At around 11pm on Thursday Paul Mullin was standing on the bog of a pitch at Prenton Park reliving his match-winner for Tranmere against Watford while, outside, fans had started queuing for tickets to the prized draw of an FA Cup date with Manchester United. Hopefully with more luck than the avid Liverpool fan Mullin had trying to attend United’s visit to Anfield last weekend. Going toe-to-toe with Ole Gunnar Solskjær’s fragile team on Sunday offers ample compensation.
“That and Barcelona last season are the only games in two years I haven’t been able to get a ticket for,” lamented the 25-year-old, who was in the same Liverpool youth team as Raheem Sterling before their careers took very different paths.
“I went to the pub with my girlfriend and my mum and dad instead. My brother-in-law has the Croc in town [the Crocodile, a Liverpool saloon with karaoke] and we went there to watch the game and had a few hours in Liverpool. I can score the winner on Sunday now. They’ll all be giving me tickets then.”
The Liverpool fan in Mullin requires no extra incentive to increase United’s problems but his priority is to give Rovers supporters another lift in what has been a trying league campaign. “I want to do it for the fans here,” he said. “They’re the ones who come to support us every week. The Tranmere fans don’t care about Liverpool. They come no matter how we are doing.”
After two consecutive promotions from the National League to League One, and having lost last season’s leading goalscorer, James Norwood, on a free to Ipswich last summer, the acceleration of Micky Mellon’s team has stalled. Tranmere are third from bottom of League One but the FA Cup has provided a release. For Mullin, who scored the late equaliser that completed Tranmere’s comeback from three goals down in the first meeting with Watford, United’s visit is also reward for refusing to give up after the heartache of being released by Liverpool at 16.
The forward, who returned to Merseyside via spells with Huddersfield, Morecambe and Swindon, said: “When you’re a kid that’s your dream and you think your whole world has fallen apart. But now I’ve been given a career as a footballer and to get the chance to play against Manchester United, one of the biggest teams in the world, is a great feeling. I will try to express myself and score.”
Mullin impressed after replacing the tireless Morgan Ferrier against Watford, with both strikers picking up knocks in the replay, and believes the Prenton Park pitch could have an influence against United. “It’s not in great condition,” he said. “Everyone can see that and knows that. Manchester United are all fantastic players and the best there is but to come here it is 11 v 11 and we will make it as hard as we can for them. Hopefully we can get something.
“It would be massive for the lads and the club to get a replay at Old Trafford, especially money-wise. It would be great to win but to play at Old Trafford, one of the most famous stadiums in the world, would be great for all the fans here who go home and away. And why should replays be scrapped? For the club it would mean a lot and it would be a dream for the lads. There are Manchester United fans in our changing room [Connor Jennings among them] – why wouldn’t they want to play there? It’s a dream for them.”
Mellon’s assistant, Michael Jackson, was at Old Trafford on Wednesday for United’s 2-0 defeat by Burnley and at Anfield on Sunday for Liverpool’s victory by the same scoreline. “Not because we believed we were going to go through against Watford,” the manager explained. “We were just being professional.”
That approach, and possibly the memory of last season’s 7-0 thrashing by Tottenham in round three, led Mellon to dismiss talk of United’s vulnerability. But their appearance at Prenton Park will, he hopes, generate the revenue needed to improve Rovers’ squad in their fight to remain in League One.
The Tranmere manager said: “It should give us the opportunity to strengthen. We know we need to strengthen. We didn’t really have the ability to do that before because we are not lashed with loads of money. So hopefully now it should give us the opportunity to build on something and we can only build on it by bringing in quality players into the group.
“I’m sure we’ll be able to do that and that is the right way to go to keep building this club and give them nights like Watford because that is what it is all about. Thursday was a massive night for us for a whole host of reasons.”