Micky Mellon was arguably Tranmere’s man of the match at Lincoln City on Easter Monday after a brilliant half-time tactical shake-up almost gave his team maximum points at the table-toppers.
The last few weeks have brought the old injury curse back to the fore. It was at its worst during the 2017 run-in and ultimate play-off campaign, but Friday’s injury to Mark Ellis, added to those for Liam Ridehalgh, David Perkins, Luke McCullough and a nagging groin injury that is plaguing James Norwood, and once again Tranmere are up against it at a key time.
On-loan Millwall loanee Sid Nelson returned to the starting eleven at Sincil Bank in place of Ellis, while Bakayogo continued to deputise for Ridehalgh. Mellon also opted to take Ben Pringle back out of the starting eleven, preferring instead the work rate of Paul Mullin who made a positive impact from the bench against Forest Green.
A capacity crowd crammed in to the old ground, bathed in sun and anticipating the usual Lincoln bombardment. It didn’t take long to materialise.
Lincoln’s success under the Cowley brothers has been exceptional, although dig a little deeper and you will find a few Imps fans who aren’t huge fans of the style of football. They are though, rightly so, fans of winning, and that’s one thing they have sampled a lot in the last three years.
While not great to watch, Lincoln are usually fiercely efficient. Long balls in to the channels for Akinde have worked well throughout the season, while Danny Rowe and Bruno Andrade supply quality up the flanks. Yesterday saw Cowley bring back the portly figure of Matt Rhead back in to the starting line-up which would provide Nelson and Monthe with plenty to think about.
Rhead was central to much of what Lincoln did, although unsurprisingly lacked any form of quality. Andrade tormented Caprice in the early stages while Banks and Harris struggled to get any sort of hold on Lincoln’s dominant midfield in the first half.
We were under the cosh, and the home crowd were desperate for the opening goal. In truth, the hosts never got near to getting one. That said, Rovers were much the happier to get to half-time level.
The struggle to dominate any part of the pitch led Mellon in to a brave double substitution at the break. Evan Gumbs came on for a surprise appearance replacing Nelson at centre back – Nelson perhaps also feeling a recent shoulder injury.
In addition, Harvey Gilmour came on for Mullin. Gilmour tormented the Imps and changed the game in Tranmere’s favour when the two teams met earlier in the season, and his arrival once again brought about a positive shift.
While the hosts had the lion’s share of possession, Mellon’s plan begun to work. Spaces were opening up on the break for Tranmere, a weapon that has been at the forefront of our good form all season. In fact, our winning goal at Prenton Park against Lincoln earlier in the season was scored on the break.
Connor Jennings had the ball in the net after being played in by Harris, but the flag was up already for offside. There were no complaints.
Morris had a shot from distance blocked, however, the best chances fell to the one man we’d want them to; James Norwood.
Gilmour set him away inside the right edge of the box only for Nors’ low effort to pass the far post. Moments later he was in again. A similar position, only this time he dinked the ball over the defender’s head and shot on his left foot. He was denied.
Rovers were getting space in behind Lincoln’s left-sided centre back. Norwood had another similar opportunity that went begging and then deep in stoppage time Connor Jennings cut in from the left, beat his man, but just couldn’t get a shot away. Tranmere had created some brilliant chances to win this game.
The hosts didn’t do much second half, although notable mentions for an excellent block by Bakayogo which may have been on the line (difficult to tell from away end). A Lincoln player also sliced wildly wide late on while Gumbs was down injured.
So, the full-time whistle sounded to the delight of the locals who ran on to celebrate the league title. Sadly, a few decided to celebrate by goading Tranmere fans. Weird, and pointless. But perhaps not surprising.
Also not surprising was the poor standard of the stewarding – man-handling Tranmere’s Ollie Banks who tried to approach the SWA to thank them for their support and then aggressively wrestling a Tranmere fan out of the stadium for daring to join hundreds of Lincoln fans on the pitch. Those hi-vis jackets do amazing things to some people.
It’s worth noting that the antics of the stewards and a few Lincoln fans actually changed the mood in the away end from one that was relaxed and respectfully applauding the champions to one that was becoming increasingly angry. Surely, stewards are there to have the opposite effect?!
Congratulations to Lincoln on another outstanding promotion, hopefully we can join them in League One next season.
Let’s hope Tranmere’s lengthy injury list can begin to clear up in time for Saturday’s visit of Bury.