League One relegation: Tranmere on the road for resurrection or ruin?

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WITH the relegation zone reduced to three spots this season and Bolton along with Southend looking doomed, Gab Sutton (@_FootbalLab) discusses whether Tranmere can keep the third-tier dogfight alive.

League One relegation analysis

Tranmere

Why they will stay up

Back-to-back wins.

Without 3-2 and 2-1 away victories at Shrewsbury and Accrington Stanley respectively, the gap to safety could look insurmountable – with them, the task feels manageable with two games in hand on the team above them.

Target man James Vaughan is starting to make his mark on the team after joining in January, too; the one-time Everton record breaker has scored two goals in his last three games and when fresh, gives Rovers the aggression and drive they need in a dogfight.

Why they might not

Having been operating in the National League as recently as 2018, Micky Mellon has had to adjust very quickly to a loftier market, which has brought a lot of challenges.

When Rovers play direct to Vaughan or fellow target man Andy Cook, the initial ball might be held up effectively but they can sometimes be short of quality after the knock-down.

Although a midfield combination of Luke McCullough and Alex Woodyard offers tenacity, neither provide creativity nor carry a goal threat.

There is therefore an extra burden on the likes of Kieron Morris, Connor Jennings and Corey Blackett-Taylor, who each possess certain qualities but none have proved particularly productive at this level.

Verdict

All of Tranmere’s remaining March opponents are in the bottom half – the final three clashes of the month will give us a clearer idea of whether they can pull off the great escape.

Wimbledon

Why they will stay up

Wimbledon possess an excellent goalkeeper in Joe Day who, although not quite ready to break into Cardiff’s first team, is more than deserving of his chance in League One after a consistent half-decade at Newport.

Because of Day’s work, as well as top last-ditch defending from the likes of Terell Thomas, the West Londoners have accrued 21 home points in 13 under Glyn Hodges, including three crucial 1-0 smash-and-grab jobs.

Why they might not

The Wombles miss a target man like James Hanson, who they had last season.

Without him, Joe Pigott is the obvious reference point from goal-kicks and while the former Southend striker does his best in those scenarios, he is not an aerial specialist, so they can give away possession cheaply.

Because Wimbledon do not always have the composure to play through their more technically accomplished midfielders, like Max Sanders and Anthony Hartigan, they put a lot of pressure on themselves to be consistently flawless in the defensive third.

Verdict

Lose to Tranmere in late March and Wimbledon could get dragged in.

Rochdale

Why they will stay up

Doing the double over Rotherham has certainly helped the Dale, who would be deeply in the mire without those shock victories.

In teenage wonder Luke Matheson and the currently injured Rhys Norrington-Davies, the Lancashire outfit boast two of the most talented young full-backs below the Championship – Jimmy Keohane offers diligent cover for both.

While Brian Barry-Murphy’s desire for his team to play out from the back has left them open on occasions this season, namely in the 6-0 loss at Peterborough, we have recently seen more pragmatism from the rookie.

For now, what seems to work best is direct balls to veteran target man Aaron Wilbraham, who offers Dale the platform to bring goalscoring legend Ian Henderson, midfield dynamo Matty Lund and creative technician Callum Camps into play.

In comparison with Tranmere and Wimbledon, Rochdale have a lot more quality feeding off the main striker.

Why they might not

This Rochdale squad comprises some players who are coming to the end of their careers and some who are right on the cusp, leaving few peak-age performers.

There can be a lack of pace going forward, too, with Tyler Smith not having featured for over a month and Fabio Tavares out on loan at Curzon Ashton.

Verdict

Should have enough to beat the drop, giving Barry-Murphy an opportunity to evolve the squad further this summer and re-invest the £1 million received for Matheson.

MK Dons

Why they will stay up

Russ Martin and Luke Williams.

Had the League One season started when Williams, one of the EFL’s brightest coaching minds, joined extraverted motivator Martin, MK would now be 14th.

The situation they inherited, with the team having taken a solitary point from Paul Tisdale’s final nine games in charge, means the duo’s work deserves a higher placing.

The diamond system has worked a treat for the Buckinghamshire outfit, while the likes of hardworking striker Carlton Morris and midfield dynamo Louis Thompson have made positive impacts.

Having skilful forward Rhys Healey fit makes a massive difference, too.

Why they might not

Away form.

MK have not won on the road since mid-September’s 3-0 triumph at Blackpool, their only successful league jaunt in 11 months.

Verdict

Fans will hope that the recent 1-1 draw at Rotherham, where Healey levelled after a long ball downfield, shows that Martin can adjust his possession-based tactics to better handle life on the road.

Should be fine, thanks to their excellent home form.

Accrington

Why they will stay up

Performance levels.

Stanley average 1.42 Expected Goals For (xGF) per game and 1.31 Against (xGA), giving them a Ratio (xGR) of 52.08% – the 11th-best in the division.

The Reds press teams back with real intensity and, thanks to the protection that Seamus Conneely provides, midfield dynamo Sam Finley will at times push ahead of wide men Jordan Clark and Joe Pritchard.

Clark has an excellent understanding with fellow right-sider Callum Johnson and if one only saw Stanley play between both boxes, one would assume them to be outsiders for the Play-Offs, rather than relegation.

Why they might not

The East Lancashire outfit are at times let down by a combination of wastefulness in the opposition’s penalty area – even if they beat Bolton 7-1 – and a lack of nous in their own.

Mark Hughes’ credentials as a League One regular can be debated, but with the centre-back injured for the rest of the season, there is a concerning lack of experience.

Although John Coleman and Jimmy Bell can use their genius to find and coach 11 players to perform to a high standard in League One on a borderline non-league budget, finding 22 of them is rather a tall order.

When injuries and suspensions hit, a lack of quality in depth can become problematic and Stanley have lost five of their last seven, after a 2-1 home defeat to Tranmere.

Verdict

It’s a tough run-in for the Reds, but the sizeable gap gives them the leeway to lose some ground without suffering greatly; they are in a strong position to secure a third consecutive season at this level, which would be a fantastic achievement.

Best Bets

League One – Tranmere to be relegated (2/5 Bet365)

About Author

Gabriel discovered the betting world through his passion for English football; he had a mixed start in April 2014, landing a solid treble before being let down the week after by beleaguered Torquay winning at Bristol Rovers. Although he often follows his beloved Birmingham City, he also covers other teams in the Midlands and enjoys visiting new grounds further afield now and again. Quite likes sitcom Not Going Out, too.

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