Tranmere have a second chance to progress through the first round of the FA Cup tonight as they head to Oxford City for a replay.
Rovers were woeful in the original tie, somehow snatching a replay thanks to a last-gasp James Norwood goal. Rovers will travel to Oxford for the replay tonight which is being screened live on BT Sport. Make no mistake about it, the TV cameras are there in the hope of an upset.
If Rovers are to safely navigate their way through tonight and avoid a huge embarrassment, they will probably need to do each of the following.
1) Defend without Steve McNulty
Everyone knows how important the Tranmere captain is to the team, almost to the point where his influence is as pivotal as Ian Goodison’s was a few years ago. Often, when McNulty is missing Tranmere’s defence goes awry. A lack of defensive discipline also impacts the midfield.
McNulty is almost certain to miss out tonight due to the match being played on an artificial pitch, and he may not be the only one. Whoever fills the void at the back must keep things together.
2) Treat it like a National League game
Our recent history in the National League should, theoretically, stand us in good stead. Rovers need to dig in and rekindle the spirit of Wembley in May and grind out a result against tough and plucky non-league opposition.
We became adept at mixing it with the toughest of part-time teams and finding a way to come out of it the other side with a win. We need to get back in to the non-league groove tonight.
3) Don’t let the surroundings influence things
Small community stadiums and artificial pitches are nothing new to the bulk of this squad having played in non-league for three years. We’ve been everywhere from Boreham Wood and Braintree to Sutton and Solihull. Artificial pitches, tiny stadiums and even the BT Sport cameras.
None of it is new – in fact, it’s hard to think of an EFL team that should be better equipped for taking on tonight’s replay.
4) Make set-pieces count
So many games in the National League were won and lost on set-pieces and it’s likely that the National League South is the same. Rovers became efficient at defending them and effective at using them in an offensive manner. Tranmere simply must be on the ball tonight when it comes to corners and free-kicks in an around the area.
5) Be patient
Tonight is likely to be all about Oxford City, and rightly so. The ground will be packed, and the TV audience will be willing the underdogs on. Rovers need to be patient and wait for the chances to come. Don’t get drawn in to any of the hysteria that’s sure to be about from kick. It’s going to need to be a professional and controlled display from Micky Mellon’s team.