From what I’ve seen of him, he’s a tall, strong centre-half who wins his headers and leads from the back, so again, I see this as a good addition.
Moving into the midfield, and Darren Potter is a notable signing. He’s a talented player who has spent his entire career at League One level or higher. At 34, his best days are likely to be behind him, but I still think he has a fair bit to offer, and there will be times when his experience will be needed.
In the wide areas, Mellon has brought back Kieron Morris who, like Sid Nelson, had an impressive spell on loan at the end of last season. He has good experience at this level, did well while on loan in helping us to promotion, and deserves the opportunity.
Another winger who comes into the squad is Corey Blackett-Taylor. A product of the Aston Villa academy, the 21-year-old is quick and skilful. He doesn’t have a great deal of senior experience under his belt, with most of his football being played at youth and Under-23 level, but he has bags of potential which Micky will be looking to maximise.
Moving into attack, and Tranmere have signed Stefan Payne. The boss describes him as a ‘target man’ type forward, something we probably didn’t have last season after Andy Cook’s departure.
Ishmael Miller has also extended his contract by another six months. With his height and build, I guess you can call him a target man too, but he’s also got great pace to get in behind defences. It’s good to have a nice variety of options, and I expect us to be looking to add one, maybe two, more forwards to the squad before the window closes.
With the players already signed up, the squad is beginning to take shape.
I think we’re looking strong is defence, particularly if Nelson and Monthe can continue to grow the partnership which looked so good at the end of last season.
Attacking wise, it is going to be difficult to replace James Norwood. We’ll probably have to do it with two or three players chipping in with their fair share of goals as it is unlikely that we can go out and poach a 30-goal striker from somewhere. But in Paul Mullin, Payne and Miller, we have some good options there and I’m sure Connor Jennings and the wide players will weigh in with their share of goals too.
It was good to see the club signing four of last season’s second year scholars to professional deals.
Goalkeeper Bayleigh Passant, defender Carl Spellman, midfielder Danny Walker-Rice and striker Bailey Thompson will all go into their debut season at senior level at Prenton Park.
I’m not too sure that we’ll see much of them in the first team, but they’ll get opportunities to push their claims for a place in the upcoming pre-season friendlies and then in development squad fixtures.
The club has always produced players through the youth ranks, and the four lads signing is testament to the great work done by Andy Parkinson and Alan Morgan with the Under-18s.
Finally, before signing off, I’d like to pay tribute to some of the players who were confirmed as leaving the club this week, in particular, Jay Harris and Adam Buxton.
Harris has come on the journey with us in the last four seasons and has epitomised the spirit and determination in the ranks to get us back to this position back in League One.
A lot is talked about his work rate and terrier-like tackling in the middle of the park, but he has great quality on the ball too. He was arguably Tranmere’s best player in the run in last season, and I’m sorry to see him leave. He’ll be a great addition to another squad, I have no doubt.
Buxton has also been a great servant. He played his part in the winning goal at Wembley, creating the space which allowed Jake Caprice to cross for Connor Jennings.
The former Accrington man has fantastic quality on the ball, scored some cracking goals from set pieces and certainly played a big part in this journey, too. He moves to Morecambe and the Shrimps’ fans will no doubt enjoy that quality.
With the squad looking strong, they have travelled to Scotland for a training camp before a friendly fixture behind closed doors against Livingston.
Whilst you can’t read too much into friendly performances and results, it will be interesting to see how Rovers fare in the next few weeks, building up to our return to League One on August 3 versus Rochdale. It’s exciting and I, for one, am looking forward to it.