By George Williamson
It’s verging on becoming a managerial cliché: ‘finding a settled team is the key to winning’. But in Tranmere Rovers’ case, and as in countless other cases, it couldn’t ring truer.
Nobody’s claiming Micky Mellon has named the same starting eleven for every game this season, but that’s really not what’s required – or expected – for a team to win enough games to mount a serious promotion challenge.
All that is needed is a couple of ‘mainstays in the side’ type players. Those ‘first name on the team-sheet’ type players. The ‘7/10 every week’ type players.
Again, they’re all clichés, but that doesn’t make them any less accurate or relevant, and luckily for Micky Mellon and his staff, Rovers have a hatful of them.
Steve McNulty, Ritchie Sutton, Adam Buxton, Ollie Norburn, Connor Jennings, James Norwood are all players who absolutely fit that bill. To a lesser, but no less important extent, Scott Davies and Andy Cook also fit that bill. They’re all players who not only have started most weeks, but have also contributed hugely to the success of this football team.
A settled team is crucial to gaining momentum at any level. It wins games, it wins promotion and it wins league titles.
Again, none of us here are claiming Rovers have the title wrapped up by any stretch, obviously, but if the side can continue to maintain the momentum they’ve gained through building a solid core of players, they have every right to be looking towards the top spots in the National League.
Sutton, Norburn and Jennings have each played 30 times this season, McNulty and Norwood have 28, Cook and Davies have 27 and Buxton has 26, meaning between the eight ‘core’ players they have totalled 198 appearances for the club in the 2017/18 season.
In contrast, the remaining 21 members of the current squad have a total of 132 appearances on the season.
The partnership up front between Cook and Norwood has yielded 23 goals so far, Jennings has chipped in with seven, while Norburn and Sutton have added four and three respectively.
In fact, remarkably only six goals this season (by players in the current squad) have been scored by players outside of the ‘core’ eight – Larnell Cole and Jay McEveley have two each, Josh Ginnelly and Jeff Hughes have one each.
It highlights Mellon’s trust in his core group of players, and that faith has been rewarded at the half-way point of the season.
After a slow start, Rovers sit 5th, just five points off the highly coveted top spot in the National League, and if they’re able to keep their core group fit and playing regularly together then they’re a good bet to at least challenge for it.
Throw in the likes of Ginnelly, Jay Harris, Eddie Clarke and Liam Ridehalgh into the mix of talented players in the current squad and you have arguably one of if not the most capable squad in the league of gaining promotion.