Tranmere Rovers vs Shrewsbury Town

Ten-man Tranmere Toil To Disappointing 1-0 Defeat

A lot has changed since my last visit to Prenton Park.

Tranmere Rovers, my adopted team from Birkenhead, have enjoyed a meteoric rise up the football ladder over the past couple of years. They were still a non-league club in April 2018, when a James Norwood brace inspired the Rovers to a 2-0 victory over Aldershot Town (whilst I lapped it up like a VIP.)  It was a glorious spring day. Tranmere were promoted back to the football league a short time afterwards, and promoted once again a year later, to the lofty heights of League One.

Since that memorable day against Aldershot, I’ve travelled with the SWA four times to support the Rovers away. They were great days out (with mixed results) but I was always keen to return to the Wirral and be amongst the home fans again.

IMG_0320

Thankfully, a trip to Liverpool with friends coincided with a Tranmere home game. Shrewsbury Town were the visitors on this occasion.

Saturday morning found Matt (the man responsible for my Tranmere conversion) and I setting off from Liverpool on the train, with the weather brightening up. Our walk to the ground from Birkenhead Central was bathed in sunlight but I was thankful for wearing a warm jacket by the time we arrived at Prenton Park – the wind had picked up and the clouds had rolled over. Perfect autumnal football conditions.

Walking down the Prenton Park Road I saw the incredible new mural of Tranmere legends Ian Muir and Ray Mathias for the first time. Painted on the side of a local house by artist Paul Curtis (he of the Liver Bird wings in the Baltic Quarter fame), his amazing work gives the entire area a shot of colour that helps lend Prenton Park something of a destination feel – it’s part of the matchday experience you have to see if you’re visiting for the first time.

IMG_0315

Our next stop was the club shop where I bought my ticket, and nothing else as my willpower remained strong. We then headed into the Tranmere Rovers Trust fan park, a huge beer tent just outside the stadium. Matt and I enjoyed a couple of pre-match Big Waves, and savoured seeing Spurs lose 3-0 to Brighton on the big screen. That made this Arsenal fan especially happy.

In the tent I managed to finally bump into Tom, a Tranmere fan I’d connected with online a while ago but had yet to meet in person. It’s amazing how football, and social media, can bring complete strangers together. We caught up like old friends, and Matt and Tom shared their Tranmere stories from the past. Tom helped me complete my 2018 World Cup sticker album last year and you should follow him on Twitter, if you don’t already, where he destroys Bolton fans on a regular basis.

IMG_0321

Kickoff was fast approaching so we bid Tom farewell and headed to our seats. Matt had changed his season ticket since my last visit, so we were in the Main Stand this time, in the Bebington Paddock, just in front of the Director’s Box. I could see club Chairman Mark Palios just a couple of metres away over my left shoulder, so our seats were impressive to say the least. We were almost exactly on the half line, close to the action but with perfect sightlines.

Sadly, the game was a largely dull affair that Tranmere struggled through.

It wasn’t because Shrewsbury were the better team necessarily; they were well organised but hardly dominant.

IMG_0329

The visitors took the lead after just 20 minutes, with a tap-in at the far post by Callum Lang that looked suspiciously offside to my eyes. The linesman didn’t agree and Shrewsbury were ahead 1-0 with minimum effort.

In fact, the officiating all afternoon was hideous. Right from the off the referee and his assistants were falling for every trick in the book, halting play after every innocuous challenge. The home fans were understandably frustrated, and things got even worse just before half time when Connor Jennings received a dubious second yellow card and his marching orders. Down to 10 men, things looked bleak for the Rovers.

Stefan Payne and Paul Mullin were charged with leading the line for Tranmere but had zero success against the Shrews’ resolute defence. Payne had a shot well saved in the first half and a header go narrowly wide in the second, but that was about the extent of the home side’s attacking threat. Mullin looked absolutely gassed for most of the game, spending a lot of his time on the floor – we were shocked Micky Mellon didn’t substitute him.

I must admit that Mellon’s team selection left me scratching my head. Midfielder Kieron Morris was selected to start at left back, despite Cameron Borthwick-Jackson, a left back by trade, available on the bench. I appreciate Mellon is juggling numerous injuries within the squad, but the manager’s decision making did puzzle me overall on the day.

IMG_0325

In the 76th minute the Shrewsbury captain and former Tranmere midfielder Ollie Norburn was unlucky his low shot rebounded off the inside of the post and out. With an extra man Shrewsbury should have romped to a higher scoreline but they never made their advantage count, and were quite content to keep Tranmere at arm’s length and sit on their narrow lead. To his credit, Rovers captain Scott Davies gave a solid performance in goal, and denied Shrewsbury multiple times.

In the dying minutes of injury time there was a final opportunity for Tranmere. Recently acquired veteran midfielder Neil Danns controlled a pass in the box nicely but saw his low effort palmed away, a great stop by Shrewsbury goalkeeper Max O’Leary.

And that was all she wrote. The referee brought an end to yet another difficult League One afternoon at Prenton Park. He was showered with a chorus of boos as he left the field.

It’s common to see newly promoted clubs experience teething issues as they adjust to life in a higher division but Tranmere’s lack of depth in the squad and their current bout of injuries give some cause for concern, even at this early stage of the season.

Still, there’s a long way to go and a transfer window ahead. Last January, Mellon and his staff rejuvenated the team with a host of new signings that helped guide Tranmere to success. Perhaps some January magic can be weaved again.

We ended the day with one more drink in the tent with Tom before heading into Liverpool for a night on the town. To take our minds off the football we ate ourselves to distraction at Down The Hatch. I highly recommend you visit and order the Taj Mahal – it was superb.

I’ll be aiming for a swift return to Prenton Park in the near future, so it’s unlikely the club will experience two promotions again in my absence. My apologies.

IMG_0326

Portsmouth vs Tranmere Rovers

Pompey Pressure Equals Fratton Frustration For Rovers

My adopted Tranmere Rovers were in Portsmouth this weekend for their first away game of the 2019/20 season, and I was on hand to join the SWA on the south coast.

I’m a bit pressed for time this week to provide a complete rundown of my day like I usually do, so I’ve broken it down into quick categories:

The Journey

IMG_9975

Matt, the man responsible for my Tranmere affair, was making the journey from Birkenhead and agreed to pick me up from Bath on the way down. Our drive from the west country paled in comparison to the 260-mile effort the Prenton Park faithful had to endure – our trip in the car was a mere 2 hours (slightly longer with Portsmouth’s awful summer Saturday traffic).

When I climbed into Matt’s car he had a gift waiting for me; my first Tranmere Rovers home shirt, brand-new-in-bag directly from the club shop. I had finally made the decision to own one, completely won over by this year’s very clean and stylish design by Puma. It will be worn to all future Rovers game, that’s for sure.

The Atmosphere

IMG_9997

Fratton Park, the charming and historically cosy home to Portsmouth since 1899, was our host for the afternoon. As soon as the fixture list was released I immediately targeted this match, so I was happy to make the trip to Portsmouth so early in the new season.

It was standing room only at the back of the visitor’s Milton End, packed together with the 689 travelling supporters from the Wirral. We spent the entire game being battered in the face by gale force winds – it was strong enough to make your eyes water. Despite being at the back, Matt and I found no respite from the punishing vortex, yet it did nothing to damper our enthusiasm.

Thanks to Tranmere’s young drummer our spirits were kept high with repeated rounds of Tequila, and all of the SWA were in fine voice throughout the entire day, clearly relishing their first away fixture since promotion to League One.

Oh, and apparently Will Ferrell was in the crowd too. We had no idea.

The Food

Sadly we didn’t have time to savour the delights Fratton Park had to offer. A McDonalds pit-stop on the drive down was the lone meal during the day, but two chaps stood to my right seemed to enjoy their Pompey pies at half time.

They smelled pretty good (the pies, not the men, you pervert).

The Match

IMG_9990

Portsmouth ran out 2-0 winners on the day and were good value for their victory. To be honest, the scoreline could have been larger and Tranmere, despite having a few promising passages of pressure, were clearly second-best; Pompey always looked the stronger team.

Portsmouth’s first goal midway through the first half was a fantastic 30-yard volley by midfielder Ben Close, a really special hit into the top corner that you couldn’t help but admire. Their second goal came with fifteen minutes remaining , a scruffy close-range effort from captain Tom Naylor after Tranmere failed to clear a corner. It was a poor goal to concede and  ended any hopes Tranmere had of gaining something from the game.

IMG_9995
A couple of very windy boys

Micky Mellon’s tactics were difficult to comprehend from the beginning and didn’t bring him the results he might have envisioned. Summer signing Morgan Ferrier (the man with the unenviable task of replacing James Norwood) was pushed out on the wing, and Connor Jennings, a very effective winger, played through the middle instead. Both players looked uncomfortable and struggled to impose themselves against a stubborn Portsmouth defence. We couldn’t understand why Mellon didn’t swap them over.

It was a frustrating afternoon for the majority of the Tranmere squad but one man stood out – new loan signing Kane Wilson, who debuted at right back. The man from West Brom was alert all afternoon and looked dangerous overlapping down the right flank. He made a positive impression on myself and the fans around us with his impact.

Final Thoughts

Despite the result, Matt and I still enjoyed the day and I would gladly return to Fratton Park again. Micky Mellon and the supporters will be disappointed at Tranmere’s start to life in League One but it’s a long season, and there’s plenty of time left to right the ship. I aim to see a few more Rovers games before the end – hopefully results will be in our favour next time.

IMG_0004

Plymouth Argyle vs Oldham Athletic

An early Christmas present for the Green Army

There are an increasing number of supporters for a winter break being introduced to the British football calendar but I don’t count myself among them.

Football is an intrinsic part of my Christmas routine. It’s so ingrained in my festive pattern that a Christmas without football would be a sad time indeed. Apparently it’s a big reason why the Premier League gains such a global audience; when everyone else in Europe is taking a break, the world of football turns it’s gaze to the UK and it’s gluttonous football fixture list.

This Christmas I didn’t find myself at a Premier League game though. Instead, I found myself by the sea in Plymouth, home to my wife’s family and Plymouth Argyle, or The Pilgrims as they are affectionately known.

It wasn’t until a few hours before kickoff that I even considered watching Argyle on the 23rd of December. In fact it was sheer luck that when we arrived in Plymouth, the first sight I saw off the train was a chap in a bright blue Oldham shirt. He’s a long way from home I thought to myself, before realising it was a Saturday and football is played on Saturdays.

In the car on the way to the house I googled the Plymouth fixtures and would you believe it, they were hosting Oldham Athletic that very afternoon. An hour later I had impulse-purchased two tickets in the upper grandstand of Home Park, Plymouth’s 16,388 capacity stadium. My father-in-law, a Naval man who has called Plymouth home for decades, had never seen the Pilgrims in the flesh so he joined me for the afternoon.

Upon arrival at the ground my first mission, as is my usual custom, was to pick up a programme. And Plymouth Argyle boast one of the best designed programmes in the game, courtesy of the talented illustration team at The Graphic Bomb. See below for their effort from the Oldham match, with Pilgrims star Graham Carey gracing the cover.

IMG_4740

We then made our way to the bar, sank a pint of Tribute’s local Cornish Pale Ale, and began the climb upward to our seats in the old grandstand. Built in 1952, this part of Home Park is showing it’s age, especially in comparison to the rest of the modern stadium. Just take a look below at my seat for the afternoon.

IMG_4737

Having said that, there’s a definite charm to old football stadia like the grandstand at Home Park. As uncomfortable as my seat might appear it served it’s purpose, and part of me admires that little bit of history still remaining in the modern game.

By the time the last Christmas song had faded away over the PA system and the players emerged from the tunnel, I had decided to align myself with Argyle. They were the home side, my wife’s hometown team (even if she detests football), and they played in green (my favourite colour). I had purchased an Argyle pin badge to stick on my jacket prior to kickoff, firmly cementing my allegiance for the day. Strangely enough I have a soft spot for Oldham, thanks to some successful years on Football Manager with the Latics. But on the day I put that aside in favour of the Green Army, and cheered on the home side.

IMG_4741

Seated nearby were a small family of Plymouth fans, representing three generations of support for their local side. There was a grandfather accompanying his son, who also had his two children with him, the smallest still a toddler clutching her Pilgrim Pete teddy bear. Behind them were sat a couple of old timers, hard Devon accents making their conversation hard to decipher. It was a good bunch around us and we were all treated to a fine performance, one of the most enjoyable games I’ve been to in a while.

The Green Army didn’t have to wait long for an early Christmas present, as Argyle struck twice within the first 6 minutes to take a stunning 2-0 lead. Goals from Toumani Diagouraga and Graham Carey put the home side in front and Carey’s goal in particular was something special, a delightful chip over the keeper.

Despite Oldham looking composed in possession throughout most of the game, they struggled to break Plymouth down in the final third. The northern visitors were finally rewarded early in the second half when Anthony Gerrard headed home from a corner but the away fans’ jubilation was short-lived. Just a few minutes later Plymouth restored their two-goal lead with a set piece of their own, Carey putting the ball on Ryan Edwards’ head from a free kick to make it 3-1. Argyle put the contest to bed when substitute Jake Jervis scored with his first touch of the ball, rounding off a perfect afternoon as the Home Park faithful enjoyed their 4-1 victory.

It was Plymouth’s largest League One win this season and lifted them out of the relegation zone. I couldn’t have picked a better day to see them. For highlights of the game, see Argyle’s excellent Matchday Moments video package.

Overall I thoroughly enjoyed my visit to Home Park and will definitely be keen to see Argyle again next time I’m in town.

IMG_4739