Maidstone 0-1 Tranmere: Report

A truly remarkable performance from a Tranmere team with an average age of just 19 saw them end the regular season on a high with a 1-0 win over Maidstone.

Forget Anthony Joshua v Wladimir Klitschko, the heavyweight title fight being billed as youth against experience.

This was a real men against boys tie, and it was the exuberance of Rovers’ teenagers that came out on top, something few would have predicted when the team sheet was submitted.

Micky Mellon effectively named a youth team for the clash, knowing full well that any injuries or suspensions picked up could be damaging ahead of the play-offs.

And it was first year professional Sam Ilesanmi, an exciting product of the club’s academy, who celebrated his debut by thumping home from close range to earn the points.

It really was a proud day for the management team, and the likes of under-18 boss Andy Parkinson, who saw so many of his squad involved.

Many of these players would have spent the last few years day dreaming about their first team debut, and all their hard work paid off as they finally got their chance.

Nobody let themselves down. In a brilliant, resilient performance, Tranmere showed that you can win with kids, if you have the right tactical application and nouse.

Eleven changes were made by Mellon, with nobody who is likely to be involved on Wednesday even making the long journey south.

Adam Mekki, Adam Dawson, Erico Sousa and Aaron Collins were the only ones to have made an impression on the first team this season, whilst Evan Gumbs a sole sub outing over two years ago.

In total, nine of those involved were making their full Tranmere debut, whilst the 16 in the squad had amassed just 78 league appearances for the club between them.

Some exciting prospects got a game though, including Welsh youth international Luke Pilling in goal, and Josh Solomon-Davies who has represented St Lucia’s under-20 side.

Maidstone, by contrast, named pretty much their strongest starting line up, having easily avoided relegation in their first season in the National League.

Rovers had the first chance, with Mekki, captain for the day, dancing past a couple of tackles before sliding a shot wide from the edge of the box.

Collins then found some space from a similar distance, but he too failed to hit the target with a swerving effort.

At the other end, Maidstone started to exert some pressure and it nearly paid off when Joe Pigott saw a close range drive deflected wide for a corner.

Tranmere continued to push forward though, and Collins created a brilliant chance for Sousa, who, presented with almost an open goal, thumped into the car park behind the stand.

The hosts were having most of the possession, and Yemi Odubade forced a great save out of Pilling with a stabbed shot from 10-yards that required tipping around the post.

Bobby-Joe Taylor then came close after a darting run from the right towards the box, only to drag his low effort just wide from 25-yards.

The winger then turned provider, his cross finding Pigott in the middle, but he headed to close to Pilling.

It was a solid first half display from the Rovers youngsters who must have hoped that they had weathered the storm.

But Maidstone continued to push after the break, with an acrobatic effort from Odubade and Alex Flisher’s header going just over.

Out of nowhere, though, Tranmere struck gold after a good bit of persistence from Dawson eventually led to the ball rolling through to Ilesanmi.

The young striker, one of several debutants, could hardly believe his luck as he battered into the back of the net from close range to put Rovers 1-0 up.

It was a wonderful moment for the first year professional, who has spent time on loan at Warrington this season, and he celebrated wildly in front of the travelling fans.

Collins could have doubled the advantage straight away when he burst down the left only to shoot straight at the ‘keeper.

That seamed to take the wind out of Maidstone, who started struggling to pass the ball and lost any tempo.

Even the lively Taylor could not make anything happen, switching from wing to wing but starved off any supply.

Their best chance came from a miss-hit cross, with Flisher turning on the corner of the box and firing into the middle.

The ball was heading for the top corner at the back post, but a back-pedalling Pilling somehow got back to claw away.

The final chance fell to Flisher again, but his turn and shot from 18-yards was straight at the ‘keeper, who proudly picked up a clean sheet on debut.


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