Gumbs determined to kick on after full Tranmere debut

Rarely has a game with so little importance mattered so much.

Tranmere had nothing to play for as they took to the field at Maidstone. Second place was sewn up, the focus well and truly on the play-offs.

You could argue that taking on Aldershot this week is all that matters now. They are one of the barriers standing in-between Rovers and promotion.

Yet for seven footballers, all under the age of 20, this game was everything. The moment they had dreamed of. Their Tranmere debut.

Micky Mellon rested his entire first team squad, with the likes of James Norwood and Andy Cook left at home so as not to pick up any injuries.

Perhaps Maidstone therefore under-estimated what was in front of them, a bunch of teenagers, many of whom had not even been on the bench before.

But those youngsters defied their age and experience in putting in a tactical display that starved the hosts’ dangerous front line of possession.

Evan Gumbs was one of those who came in, a 19-year old defender who actually made his Rovers debut nearly two and a half years ago, coming on as a substitute away at Luton.

He has been sent out on loan since then, playing for the likes of Salford and Warrington and waiting for his first team chance.

Now he is desperate to show his worth to the first team after a faultless, composed display.

“I loved every minute of it, I want to do it again,” he said.

“I’m only 19 but I didn’t have any doubt that we would play well.

“I had never played with [central defensive partner] Declan Drysdale before. But it was dead easy.

“He just wants to win games. With that desire and determination it was so easy to get on with him.

“Then when I got the captain’s armband, I didn’t expect it. I was buzzing. It made me kick on even more.

“I just want to kick on now and play more games next season.

“Since I made my debut two and a half years ago, I feel a lot stronger and a bit more confident.

“I was with Salford last year and we got promotion and with Warrington this year. I think I’ve had a lot of experience and played a lot of games.

“I sit in the stands watching the first team lads and I think I can do a job myself if I go in there.

“Having the experience from on loan makes me feel a lot better.”

Gumbs was only one line of the defence. Goalkeeper Luke Pilling also made a string of fine saves, including a strong left wrist to divert a Yemi Odubade shot away.

The Welsh youth international also looked confident went coming for crosses and showed that he too has a bright future.

Once Rovers had weathered the storm, they began to show what they could do, with Aaron Collins, one of only four players to have featured this season, a brilliant attacking option.

Fittingly, it was Sam Ilesanmi who got the goal, a 19-year old first year professional who came through the Tranmere academy.

He converted from 10-yards out after good work by Adam Dawson, powerfully firing into the bottom corner in a composed manner.

It led to wild scenes in front of the travelling supporters, and Gumbs was at a loss to describe his emotions.

“I can’t explain what it felt like when the goal went in. It was just unbelievable.

“I’ve been rooming with Sam as well. I’ve been telling him he’s going to score.

“For him to celebrate like that in front of the fans as well – I’m made up.

“They kept piling the ball in, but we defended well and got our bodies in the way.

“Luke Pilling is class as well. You always feel confident with him in goal.

“Getting the clean sheet is the extra bonus on the whole day.”


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