Manchester United Beware, Tranmere Rovers Are No Strangers To A Giant-Killing

The Birkenhead club have a rich history of forcing cup upsets against the big boys
11:56, 24 Jan 2020

After an inconvenient amount of time, an outcome has finally been provided as to whom between Premier League unit Watford and League One side Tranmere Rovers will progress to the Fourth Round of the 2019/20 FA Cup to play Manchester United.

The fixture had been delayed for over a week due to the weather-ravaged pitch at Prenton Park. Rovers, a non-League side less than two years ago, sealed an indelible 2-1 win over Nigel Pearson’s travelling Hornets and are now within touching distance of reaching their first FA Cup Quarter-Final in 16 years.

Just under three weeks since Watford experienced a humiliating capitulation after going three goals to the good at Vicarage Road only for Tranmere to pull it back to a 3-3 tie, the replay commenced. Emmanuel Monthé stuck in the first half for the home side to take an advantage into the break, with Kaylen Hinds scrambling one back for Watford after the hour mark.

The last thing either side ideally would have wanted was for extra-time, but extra-time it indeed was, with Paul Mullin the hero for Rovers with a header in the 104th minute.

The lad from Litherland - who had provided the replay with his converted penalty kick at Vicarage Road - described the moment he had struck the winner as “No better feeling.”

Micky Mellon’s side don’t have time to rest on their laurels and start patting themselves on the back though, with Manchester United, 12-time FA Cup champions, arriving on Sunday. 

Mellon was understandably joyous in the post-match revelry after successfully acquiring a Premier League scalp.

“It’s massive for a whole host of reasons,” exclaimed the Rovers gaffer to the club's website, “It’s huge. You can’t underestimate how big of a result and performance it was, because now you are able to say Manchester United are coming to Prenton Park on Sunday.

It was another memorable result for a club with a proud prolificacy in so-called ‘giant-killing’.

In 2003/04 they forced Bolton Wanderers, then a newly baptised Premier League side boasting Jay-Jay Okocha, former AC Milan player Ibrahim Ba, and World Cup winner Youri Djokaeff in their collective roster, into a Third Round replay before winning 2-1 at the Reebok Stadium.

Three years earlier, they marauded past Portsmouth, Everton and Southampton before getting their comeuppance to Merseyside rivals and the competition’s eventual winners Liverpool.  

Tranmere had produced a startling 3-0 victory after the short journey to Goodison, but the following round provided an incredible turnaround after Saint had gone 3-0 up by the half-way mark to win the tie 4-3, a result that has had its echoes against Watford this campaign.

Twice in three seasons did they eventually come up against the might of Newcastle United in the late nineties, the then top tier title-challengers however unable to be vanquished. However, on the last occasion to get to the last 16 the Rovers had had to see off West Ham United, Sunderland, and Fulham.

2004 was the last time Tranmere made it through to the Quarter-Finals. They faced Millwall at The Den which produced a stalemate, the replay on Merseyside saw a narrow 2-1 to the travellers and eventual finalists Millwall - the London side featuring Dennis Wise in his final season as a professional footballer. Wise’s son Henry, aged 20, came off the bench for Watford in Thursday night’s game in Birkenhead.

However, this Tranmere proficiency for cupsets isn’t isolated to across the turn of the millennium. 

Tranmere's biggest scalp dates back to 1968 when they spanked Coventry,  a club three divisions above them. 16 years prior they had undermined First Division side Huddersfield Town in the Third Round and a season later they held up Tottenham Hotspur, who had narrowly finished behind Manchester United as league champions, to a 1-1 draw at home. Spurs, however, provided a 9-1 return rollicking back in safe territory at White Hart Lane.

To say that Manchester United in their current incarnation aren’t in the best form at the moment is rather an understatement. Are Tranmere about to write another gleaming chapter in that underdog role that has perpetuated throughout their FA Cup history?

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