‘He is unorthodox, relentless... We know how to handle that’ – Tranmere boss on Norwood reunion

Tranmere Rovers manager Micky Mellon. Photo: PA

Tranmere Rovers manager Micky Mellon. Photo: PA - Credit: PA Wire/PA Images

League One leaders Ipswich Town host Tranmere Rovers at Portman Road tomorrow afternoon. STUART WATSON takes a look at the visitors.

Tranmere Rovers' James Norwood (left), Connor Jennings (right) and team-mates celebrate winning the

Tranmere Rovers' James Norwood (left), Connor Jennings (right) and team-mates celebrate winning the National League Play-Off Final at Wembley in 2018. Photo: PA - Credit: PA Archive/PA Images

SNAKES AND LADDERS

A promotion-chasing second-tier club for much of the 90s and League Cup finalists in 2000 (the John Aldridge years), the Merseyside club became a largely middle of the road League One club from 2001 to 2014.

A double demotion (2014 and 2015), after Mark Palios had taken over controlling interest from Peter Johnson, saw a 94-year stay in the Football League coming to and end. A double promotion (2018 and 2019) - both times achieved via Wembley play-off glory - has seen them return to the second-tier.

Tranmere Rovers players celebrate promotion to League One in May. Photo: PA

Tranmere Rovers players celebrate promotion to League One in May. Photo: PA - Credit: PA Wire/PA Images

COMEBACK KINGS

Currently placed 18th in the table, three of Tranmere's points came courtesy of a 5-0 home thrashing of pre-takeover Bolton. Their other six have all been claimed from losing positions.

Twice they have fought back from two goals down to draw 2-2 - against Gillingham and Peterborough. Last weekend they scored twice in stoppage-time to secure a dramatic come-from-behind 2-1 win against Burton. All three of those matches were at Prenton Park.

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It wasn't the first time the Merseysiders had left it late. They scored beyond the 89th minute against Rochdale (twice) and Rotherham too.

"I hope it's not something that we've got to get used to, I've got to be honest," said boss Micky Mellon.

"It certainly shows that they will keep fighting until the very end - that is a fact. But we don't want to have to do that every week, it's not something we prepare to try and do.

"We've shown we have got the qualities of fight, digging in and character in the locker."

James Norwood celebrates after Tranmere Rovers won the League Two Play-Off Final at Wembley in May.

James Norwood celebrates after Tranmere Rovers won the League Two Play-Off Final at Wembley in May. Photo: PA - Credit: PA Wire/PA Images

DOWN ON DEFENDERS

Tranmere have 10 players in the treatment room at present - six of them defenders.

Centre-back George Ray had to be withdrawn at half-time last weekend, forcing Mellon to abandon his preferred three at the back system. If Ray isn't passed fit today, then it might have to be four at the back again.

Fellow summer signings Calum Woods, Kane Wilson (West Brom loanee), Jacob Maddox (Chelsea loanee) and Morgan Ferrier are among the absentees, as are experienced duo David Perkins and Ishmael Miller.

KNOWING ME, KNOWING YOU

James Norwood wrote himself into Tranmere Rovers folklore when spearheading the recent double promotion. He scored at a rate of two goals a game for the club (93 in 180 to be precise).

That led to strong Ipswich interest as the club slid towards Championship relegation. Norwood was in two minds about leaving his 'band of brothers', but eventually came to the conclusion that the opportunity - in terms of contract length, pay and club size - was too good to turn down.

Now the 28-year-old faces his ex employers for the first time.

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"I love James Norwood, but he does not know his methods," said his former boss Mellon. "He makes runs instinctively, there is no real pattern to the types of runs he makes.

"A lot of the time he doesn't make an orthodox run, so you've got to be on your toes. We had a way of playing to supplement that.

"He is relentless. He will keep going, he will keep fighting, he will not get disappointed and will find a way to punish you.

"We also know the other side of how to handle that, because we had him for a long time and know him very, very well. That doesn't mean to say he's any less of a threat.

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"We know what a good player he is, we know how hard Ipswich tried to get him; they wanted to pay very good money for a very good player. We now come up against that and look forward to the challenge of playing against that.

"The players know him very well, and the players know what we're going to have to be good at, and that's being vigilant at all times and to expect the unexpected. He will keep going and will stay in the game."

HANDBRAKE OFF

Paul Lambert keeps talking about how Ipswich have a target on their backs and how teams will raise their games at Portman Road.

Mellon is the latest manager to heap raise on the quality of the Blues squad, but insists he won't simply look to park the bus.

"It's a real test of where we're up to as a team," he said. "We're being tested by one of the top teams in the league.

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"We know it's going to be a really tough game, we know they have talented players, but that's the challenge, isn't it?

"We expect the players to go there with no fear. What better stage to go and do that? There are only positives for me. I'm really looking forward to seeing where we're all up to, the journey down and getting on with the game.

"I know our group will go and embrace that. We've got a group that will go and attack that."

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