Peter Clarke hasn’t missed a League Two game for Tranmere, playing at the grand age of 40-years-old. (Photo by Pete Norton/Getty Images)
Bristol Rovers face another tricky test as they make the trip to the Wirrall to face League Two promotion rivals Tranmere Rovers at Prenton Park on Saturday.
The two teams are separated by two places and two points in the table with the Gas holding the advantage over them ahead of their second meeting of the season.
Back in November, the two played to a 2-2 draw after Rovers surrendered a two-goal lead to allow Micky Mellon’s side back into the game.
Tranmere have remained consistent throughout the season but are on a three game winless run, but are still in the promotion picture and a win could see them leapfrog Joey Barton’s side on Saturday.
To get the inside track of what to expect from Tranmere, we spoke to Matt Jones, who provides hosts the Trip to the Moon podcast, which is dedicated to all things at the Wirral-based club, to provide an insight in to what Saturday’s opponents are all about.
I guess the first person most people would look to would be Peter Clarke, the evergreen centre-half who turned 40 in January but still hasn’t missed a minute of league football this season (or last, for that matter). There have been a couple of concerns over his form in the heart of the back four of late, but he is the leader on the pitch without doubt.
Personally, though, I would look at the right-back, Josh Cogley. He joined in the summer from Birmingham City and is a much better player than League Two level. When he’s on top form, he goes on the overlap brilliantly, puts dangerous crosses into the box and creates goal scoring chances. He’s 26, very mobile and strong defensively.
Tranmere’s biggest strength through this season has been their defence. No team in League Two has kept more clean sheets, and this season they seem to like to get games to half-time at 0-0 before kicking on after the break.
That back four has been a bit shaky of late though, with just one shut-out in the last ten. Perhaps that’s down to fatigue for someone like Clarke, or it could also be because key defensive midfielder Jay Spearing, who I’m sure Joey Barton knows very well, has spent a significant amount of time on the sidelines with a knee injury.
Goal scoring is a definite weakness, though perhaps more so on the road than at home. But Tranmere’s real problem in the last few weeks has been conceding late goals.
In their last ten matches, they have conceded seven times from the 85th minute onwards, costing them seven points (including in a 2-2 draw with Carlisle last week, although they were down to nine men by this point). Add those points on to their total and things look very different in the promotion shake-up.
Kieron Morris and Calum MacDonald are both out for four matches after being sent off last weekend. Tranmere appealed both decisions without success, so they will have to fill a hole at left back, most likely with Chris Merrie, and on the wing, where Josh McPake could come back into the side.
The squad does not look that different, but the key change has been upfront, where Kane Hemmings has made an impact since arriving on a permanent transfer from Burton in January. He allows Tranmere to play with a more natural front two, and he has weighed in with five goals from 16 games (three of them penalties).
His arrival has made a real difference to Elliott Nevitt, who is benefitting from having a more experienced partner alongside him. Both scored against Carlisle last Saturday.
And finally... Tom Davies had a less than memorable spell for Rovers, but at Tranmere he has found a home. What kind of player has he been for Tranmere and where does he fit in?
I really like him. He’s a local lad, so he knows what it means to be a Tranmere player, and he’s forged a really good partnership with Peter Clarke.
At 29, you wouldn’t say he’s one for the future, but he’s certainly a player they can build a defence around for the next five or six years. He’s commanding in the air, dangerous in both boxes and has handled most centre-forwards he’s come up against this season.