Dover 0-0 Tranmere: Time for Brabin to stick or twist

Gary Brabin faces a tricky question of whether to stick or twist with Tranmere’s formation as they mount one final push for the play-offs.

Rovers’ 0-0 draw with Dover on Saturday lifted them up one place in the table to fourth.

But they sit there precariously, just six points above Lincoln in tenth, whilst all the teams in the promotion race hold games in hand.

In isolation, a goalless stalemate on the road is a decent result, as acknowledged by the boss at full-time.

However, it means they have only won two of their last six games – and those below are catching up.

The goals, worryingly, seem to have dried up since the arrival of high profile striker Michael Higdon.

It is not the target man himself who has been the problem. He opened his Rovers account last week and is an important cog in the team.

But he has been dropped into a team who had won six in seven, yet has scored only three goals from open play in the half dozen fixtures that have followed.

The difference is Tranmere have switched from a successful 4-5-1 formation to play 4-4-2.

That means they do not get the best out of James Norwood, who had buzzed around so effectively in a free role upfront, and have to leave to height and power of Lois Maynard out of the side.

Rovers failed to muster a shot on target in the first half at Dover.

Higdon was withdrawn due to injury at the break, and Brabin brought on Jay Harris as he chose to throw an extra man in midfield.

The game opened up almost immediately, to the extent that the manager admitted: “the longer the game went on, I think we got stronger and stronger.”

Before then, they were disjointed and struggled against a physical side only too happy to play the long ball.

Jake Kirby and Adam Mekki struggled to get into the game, quickly closed down whenever in possession.

Yet there was more space to roam forward once the change was made, thanks to the third central midfield.

Harris had the visitor’s first shot just six minutes after being introduced, firing over the bar from inside the box.

Jeff Hughes then came close, aiming for the bottom corner from 20-yards only for Mitch Walker save.

Norwood had a brace of chances too, one a header that was straight at the ‘keeper, before seeing a 25-yard free-kick easily dealt with.

The opportunities were few and far between though, with the final one falling to Steven Jennings as his arrowed shot was pushed around the post.

Dover threatened sporadically at the other end, mainly through gangly defender Sean Raggett.

He came close in the first half, battering over the bar from inside the box, before rattling the goal frame with a header in the second.

Chris Kinnear also had a dribbling effort saved, but for all their pressure they struggled to get past the dependable Tranmere defence.

Rovers, then, once again showed they have what it takes to compete with the very best teams in the National League.

They maintained their unbeaten away record against the top nine, with wins at Cheltenham and Forest Green backed up by draws against Grimsby and Wrexham.

But it was their fourth 0-0 stalemate on the road, and the tenth time – home or away – that they have failed to break the deadlock.

And although they may sit in that play-off place at the moment, the goals must surely need to flow if they are to extend their season into May.

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