Tranmere have endured a difficult start to life in League One, with a hectic august resulting in just 4 points and a first-round exit from the carabao cup (albeit against championship opposition in Hull City).
Whilst the League is largely impossible to predict, Rovers would have been pleased overall with the start dealt. A theme for Rovers this year has been the emergence of double-barrelled names, much to kitman Keith’s delight, no doubt.
However, it was Rochdale manager Brian Barry-Murphy that struck first in the double-barrelled feud, with his Dale side finding themselves three up at Prenton Park with 20 minutes still to play, thanks to a brace from club captain Ian Henderson and a debut goal for yet another double-barrelled name in Rhys Norrington-Davies. Rovers mounted a late comeback, with the fight pleasing the Prenton Park faithful. It wasn’t enough, and as Connor Jennings struck in injury time to make it 3-2, Rushian Hepburn-Murphy lost his cool and lashed out to receive his marching orders just 48 minutes into his debut.
The trip to Fratton Park was always going to prove difficult, with Kenny Jackett’s Pompey amongst the favourites for the title following their EFL trophy victory and play-off finish last season. A goal in each half was enough for the Hampshire side to claim their first win of the season and send the Super White Army back to Birkenhead yet to get a point.
Following a 3-0 defeat to a Hull side that made 11 changes from their League fixture saw the visit of an old friend, but the rivalry with Bolton was understandably understated, given their off-pitch difficulties – which fortunately are now beginning to clear. It was sure to be a routine win against the young Wanderers, who boasted an average age of just over 21. Whilst the ensuing 5-0 defeat for Bolton was enough for their next game to be postponed, the confidence boost for Tranmere mustn’t be overlooked, especially for the likes of Morgan Ferrier and Stefan Payne who both opened their Rovers’ accounts.
Given the opening month, and following events at the University of Bolton Stadium, having played Bolton already may serve a huge advantage to Tranmere, particularly if they do become dragged into a relegation battle. Teams that could perhaps be regarded as candidates for the drop will face a much different Bolton side, given their nine-signing haul on deadline day, including senior and U21 international players. This is hugely unfair on the likes of Accrington, Wimbledon and Southend, but the EFL is powerless to regulate who is signed at what stage of the window. Whether or not Bolton escape punishment for the unauthorised postponement of their fixture against Doncaster is another matter.
It was then a forgettable night at the Memorial Stadium in Bristol for Micky Mellon, as ill-discipline once again saw Tranmere finish with less than 11 men, this time a couple of Rovers players saw red thanks to mindless challenges. Despite much resistance, the nine-men were helpless as the Gas claimed their first league victory of the season.
Due to Bury’s situation, Mellon’s men were given chance to recharge their batteries before a difficult trip to Yorkshire against relegated yo-yo team Rotherham. However, there was to be no repeat of Portsmouth or Bristol Rovers and this was an away day to savour for the Super White Army. Statistically, the game was even, with 11 shots to 12 in favour of the away side and possession almost at 50-50. The Millers took the lead through Ben Wiles but the fight and character of Rovers came to fruition, with Payne sparking delirium in the away end five minutes into stoppage time.
August, all in all, has been a disappointing month for Tranmere but naturally there is no need to panic. Embedding in new faces, adapting to a new style and playing more difficult opposition requires time. Off the field, Rovers have introduced new investors from the Santini Group which will only help the cause and enable the club to move forward, with Mark Palios quick to reassure fans of the sustainability of the investment.
The reality is Tranmere have jumped two divisions in as many seasons, and they have lost the best striker in the lower two divisions, replacing him with two relatively unproven League One forwards. This season will be difficult, made even more so with Bolton’s regrouping, but Rovers fans should remain optimistic, and trust in Micky Mellon.