Tranmere welcome League Two pace-setters Lincoln City to Prenton Park on Tuesday evening for what’s sure to be a tough test.
It’s also a fascinating follow-up to the National League title race of two seasons ago which culminated in the Imps securing the title with Rovers falling just short, despite a record points haul.
Despite a Michael Ihiekwe post-game quote which the entire city of Lincoln managed to take out of context, the battle for the title in 2017 was a great one with no ill-feeling or historic rivalry between the clubs.
Instead, it was two proud and proper old clubs desperate to free themselves from the National League quagmire. For Lincoln, the success brought an end to six years in non-league. Tranmere would follow them back to the EFL a year later after a three-year absence.
What’s happened to Lincoln since that promotion is an example that Tranmere would do well to follow.
Despite losing influential defender Sean Raggett who left for Norwich City, Danny Cowley kept the majority of the Lincoln title-winning squad together for the 2017/18 campaign.
It resulted in another fine season and a run to the League Two play-offs. The continuity helped, while Lincoln’s disciplined style of attacking football proved to be vital.
In that sense, there is a key similarity with Micky Mellon’s feat of keeping Tranmere’s squad together. One player we did lose who has probably not been replaced to this point is striker Andy Cook. Otherwise, along with some good additions, it was a good summer.
Rovers flew out of the blocks from a performance sense this season, the buoyant mood of promotion carrying the team through the early weeks with some outstanding performances.
Stevenage were lucky to hold on for a draw, Port Vale and Cheltenham were dispatched comfortably enough and Swindon would have taken a hiding if it wasn’t for that Jay Harris red card. Since then, a more disciplined mindset seems to have taken over.
Meanwhile, Lincoln’s dream of back-to-back promotions last term was ended by Exeter City in May. The play-off semi-finals proving to be a bridge too far.
Not to be deterred, Cowley got to work on improving his squad further in the summer.
In came physical frontman John Akinde from Barnet and winger Bruno Andrade from Boreham Wood. There were others too, and the loan signing of Bernard Mensah was a shrewd one – Rovers fans will remember him from the strong Aldershot side of that 2016/17 season.
So far, so good, for Cowley and Co.
Ten games in, and Lincoln are top, three points clear of surprise package Newport County. While City’s play-off conquerors Exeter sit third, the Imps have perhaps demonstrated their progress this term already by returning to St James Park – scene of that play-off heartache – to record a resounding 3-0 win.
Tranmere must pick the times to attack
All of this does suggest the obvious; Tranmere will be in for a tough game at Prenton Park on Tuesday evening. As Lincoln’s relative success last season illustrated, Micky Mellon should most definitely consider a chase for the play-offs to be a realistic target.
Despite sitting down in 15th, Rovers are just two points behind the top seven, meaning victory in tomorrow’s game would transform how the table looks at this early stage. With a trip to struggling Morecambe to follow on Saturday, it could be a huge week.
Recent matches have seen Rovers take a slightly more pragmatic approach to games.
The pace and vigour shown in the early weeks as they went for the jugular from the first whistle has subsided slightly, replaced by an efficient and organised approach which most recently took a point from MK Dons on Saturday.
It will continue to get points and a relegation struggle seems highly unlikely.
However, if Mellon can release the brakes in selected fixtures, teams will struggle to contend with Tranmere. Tomorrow night may not be the fixture to do so, the workmanlike approach perhaps more suited.
However, if we get a positive result tomorrow, then attack should be top of the agenda for that trip to Morecambe.
Here’s to an exciting evening under the lights.
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