We’re a few days into the New Year and that means that the transfer window is open once again. While Tranmere’s recruitment in the summer can often be a little underwhelming, Micky Mellon’s transfer dealings in January have been superb and often pivotal.
Rovers go into the New Year in an outstanding position to launch another promotion challenge. Despite not looking the slickest, Mellon has once again galvanised Tranmere into a well-organised and tight outfit, conceding few goals and competing in every game.
We’re on a run of five straight league wins and sit fourth in the table, one point behind third placed Sutton with a game in hand.
So, there are many things to be positive and confident about, but there is no escaping the fact Rovers do need to bring in two or three new faces at least to keep things moving in the right direction.
For all of the defensive qualities, Mellon’s team have given themselves no room for error in games this season having scored just 20 league goals.
For context, only four teams in League Two have scored fewer – they make up four of the bottom five as far as the league table is concerned. Finding a balance between maintaining the defensive rigidity while adding goals to our game has to be a priority going into 2022 and it is in the attacking areas where you’d expect much of the focus to be as far as transfers are concerned.
Mellon has overseen some excellent business in previous January windows and doing the same again this season could be the catalyst which gets us across the line and back to League One.
As far as forwards go, some experience is going to be key, as well probably as some pace either through the middle or in wide areas. In losing 22-goal James Vaughan to retirement in the summer – also a January signing in 2020 – Rovers lost that goalscoring instinct and experience up front. He was superb at holding the ball up, bringing others in to play and forcing Rovers higher up the pitch.
Vaughan, somewhat ironically, is now a key figure in Tranmere’s recruitment team and will be tasked with helping to find his own replacement this month.
Another factor at play here will be veteran Nicky Maynard. He hasn’t featured much this season, but it sums up Rovers’ luck that just as he was starting to really look like a threat, he picked up a serious injury on Boxing Day. It’s unclear if he will feature again all season. That makes the need for experience all the more pressing.
The romantics among us were somewhat optimistically hoping for a James Norwood return from Ipswich Town, but Nors has since forced his way back into the team at Portman Road and is not only scoring goals, but was also voted Ipswich’s Player of the Month for December. So, we can almost certainly rule that one out.
It’s tough to come up with names at the moment with very little information leaked or even speculated about. We’re also a bit unclear where Rovers are at from a budget perspective.
Last season, we had the riches of Vaughan, Woolery and Lloyd up front, all of whom left and weren’t replaced to the same standard. Does that mean more budget remains for a quality replacement, or has another year of this pandemic forced us to reconsider and lower our sights?
One thing that is a relatively safe bet, Rovers will be looking at highly rated young players from bigger clubs who may be able to do a job on loan. Rangers winger Josh McPake is widely thought to be on the brink of joining on loan and will certainly add some of that pace in wide areas.
The only other area that Mellon may want to look at strengthening is centre back. The warrior that is Peter Clarke turned 40 this week, yet arguably remains one of the very best, if not the best, centre backs in this division. With Tom Davies alongside him also in good form, we’re pretty set.
However, if injuries or suspensions hit in that area, it’s a concern. We have been found wanting when Knight-Percival has come in, most recently when we shipped four at Orient in the FA Cup. That’s not to say he’s a bad player, he certainly offers something, but with he also being in his mid-30s, another central defensive option would be helpful.
So, we sit back and wait to see what the next few days and weeks bring. It’s reasonable to expect at least one new face through the door before the weekend, possibly two.