An engine room with the combined age of 75, a patchy pitch ‘with divots everywhere’ and a club with giant-killing pedigree… what Manchester United can expect from their FA Cup trip to Prenton Park for Tranmere tie
- Tranmere Rovers host Manchester United in the FA Cup on Sunday afternoon
- The League One side stunned Watford on Thursday in their third-round replay
- It is the first time that Rovers have reached the fourth round since 2003-04 term
It’s a case of David versus Goliath on Sunday afternoon when Tranmere Rovers host Manchester United in the FA Cup.
League One side Tranmere will be hoping to provide the biggest shock of this season’s fourth round when they entertain 12-time winners United to Preston Park.
Sportsmail looks at what United can expect from their trip to Tranmere.
Tranmere Rovers will face Manchester United in the FA Cup fourth round after beating Watford
Prenton Park pitch
The old adage that an underdog’s pitch can be a ‘leveller’ against better opposition has already applied to Tranmere this season. The state of their turf at Prenton Park is one not fit for a League One side, let alone a Premier League team – with two games postponed at the ground in recent weeks due to inclement weather.
United Women’s match was called off earlier this month due to a waterlogged pitch, while Tranmere’s replay with Watford had to be put back nine days after Storm Brendan wreaked havoc on the area. And Rovers used that to their advantage on Thursday, in a tie which saw the pitch cut up badly, as they knocked out the Hornets in extra-time.
But despite the poor condition of the playing surface, Manchester United manager Ole Gunnar Solskjaer has told his side that they must not use that as an excuse.
‘The pitch is not great but that’s the same for both of us,’ he said in his pre-game press conference on Friday. ‘The players just have to be focused and ready. There are divots everywhere. This generation coming through with Astroturf and nice pitches get lazy in the heads.
‘So everyone has just got to be focused, both for injuries but also, of course, the bounce of the ball.’
Tranmere Rovers will hope to use the state of their home pitch as an advantage on Sunday
The League One side’s pitch at Prenton Park is in poor condition ahead of Sunday’s FA Cup tie
Bare patches were evident on Thursday night in Tranmere’s FA Cup replay win over Watford
The old guard
What Tranmere may lack in quality, they certainly don’t in experience with plenty of veterans among their squad. While United may field a youthful side with the likes of Mason Greenwood (18-years-old), Aaron Wan-Bissaka and Daniel James (both 22); Rovers’ starting XI could possess some wise old sages.
Their starting XI against Watford contained three players very much in the twilight of their careers in Peter Clarke (38), Neil Danns and David Perkins (both 37). Centre-midfield partnership Danns and Perkins have a combined age of 75 but they proved age is just a number on Thursday with Danns playing 100 minutes while Perkins featured for the entirety of the match. Centre back Clarke also played throughout the famous win.
The trio will all be looking to use their experience to good effect come Sunday too.
Neil Danns (left) is likely to start for Tranmere on Sunday after playing 100 minutes vs Watford
His central midfield partner David Perkins (right) played the full 120 minutes at the age of 38
Like Perkins, fellow 38-year-old Peter Clarke (right) played the full duration of Thursday’s win
Tranmere’s FA Cup giant-killing pedigree
Tranmere are not adverse to providing FA Cup shocks as Thursday night proved thanks to substitute striker Paul Mullin’s header. Since the Premier League era began in 1992-93, no club to have never played there has eliminated more sides from the top flight in the FA Cup than Tranmere Rovers (seven, level with Millwall).
They are also looking to eliminate two Premier League clubs from the same FA Cup campaign for the first time since the 2000-01 season, when they knocked out Everton and Southampton if they upset the Red Devils at the weekend. That match against Southampton was particularly poignant as they came from 3-0 down at half-time to win 4-3 thanks to Paul Rideout’s second-half hat-trick and Stuart Barlow’s late winner.
In a further warning to United, Tranmere have reached the fourth round of the FA Cup for the first time since the 2003-04 season when they eventually reached the quarter-final. They have progressed from each of their last five fourth-round ties, last bowing out at this stage in 1994-95 against Wimbledon.
Paul Rideout rises high to score versus Southampton for Tranmere during the 2000-01 FA Cup
Ref Watch… but not as you know it
There may be a familiar face in the stands supporting Tranmere on Sunday… in the shape of Mike Dean.
The Premier League official is from Heswall in Wirral – a short seven miles from Tranmere. And during Tranmere’s successful League Two play-off run last season, he was spotted among the away fans celebrating wildly their 1-1 draw with Forest Green Rovers – a result that saw them progress to the final 2-1 on aggregate.
‘Mike loves his Tranmere,’ said manager Micky Mellon of their celebrity fan last term. ‘He comes in to see us a lot and I’m really pleased for him.’
The 51-year-old Dean has refereed three Manchester United games this season – with two of those ending in defeat for Ole Gunnar Solskjaer’s side (1-0 loss to Newcastle in the Premier League and the 3-1 Carabao Cup semi-final first-leg setback to Manchester City).
Dean, who is the VAR official for Bournemouth’s clash against Arsenal on Monday night, will hope to be able to celebrate wildly come 5pm on Sunday.
Premier League referee Mike Dean (centre) is a Tranmere fan and was spotted in the away at their League Two play-off semi-final last season at Forest Green
Tranmere’s forward is their second top goalscorer this season with seven goals but just two years ago there were concerns that he may never play football again. Just days before their Vanarama National League play-off final against Boreham Wood, Jennings was in a coma with suspected meningitis.
Although he was given little chance of being available for the showpiece, he made a quick recovery and featured during as a substitute – providing the decisive assist in that game. And then a year later he scored Rovers’ winner in the 119th minute against Newport County in the League Two play-off final to seal back-to-back promotions for the club.
Jennings will be hoping to write his name into further Tranmere folklore with a matchwinning display against Manchester United.
Connor Jennings has played a key part in Tranmere’s successive league promotions
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