League One Gameweek Seven: Low-Scoring Clash On The Wirral?6 min read
Tranmere Rovers and Gillingham have both recorded 5-0 home victories over Bolton so far but are otherwise yet to kick their 2019-20 campaigns into life.
Will fortunes change for either side at Prenton Park?
Gillingham’s late business
Steve Evans has signed three players at the end of the transfer window: Olly Lee, Thomas O’Connor and Ben Pringle.
Lee bagged twice in last week’s thumping of Bolton and, joining a midfield that looked somewhat passive in the 1-0 loss at Coventry the week before, may add a touch more dynamism and quality – Pringle is a proven technician at this level, too.
SE: “He can play in central midfield; he can play on the left or the right. He is a top talent; I am delighted to secure him today considering that, possibly, over the weekend we had lost the opportunity to bring him here.”#Gills pic.twitter.com/HmPo0iHZjg
— Gillingham FC (@TheGillsFC) September 4, 2019
O’Connor, meanwhile, proved a strong runner against the Trotters – the Southampton loanee can play anywhere down the left.
The Gills needed that because, when they have two right-footers in full-back Barry Fuller and wide forward Alex Jakubiak on the left flank, the play tends to get forced inside and they can lack width.
O’Connor, though, stretches the play better at left-back to create space for Jakubiak to come inside and curl shots, as he was able to do when he scored a brace in last month’s 2-2 draw with Blackpool.
The one area Gillingham have not been able to strengthen though, is up top.
They are not exactly short of forwards with Mikael Mandron, Mikael Ndjoli and Brandon Hanlan all among Evans’ options – Ndjoli and Hanlan tend to put in a reasonable shift, too.
However, Mandron is the only recognised target man in this Gills squad who would naturally maximize the direct football.
Evans has not used the ex-Colchester man though too much, with a combined 70 minutes of league action and no starts besides Tuesday’s EFL Trophy game.
While it is unusual to question the firepower of a team that has just bagged five times in a game, the quintet of goals came against inexperienced Bolton defenders.
Tranmere centre-back Manny Monthe, by contrast, is more likely to bully Hanlan in the air after a commanding display in last week’s 1-1 draw at Rotherham – George Ray has a lot of know-how, too – so the Rovers rear-guard represents a sterner test.
Tranmere Rovers have scored eight goals in their first six league games – but that record is less impressive when we compartmentalise the goals they have scored.
Five came against Bolton when, as we mentioned with regards to Gillingham, their opponents were fielding effectively a youth team.
Two came against Rochdale, in the dying moments when they were chasing a three-goal deficit and one was a 95th-minute equaliser at Rotherham – for those goals, they were playing with nothing to lose.
— Mark Palios (@markpalios1) August 31, 2019
While Tranmere’s worth ethic was much improved last time out, they are still yet to score a goal against a senior team this season before the 88th minute.
Left-back Cameron Borthwick-Jackson, described as talented but lacking in character while at Scunthorpe, has been loaned in from Manchester United to help address this issue.
Still, one wonders whether they will have enough creativity.
At Rotherham, they had a centre-back in Sid Nelson at right-back, then 34-year-old Darren Potter and 37-year-old David Perkins in midfield; granted, starts for Nelson and Potter were partly influenced by absentees.
Wide men Kieron Morris and Connor Jennings are selfless but not direct runners so, in terms of supporting strikers Paul Mullin and Stefan Payne in this next match, one questions where the forward thrust might come from – especially with Morgan Ferrier out for another two months through a knee injury and with Jake Caprice only recently resuming full training.
Micky Mellon has a history of doing well as a manager in the National League and League Two, which is absolutely to his credit.
However, when his teams reach League One, he seems to adapt to counter-act the higher standard of opposition, rather than trust the template that has got his team to this level – that was the case at Shrewsbury and seems to be happening again at Tranmere.
That is understandable in some ways – but it may mean Rovers are involved in a lot of tight contests.
We can expect both Gillingham and Tranmere to prioritise organisation in this meeting on the Wirrall – a low-scoring encounter could be on the cards.
Tip: Under 2.5 goals