Matthew Crichton: After losing to Sunderland in the EFL Trophy final at Wembley, Tranmere won just 3 of their last 13 League Two matches. Are we partly to blame for the derailing of your promotion campaign?
Paul Harper: Ha ha! I suppose you could say that. The performances post-Wembley were, let’s put it politely, poor.
Our form going into that game was good, and we performed reasonably well at Wembley, but we fell off a cliff afterwards. It wasn’t good. It’s difficult to put your finger on why, but it just didn’t happen for us.
MC: On the back of that poor run, Keith Hill was sacked as Tranmere manager and Micky Mellon has been appointed for the new season. Are you pleased to see him back at the club after previously guiding the club to back-to-back promotions?
PH: Keith Hill’s sacking wasn’t a surprise. Maybe from the outside, it looked a bit strange, but we were dreadful post-Wembley and limped into the play-offs with zero momentum. As it was, we weren’t good enough and so it’s another year in League Two.
As for Micky Mellon, I’m delighted he’s back. He did a fantastic job first time around and he has galvanised the supporters ahead of the season. He just gets it, the club, the fans, what it means, so I think he’s the perfect fit for our club.
MC: With the new season just two weeks, are Tranmere fans expecting the club to achieve automatic promotion next season and who do you think will be your main rivals?
PH: Tranmere fans will be expecting us to be there or thereabouts I think. We should have been far closer to automatic promotion last time and so that should certainly be the aim.
We’ve made some good signings so I feel the squad is a bit stronger than this time last season. Time will tell.
As for rivals, I’ve not really followed the transfer market away from ourselves. I’d imagine Exeter, Bradford, Rochdale would be strong and looking to be contenders and there’s always a surprise package, so I expect it will be fairly open again this term.
MC: Despite scoring 22 goals for Tranmere last season, James Vaughan decided to retire from football aged 33. Were you surprised by this given his excellent form?
PH: He’s had a fair few injuries, and picked up a couple towards the end of the season. I hoped he’d have stayed, but his body obviously told him it was time to stop.
It will be tricky to replace his goals, but we’ve made some good additions so hopefully we can do just that. We need more goals from all areas of the pitch if we want to be successful.
MC: Tranmere recently signed ex-Sunderland winger Callum McManaman after he spent a year in Australia. Is this your most impressive signing considering he has not played under Championship level before?
PH: In a word, yes! I’m delighted by this signing, think it’s a real sign of intent.
He has been a top player, and although he’s maybe not at the levels he was at when at Wigan and West Brom in the Premier League, he has quality. We’ve seen that in pre-season with an excellent goal at Stalybridge.
MC: Rovers have signed 11 players so far this summer, aside from McManaman, which of the signings excite you the most?
PH: Ryan Watson looks a good signing and I’ve heard good reports from his displays in pre-season so he could do well for us.
I’m also interested in how Paul Glatzel does on loan from Liverpool. Again, I’ve heard good things about him but it will be interesting to see how he fares in the senior game with us this season.
MC: After playing the majority of last season without fans, most EFL clubs have struggled financially and are in poor shape post-COVID. Are Tranmere in a comfortable financial position heading into the 2021/22 season?
PH: I believe we’re in a fairly good position. There is lots going on off the pitch, in terms of commercial activity, so I think we are in a decent place going forward.
MC: Who are the 11 Tranmere players you believe Micky Mellon will select against Sunderland and what style of play can Lee Johnson’s men expect to encounter?
PH: That’s a question. Pre-season, you never know!
It’ll be who needs the minutes, and 11 days before the season, I suspect the gaffer might be looking at the starting XI he’ll be looking at for the first game of the season.
MC: Lastly, what is your prediction of the final score?
PH: I’ll go for a competitive 1-1 draw.