Last time Tranmere travelled to Leyton Orient in league action, it was a day to forget. A day that will live in the memory for the wrong reasons, a performance synonymous with the painful decline that was about to move in to top gear.
The date was 26th April, 2014, a period in the season when Tranmere fans had become accustomed to watching meaningless games as campaigns wound down. Save for the odd play-off scrap or relegation scare, life in League One had largely been consistent for some years, culminating in the final few games of each season being somewhat routine.
This game in particular was far from it. Rovers needed to win to breathe life in to a relegation battle that was slipping away from them. The SWA travelled in decent numbers – as ever – and made great noise for much of the first half, using the metal on the back of the stand to drum up additional atmosphere.
On the pitch, it was a sorry state of affairs. Rovers offered little going forward and eventually succumbed to a 2-0 defeat, ex-Tranmere man Chris Dagnall grabbing the second goal from distance after a typically calamitous mix-up between defence and goalkeeper. It summed up the day, the season, and most of the players we had involved.
The inevitable relegation to League Two followed a week later, and like an out of control bobsled lacking a pilot, the club slipped wildly and uncontrollably through that division too.
Tranmere in 2018
As we approach the four year ‘anniversary’ of that game, the club is unrecognisable from the one that was represented on that day. On and off the field, things couldn’t be much different.
From the refurbished suites to the work in China, and from the new training ground to a team that actually has something about it, Rovers are a club on the up once again. It was a painful experience, descending in to non-league in the blink of an eye, but it feels like the club is building again.
Last season should have been our year, this time around we have a tremendous chance again. But even if promotion does not happen immediately, you cannot help but feel it’s achievable within the next couple of seasons.
So, what of our position today in a footballing sense? Well, Orient are going to be up against a team that is, quite incredibly, right back in the title race – a race they were widely expected to win at a canter at the start of the season.
Tranmere’s resurgence this season has been rapid and impressive, although it shouldn’t be surprising given that pretty much this exact team amassed 95 points last season. After finding themselves as low as 18th in the table earlier this season, Rovers are now just two points off top spot.
Eight consecutive home wins have been instrumental, but the away form that was so strong last season hasn’t quite been there this time around. However, it’s improving.
Talking of improvement, Leyton Orient themselves are a team turning things around. Their path to non-league was similar to Rovers’, and while they go in to this game down in 17th position, recent results give them cause for optimism.
They have lost only once since the turn of the year, that being a narrow 3-2 reverse at home to Aldershot. They’re going well in the FA Trophy too, beating high-flying Dover in a thrilling game last weekend 4-3. Orient will be a tough nut to crack.
Make no bones about it, this looks like being one of the most challenging games Tranmere still have to play this season – although, with every match that passes, the next becomes the biggest.
Orient score goals, but they concede them too. In Macauley Bonne, they possess the league’s second top scorer. Defensively, they’ve conceded 46 league goals -there are only five teams with a worse defensive record in the National League.
Tranmere have the best goal difference in the league, which makes for a nice change. Mellon’s team has scored 51 league goals, a tally beaten only by Fylde. We’ve scored 26 league goals since the start of December, and in James Norwood and Andy Cook have the most potent, and probably best, strike force in the division.
Ben Tollitt will again be in the squad for the trip to Orient, itself a massive boost after missing the season through injury. Tollitt added some late sparkle as a sub last week, and completed another lengthy run-out this week in a behind-closed-doors game with Fleetwood.
Goalkeeper Scott Davies is also closing on a return to fitness, and may even have an outside chance of being involved at Brisbane Road. James Wallace, however, will miss out. He has tweaked his groin in training this week.