Tranmere Rovers v Aldershot Town – Play-Off Semi-Final Second Leg match preview – Saturday 6 May 2017
The Shots have it all to do in the second leg of the National League Play-offs, following Wednesday’s 3-0 first-leg home defeat to Rovers. 5,614 spectators packed into The EBB Stadium to record Aldershot Town’s 10th-highest all-time attendance.
Town came into the game on the back of a tremendous run of form, having lost just one of the 21 matches they had played in 2017, but found themselves a goal down in just the third minute, when the experienced Jeff Hughes dispossessed Jim Kellermann and found Cole Stockton inside the box. Stockton’s neat control, turn and finish stunned the home supporters and sent Rovers fans into raptures. The Shots responded well and very nearly levelled in the 36th minute, when a flowing, one-touch passing move resulted in Bernard Mensah’s lofted shot, which beat Scott Davies, only to cannon back off the crossbar.
Individual errors have been a rarity amongst the Shots team this year, but lightning struck twice when just two minutes into the second half Jake Cole dropped a routine catch at the feet of James Norwood, leaving him with the simplest of tap-ins to double Rovers’ lead. In the 75th minute, with Aldershot pressing forward to try and find a way back into the two-legged tie, Rovers countered superbly, Norwood fed Stockton and his calm slotted finish sealed the perfect away result for the visitors.
Rob Worrall previews the action…
Shots manager Gary Waddock made three changes from the team which started to previous match, the 2-0 win at home to Braintree Town. Kellermann returned to the heart of midfield in place of Manny Oyeleke, whilst Jake Gallagher, rested against Braintree, also returned in place of Shamir Fenelon and, up front, Waddock preferred Matt McClure over Scott Rendell.
After injuring a knee in the second-half on Wednesday, Ipswich Town loanee Kundai Benyu is a doubt for the second leg. Otherwise, long term absentee Liam Bellamy apart, Waddock should have a fully fit squad to choose from. Should Cheye Alexander play a part in the second leg, he will be making his 100th appearance for Aldershot Town – an amazing achievement in just two over two seasons at the club.
Tranmere Rovers were formed in 1884 and were founder members of Division Three North in 1921. That started an unbroken 94-year spell in the Football League that had some incredible highs along the way. A Division Three North title in 1937-38 led to one year in the second tier of English football, a level they returned to in 1991. Their decade in the Championship saw three Play-Off appearances and a League Cup Final defeat in 2000 to Leicester City. The Wirral side dropped into the bottom tier with a defeat on the last day of the 2013-14 campaign, before finishing dead last in League Two twelve months later. Their first National League campaign ended with a sixth-place finish, two points from the Play-Offs.
Rovers began this season strongly, winning six and drawing one of their opening seven fixtures. Their first defeat came at The EBB Stadium in September and the winless run of four games that followed saw the departure of then-manager Gary Brabin. His replacement, Micky Mellon soon had Tranmere firing again and he has led the team to 23 wins from his first 36 games in charge.
Rovers finished the season well too, with nine wins from their last eleven matches, one defeat (0-1 at home to Forest Green) and one draw (2-2 v Shots). They had the best away record in the National League with 44 points earned from 23 games on the road. Their Club-record points total (95) was ultimately only enough to secure the runners-up spot. Rovers have scored 79 goals (joint-fourth best in National League) and at the other end, conceded just 39. Only Aldershot Town themselves have conceded less (37) prior to the 1st leg of the play-offs.
Manager Micky Mellon was delighted with the performance of his side in the first leg, but is not getting carried away. In an interview with his club’s website, Mellon said: “We’re delighted to be ahead at the halfway stage but there is a lot of hard work still to be done in this tie. We’ll be going back to an electric Prenton Park now on Saturday, it will be a fantastic atmosphere. Aldershot are a good team, so we had to get a hell of a lot right and the lads were massively motivated to do that.”
Meanwhile, Waddock insists Aldershot Town will go into Saturday’s second leg with “no fear” despite being 3-0 down. “We will go up there and when you look at it, why should we play with any fear? You have to say that Tranmere are in a strong position. We are 3-0 down but you never know in football because if we get an early goal it might change things.”
Most Apps: Keeper Scott Davies and defender Steve McNulty both played in all bar Rovers’ final league game – 45 apps each.
Most Goals: Andy Cook remains Rovers top scorer with 23 league goals in just 32 starts this season.
Key Player: Striker Cole Stockton has scored 3 goals in his two appearances against The Shots so far this season.
Prior to Wednesday’s Play-Off tie, Town and Rovers had met 4 times in the National League, the first game taking place in September 2015 at Prenton Park, with the home side coming from behind to win 3-1. In the return game (February 2016), the sides played out a goalless draw.
Back in September, Bernard Mensah gave Shots an early lead, before Andy Cook levelled the scores. However, a penalty from Scott Rendell and a blistering Will Evans volley earned Town a 3-1 victory. At Prenton Park in April, the spoils were shared in a 2-2 draw. Matt McClure gave Aldershot Town an early lead, before the home side turned things around with first-half goals from Cole Stockton and Connor Jennings. Bernard Mensah’s left foot half volley levelled the scores again before half time and The Shots returned home with a valuable point.
The sides also met in two Second Round FA Cup matches in 2009. The first game on the Wirral finished goalless, before Rovers came through 2-1 in the replay, Oliver Bozanic scoring for Shots. Rovers played Aldershot FC in 32 league games, between 1961 and 1987, with all but four taking place in the old Fourth Division. Overall, The Shots won thirteen, lost twelve and drew seven of those fixtures.
Saturday lunchtime’s referee is Scott Oldham, who has taken charge of 17 National League games this season, showing 47 yellow cards and 0 red cards to date. He has refereed Aldershot Town three times this term; the 2-0 defeat at Chester and the 2-0 wins at Wrexham and Macclesfield. It will be his first appearance at Prenton Park this season, although he has refereed Rovers away twice.
BBC Surrey’s Rob Worrall and ex-Shots Goalkeeper Nikki Bull will be covering the game live on Saturday. Tune in to the BBC Sport website (or the BBC Sport App) from midday for full match commentary. You can also contact us throughout the afternoon via Twitter. Tweet your predictions and thoughts on the game to @RobShot66 and @BullWorldTrip