The Fleet make their first ever appearance at Prenton Park this weekend hoping to return with more than the last trip to the north-west, the Trophy exit at Warrington Town. It’s arguably the toughest away trip of the season against a Tranmere side gathering steam and with a formidable home record.
Ebbsfleet boss Daryl McMahon has always maintained that Rovers would improve despite their desperate start to the season off the back of missing out on promotion back to the EFL in May’s promotion final. Back in September he stated, “I’ll be genuinely shocked if Tranmere aren’t in the top two by the end of the season. Micky Mellon has an excellent track record at this and higher levels” and that view has certainly been vindicated by the home side’s recent form.
But it’s his own team’s form that will most concern McMahon at present, with only win in the calendar year and a less-than-satisfactory 3-0 reverse at home last weekend. And he’ll be calling on the sort of determination and creativity that was so evident the week before at Aldershot to see Fleet through their Prenton Park encounter.
“It’s another tough one,” said McMahon. “But we’ll probably be all right because it’s against a big team, a big club at this level and normally we’re all right against them. I expect a reaction and a much better performance. Tranmere are getting to the heights I expected them to be at and it will be a tough place to play but we look forward to playing at places like that.”
Fleet have lost the same number of games as Tranmere so McMahon will impress upon his players they need have no fear. And while their form is red-hot, Rovers can struggle to break sides down – as Fleet often found in pursuing promotion from the National South – and the visitors will look to frustrate and rein in Tranmere’s eagerness in front of a big home crowd.
Negotiations to strengthen the squad continued during the week but with Fleet’s targets also being pursued by other clubs, the squad travelling to Prenton Park is unlikely to feature any new faces. Nonetheless, there were no fresh injury concerns following Saturday’s match against Boreham Wood.
It’s a much rejuvenated Tranmere side that the Fleet face this weekend and at Prenton Park they carry the best home record in the division, with 32 points from 10 wins and two draws. As low as 19th at one stage this season, Rovers fans could barely dream of a run to the play-offs in those dark months and now there’s every chance Micky Mellon’s side could grab the automatic promotion spot. And with Aldershot, Sutton and Macclesfield all without a game, Saturday is the perfect opportunity for Tranmere to stake a claim. Mellon has survived his side’s poor start with supporters calling for his head prior to their recent run which has seen them lose just once – an uncharacteristic 5-2 reverse at AFC Fylde – in their last 11 games.
Tranmere’s revival isn’t down to a drastic change in personnel. Since we met at the Kuflink Stadium in September, Mellon has utilised much the same squad but is getting a lot more from them. The man sent off against the Fleet, Jay McEveley, has only played once since late November but Rovers could welcome back Ben Tollitt and James Wallace who both played an hour in a friendly in midweek, though a start for either is unlikely. Goalkeeper Scott Davies is still on the casualty list and he’ll be replaced by Rhys Taylor, who has played against the Fleet twice this season for AFC Fylde. Taylor is on loan to Rovers until the end of the season.
Another loanee likely to feature is Josh Ginnelly, a midfielder signed on loan in January for the rest of the season, from Burnley. Last January, a similar move to Lincoln City helped the Imps to the National League title and Tranmere will be hoping for much the same effect from Ginnelly this time around.
The only sides to have taken three points from Prenton Park this season are fellow promotion hopefuls Sutton United, Dover Athletic and Wrexham, the last one of those on September 23rd, so Fleet will certainly have to upset the odds to dampen the Super White Army’s enthusiasm.
Two coachloads of Fleet fans are making their way to the Wirral alongside those travelling independently while our front-of-shirt sponsor Mitsubishi Electric is the matchday sponsor (as they were in the return fixture), the company’s national sales manager Steve Fleming, of course, being a Tranmere supporter!