Tranmere have been left devastated by the EFL’s decision.
After a spectacular rise from the National League, which saw consecutive promotions to League Two then League One, Tranmere Rovers are relegated again by the thinnest of margins as the season is brought to a premature close.
Many at the club, and in the wider football world, feel that justice has not been done, with manager, Mark Palios, describing himself as “white hot with anger” at the decision. “I have no doubt that we would have survived had we been able to play on,” he said in a club statement.
Having been so close to League One survival, Tranmere will be favourites with the likes of Unibet betting for a swift return next season, with fans looking forward to a fourth visit in five years to Wembley, or Prenton Park South as it is known to Rovers fans. But that is scant consolation right now for the Birkenhead faithful.
What is the issue?
With the season cut short, the EFL decided that the final table would be decided on a straightforward points per game (PPG) basis, with no reflection of home and away record, current form or the strength of the sides remaining for each team to play. Tranmere missed out by the thinnest of margins – just 0.059 of a point per game, despite being just three points behind Wimbledon, with a game in hand. What’s more, following a season of injuries, a Tranmere squad finally at full-strength was on such a good run of form that had the average been worked out over the last five games, they would have been up for promotion, not relegation.
In the run in, Tranmere were set to face many of their fellow relegation contenders. Games against Wimbledon and Rochdale and MK Dons, the three teams directly above them, were all classic ‘six-pointers’, while Tranmere’s game in hand could have made all the difference. This was why Tranmere proposed an alternative for ending the season.
What was Tranmere’s plan?
Tranmere put forward an alternative plan that incorporated a margin for error where the points per game were very close. Under their scheme, any club that would have been relegated by a margin that was within the margin for error, as shown over the last three seasons, would be given the benefit of the doubt and spared.
This was not unreasonable, as the fight for safety often produces dramatic runs, such as Newport County’s five wins from seven games that secured League Two survival in 16/17 – a run that had a margin of error of 25.6% compared to the PPG predictions.
Unfortunately for the club, Tranmere’s proposal was voted down by the EFL and their fellow members of League One. Palios, while clearly furious, was not surprised. “Clubs are looking to protect their own vested interests,” he continued in his official club statement. “The minority, being those in the relegation places, will inevitably be outnumbered by those for whom the solution represents safety or promotion.”
Tranmere’s last relegation to League Two was swiftly followed by a drop out of the EFL altogether, for the first time in 94 years. However, the lessons learned in their fight back will stand them in good stead for a prompt return to the third tier. “For Tranmere fans this will leave a burning sense of injustice,” says Palios. “We need to bottle that and use it to spur us on to reclaim our rightful place in League One.”
The problem is that while they will receive some parachute payments, Tranmere face an estimated £1m drop in income between the divisions. Whether they can stage such a bold recovery in the face of this, we will have to wait and see.