Tranmere Rovers v Aldershot Town – Match Preview – Saturday 14 April 2018
Nicke Kabamba’s late header was enough to secure Aldershot Town a 1-0 victory over Maidenhead United last weekend, a result that lifted the Shots up to third place in the National League standings. However, midweek results saw both Tranmere Rovers and AFC Fylde climb above Gary Waddock’s men, who now sit in fifth place. On Saturday, Town make the long trip north to Prenton Park to take on a resurgent Rovers side who are now the only team that can still mathematically catch runaway leaders Macclesfield Town.
Rob Worrall previews the action…
It’s now thought unlikely that Nick Arnold will play again this season as he continues to make slow and steady progress from a serious knee injury sustained earlier in the season. However, Arnold aside, Jake Gallagher (ribs) and Shamir Fenelon are the only two players Waddock will fitness await news on prior to Saturday.
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. 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 to Leicester City in 2000. 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 6th-place finish, two points from the play-offs.
After a change of manager early on last season, Micky Mellon got Rovers firing again and he led the team to 23 wins from his first 36 games in charge. They peaked at the right time, too, with nine wins from their last eleven matches going into the Play-Offs, where they defeated The Shots 5-2 over the two-legged semi-final, only to slip up at the final hurdle, at Wembley, where Forest Green Rovers pipped them to a place in the Football League. They did, though, enjoy the best away record in the National League, with 44 points earned from 23 games.
Rovers had a stuttering start to this season and found themselves languishing in 18th position after their first 10 matches. Manager Mellon found himself under real pressure, but the club stuck with him and that decision soon began to pay huge dividends. Since Mellon restored the prolific strike partnership of James Norwood and Andy Cook, Rovers have steadily climbed up the league table and now sit second, having switched positions with stuttering Sutton United following the midweek fixtures. The Super White Army came from 0-2 down at home to Gateshead on Tuesday evening, to win 4-2, with Cook scoring all four goals, taking him to 24 for the season – and making him the joint top scorer in the National League alongside AFC Fylde’s Danny Rowe.
Mellon kept the vast majority of last season’s squad, but lost a few key players: Michael Ihekwe and Cole Stockton made upward moves, whilst Lee Vaughan and Lois Maynard opted to drop to National League North sides. Mellon released a further six, but kept twenty players and added ten by the time the 2017-18 season kicked off. Notable signings included midfielder Ollie Norburn (Macclesfield Town), and defender Jay McEveley (Ross County), whilst more recently Rovers have brought in two Forest Green Rovers players on loan, defender Manny Monthe and midfielder Drissa Traore. Two players that have returned to the fold have also been key, in forward Andy Mangan (back from a loan spell at AFC Fylde) and Ben Tollitt, who has returned from a long spell on the side-lines through injury.
Back in October, an early Steve McNulty header at The EBB Stadium looked like it might secure the three points for Rovers, but The Shots turned things around and late goals from Fabien Robert and Scott Rendell gave the home side a key victory.
Last season’s two-legged Play-Off semi-final saw Tranmere win 5-2 on aggregate (3-0 at The EBB Stadium and 2-2 at Prenton Park) with Cole Stockton scoring three goals across the two ties and Bernard Mensah scoring a wonderful volley for The Shots in the second leg.
Prior to then, Town and Rovers had met four times in the National League, with the first game taking place in September 2015 at Prenton Park as the home side came from behind to win 3-1. In the return game, in February 2016, the sides played out a goalless draw. Then, in September 2016, 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, as Matt McClure gave Aldershot an early lead, before the home side turned things around with goals from Stockton and Connor Jennings. Bernard Mensah’s left-foot volley levelled the scores again before half time and The Shots returned home with a 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’s referee is Alan Young, who has taken charge of 23 National League matches so far this season, showing 82 yellow cards and two red cards to date. He has refereed both teams on three occasions already this season, and sent off Rovers’ Jay McEveley at Ebbsfleet.
BBC Surrey’s Rob Worrall and a guest summariser will be covering the game live on Saturday. Tune in to the BBC Sport website or the BBC Sport App from 2:50pm for full match commentary. You can also contact Rob throughout the afternoon via Twitter – tweet your predictions and thoughts on the game to @RobShot66.