When full-back Lee Vaughan left Tranmere in the summer, it was expected that a replacement would be incoming. Four months on, we’re still waiting.
Tranmere ended last season in fine form, thanks in no small part to a playing style built around a solid defence, attacking full-backs and a counter-attack that was deadly at times.
With the departure of defender Michael Ihiekwe, Tranmere lost one of the three centre halves that had made the system so effective. While the lack of pace at the back is still a huge problem as a result, it’s the loss of Vaughan that Rovers are still really struggling to get to grips with.
Vaughan wasn’t always great defensively, and if we’re being brutally honest, his final product in the other half of the field also left a lot to be desired. However, his pace, fitness and work ethic was vital to the success of the formation, not to mention offering a natural balance to Liam Ridehalgh on the opposite side of the field.
For whatever reason, Micky Mellon has not replaced Vaughan this summer. Even if he was aiming to change system for the season, which initially looked likely, to not have options to play that system when required is frankly quite odd.
Some will rightly point out that Adam Buxton offers that option, but there are two fundamental issues with playing Buxton there. And let’s point out now, Buxton is undoubtedly one of the best players in Mellon’s squad and has been superb since signing.
However, last season he was employed on the right of the three centre backs, alongside McNulty and Ihiekwe. While he doesn’t possess amazing pace, Buxton is quite mobile and is an outstanding defender – in many fans’ opinions, he was as key to the effectiveness of last season’s formation as Vaughan was. Let’s not underestimate his composure and quality on the ball as well, two traits that are vital to Tranmere playing the ball out from the back.
In employing Buxton at right full-back, it has left McNulty as the only starter from last season in the back three. Ritchie Sutton has done well, but is not quick nor as mobile as Buxton. Summer signing Jay McEveley also suffers from a real lack of pace and mobility. So, by losing Ihiekwe and moving Buxton, we’ve lost two key components from last season.
So, to the second of the reasons, and that is because as well as Buxton does, he’s not as quick or effective on the break in the right full-back position as Vaughan was. Arguably, his final ball is better than his predecessor, but the lightning quick breaks Tranmere were capable of last season have pretty much been eradicated.
Surely it is now time for Rovers to bring in a specialist right full-back with pace, put Buxton back alongside McNulty and Sutton/McEveley, and get back to doing what we did so well toward the end of last season.