THE BAT­TLE TO WIN A PLACE IN THE EFL GREEN FOR GO OR CAN ‘OLD HERO’ FIGHT ON?

The Football League Paper - - LEAGUE TWO PLAY-OFF PREVIEW - By Matt Bad­cock

THE RACE for the Foot­ball League reaches boil­ing point at Wem­b­ley this af­ter­noon when Tran­mere Rovers take on For­est Green Rovers in the Na­tional League pro­mo­tion fi­nal.

It’s a bat­tle of two con­trast­ing clubs.

Tran­mere play the part of the old hero who has fallen on hard times, For­est Green, the up­start who wants to take his crown.

Come 3pm, it’s win­ner takes all with a place in the EFL at stake.

Tran­mere fin­ished run­ners-up in this sea­son’s Na­tional League with 95 points.

Only Lin­coln City’s in­cred­i­ble sea­son stopped them from an au­to­matic re­turn to League Two af­ter a two-year ab­sence.

They’ve got one game to shoot for glory af­ter sweep­ing Alder­shot Town aside in the play-off semi-fi­nals.

It hasn’t been all plain sail­ing for them in NonLeague foot­ball.

In their first sea­son, they fin­ished out­side the play­offs be­hind two part-time clubs, Brain­tree Town and Dover Ath­letic.

They got off to a great start this sea­son un­der boss Gary Bra­bin, a proven Non-League op­er­a­tor, but soon started ped­alling in squares. In early Oc­to­ber, chair­man Mark Palios, the for­mer FA chief, made a change.

Ex­pe­ri­ence

Micky Mel­lon, who won pro­mo­tion from the Na­tional League – then known as the Con­fer­ence – with Fleet­wood Town, fea­tur­ing a cer­tain Jamie Vardy, left Shrews­bury Town to take up the chal­lenge at the club where he’d played.

With the spine of his team boast­ing plenty of ex­pe­ri­ence and pro­mo­tion know-how, the Wir­ral side have fi­nally hit the heights this sea­son and their sup­port will travel south with re­newed vigour.

Striker James Nor­wood points to the close-knit spirit be­tween the play­ers, who have fos­tered a com­pet­i­tive spirit thanks to plenty of in-house, light­hearted, com­pe­ti­tions.

“It’s down to the chair­man for bring­ing it round,” Nor­wood says.

“He’s got a group of lads to­gether who have a mas­sive be­lief in where we should be and where peo­ple want to be.

“The main dif­fer­ence here is how much the play- ers want to im­prove. You walk into the gym af­ter train­ing and there are lads go­ing through their pro­grammes to get stronger and quicker.

“I’ve never had that be­fore. Peo­ple just wanted to shoot off.

“We all have a cup of tea, go the gym, meet up on days off. The whole at­mos­phere is great.

“Then, we’ve made sure we’ve got a big­ger re­la­tion­ship with the fans this sea­son. As a whole community, there is a great buzz.”

That’s come from en­gag­ing with the sup­port away from the club, with school vis­its.

The play­ers also dipped into their own pock­ets to con­trib­ute £200 to buy sea­son tick­ets for those less for­tu­nate.

“We’re hop­ing to in­spire another gen­er­a­tion of kids who want to sup­port Tran­mere,” Nor­wood says. “Al­though, if their par­ents are Tran­mere fans al­ready, they don’t have much choice. But it’s get­ting to the peo­ple who might not have been to a game be­fore to come. With the at­mos­phere as it is, peo­ple want to come back.”

More than 12,000 Tran­mere fans will dwarf the For­est Green sup­port.

The club, who fin­ished third in the ta­ble, herald from the small town of Nailsworth in Glouces­ter­shire, pop­u­la­tion 5,794.

Of­ten known as the ‘Lit­tle Club on the Hill,’ their pro­mo­tion charges have been fu­elled by heavy in­vest­ment from green en­ergy ty­coon Dale Vince.

Not your stereo­typ­i­cal chair­man – he wears ripped jeans and re­fuses to in­dulge in board­room small talk – the multi-mil­lion­aire has poured in cash since 2010 in a bid to get the club into the Foot­ball League.

So far they’ve fallen short, be­ing beaten by Bris­tol Rovers in the play-off semi-fi­nals two years ago and Grimsby Town in the fi­nal at Wem­b­ley last year.

But, un­der boss Mark Cooper, they are a dif­fer­ent propo­si­tion and in striker Chris­tian Doidge they have one of Non-League’s most in-form strik­ers.

The ex-Da­gen­ham & Red­bridge man has 26 goals this sea­son, 18 of which have come since Christ­mas, in­clud­ing a vi­tal strike in the semi-fi­nal sec­ond leg against his for­mer club. “It’s just con­fi­dence and I feel like when you’re scor­ing goals at a club they start look­ing for you more,” Doidge says.

“They know you’re putting the ball in the back of the net. So I feel like that’s more of why I’m get­ting more op­por­tu­ni­ties.

“When I was at Da­gen­ham, I got hardly any op­por­tu­ni­ties to score.

“I’d come out of games think­ing ‘I haven’t even had a touch in­side their box’. It’s all about op­por­tu­ni­ties.

“We create a lot, too. Liam No­ble has been great for me. He’s got some­thing silly like 20 as­sists this sea­son.

“But I’m on at him all the time about set­ting me up.

“I’m one of those an­noy­ing strik­ers, to be hon­est. If he doesn’t give it to me in a game, I’m down his neck! And he’s way too good for this level.

“Peo­ple of­ten talk about how play­ers paint pic­tures in foot­ball.

“He’s like that. He’s two sec­onds ahead of you. He’s not strong or fast, he’s just good at foot­ball.”

Doidge also thinks For­est Green are a lot more re­silient than peo­ple re­alise.

“We’ve had a lots of ups and downs,” he says.

“We were fly­ing at one point, slipped up against Lin­coln and it went a bit down­hill. But we picked our­selves back up and got back in a good po­si­tion.

Thrilling

“A lot of teams might think we’re a men­tally weak team, but it’s not true at all. We’ve prob­a­bly been through more than any­one else.”

Both sides topped the Na­tional League this sea­son. For­est Green were min­utes away from tak­ing a 12-point lead in the Lin­coln game Doidge refers to, only for a late turn­around cut­ting it to six in a thrilling Novem­ber clash.

colum­nist Adam Virgo, who cov­ers the Na­tional League for BT Sport, fan­cies Tran­mere to win.

“Tran­mere have prob­a­bly felt more pres­sure to win games at home and For­est Green don’t want another sea­son in the Na­tional League,” he said.

“If it was ei­ther of to­day’s fi­nal­ists against Da­gen­ham or Alder­shot, you’d say they had all the pres­sure and ex­pec­ta­tion.

“But, for very dif­fer­ent rea­sons, both teams need to win to­day. I’m go­ing for Tran­mere.”

PICTURE: John Clifton

MAN­AGER: Tran­mere’s Micky Mel­lon INFLUENTIAL: Tran­mere striker James Nor­wood, right, cel­e­brates with his team­mates

PICTURE: Ac­tion Im­ages

VENUE: The mag­nif­i­cent Wem­b­ley Sta­dium GOAL-DEN BOY: For­est Green’s Chris­tian Doidge, cen­tre, is mobbed by his team-mates

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