As August ends, we can reflect on our first month back in the Football League with a real sense of positivity and optimism.
After three years away, Tranmere kicked-off life back in the EFL earlier this month, and it’s fair to say that it’s gone well so far.
Rovers fans are in buoyant mood following a strong opening to the season, any concerns about our ability to compete at this level seem to have been dispelled.
Ahead of the kick-off to the new campaign, expectations seemed to be mixed among fans. Pre-season had been okay, but we looked leaky at the back and lacked a goal scoring edge going forward.
Just days before the season started, we had not replaced top scorer Andy Cook and nobody really had an idea of how Micky Mellon would line the team up on the opening day at Stevenage.
As the days ticked away and the big kick-off neared, Cole Stockton re-joined the club from Carlisle United and the SWA were snapping up tickets for the opener at Stevenage at a frantic pace.
The opening day
It was fitting that the game at Stevenage was played in a gloriously hot weather. Tranmere’s return to the Football League had arrived and a huge following from Wirral basked in the summer sunshine while welcoming the team out with the same enthusiasm and vigour that was evident at Wembley nearly three months earlier.
Stockton started with Norwood up top, but the main talking point was the omission of Ollie Norburn. Officially, the midfielder was side-lined with injury, but speculation suggested a move to a new club was in the offing.
Tranmere started the game with a real spring in their step, dominating possession and looking dangerous. Those pre-season defensive concerns soon came to the fore again though, and somehow Rovers found themselves 2-0 down inside the opening half hour or so.
Thankfully, Tranmere did not panic. They continued to play some sublime football and they tore Stevenage wide open shortly before the break with a breathtaking move, ultimately allowing James Norwood to run through on goal and finish expertly to give hope for the second period.
After the break, Rovers started brightly again. For 30 minutes or so, they were frankly outstanding, head and shoulders above the opposition. The equaliser followed, Nors scrambling home after Ritchie Sutton nodded a free-kick across goal.
Tranmere should have won it, but they took a point. No agonising wait for the first point back in the EFL, no wait for James Norwood to score his first EFL goal. Instead, Rovers were straight in with a fine display.
EFL returns to Prenton Park
Seven days later, and Cheltenham came to Prenton Park. The stadium was bouncing, such was the excitement and optimism of seeing league football played out in the stadium once again.
Again, Rovers were intent on playing proper football, the quality of which found Cheltenham wanting. A stunning first-half striker by that man Norwood handed Rovers a 1-0 win, but it could, and should, have been more.
The full-time whistle was greeted with joyous celebrations. This wasn’t just three points – this was the winning return of Football League action to Wirral. This was a day when if there were any doubts about whether Rovers could truly compete, about which direction the club was headed, about our defensive strength. All were blown away.
Four points in seven days.
A tough lesson learned?
Next up was a trip to old foe Swindon Town. Another strong following headed to Wiltshire, and Rovers picked up where they left off again Cheltenham (yes, we’re ignoring the League Cup).
Micky’s team flew out of the blocks, again vastly superior to the opposition. The football the team are trying to play in League Two is tremendous, and Phil Brown was turning from orange to red as his team was embarrassed.
Jonny Smith and Norwood scored to put Tranmere 0-2 up in double-quick time and the only result that looked likely was a heavy away win. Unfortunately, there was a nasty twist in the tail of this story.
Jay Harris, who had started the season really well, showed a lack of discipline with a very poor challenge midway through the first half. He was shown a straight red card, and Tranmere were under-pressure.
There were still chances for Rovers to add to their lead, but unfortunately the defence was sloppy and couldn’t hold out. Somehow, Tranmere left with zero points after a 3-2 reverse.
It was back to Prenton Park the following Tuesday as Rovers had two games in five days at home. One of the division’s promotion favourites were up first as Mansfield visited.
They looked value for that pre-season billing, but Tranmere weren’t far behind. A tremendous encounter entertained the Prenton Park crowd and could have swung either way.
It ended goalless, a solid point against a good team and another Prenton Park clean sheet.
Port Vale had spent handsomely in the summer to strengthen their squad for a promotion bid, and they visited Birkenhead a few days later. Another close game against a different proposition in the form of a physical and unattractive Vale side.
Again, Rovers competed, even if the attractive football had to be curtailed slightly. Norwood was again the match winner, turning home Ollie Banks’ effort on goal to secure a 1-0 win. And yes, another shut out.
A fine first month
Micky Mellon was right this week when he said that if we’d have been offered the eight points they have at the beginning of the month and having secured them with the quality of football and entertainment they have served up, we’d all have taken it.
Sure, we could still do with another forward player, perhaps a midfielder too, but we’re in good shape and the Prenton Park is buzzing again. Everyone has a smile on their face and each league game is being anticipated with excitement – it’s many years since we could say that!
Here’s to a first away win, hopefully at Northampton on Saturday.