First half domination
Cheltenham Town’s first half performance was up there with anything they have produced since Michael Duff took over two years ago.
They dominated from the first whistle and the only surprise was that it was not more than 3-0 at half-time, with two of the goals coming from corners.
There were many occasions when Cheltenham seemed to have at least one extra man on the pitch as Tranmere’s attempt to match up their visitors’ formation backfired badly.
The home side sacrificed a central defender for a forward and switched to 4-3-3 after 36 minutes of chasing shadows, with Liam Feeney going on in place of Mark Ellis.
By that time it was 2-0 and three minutes later Liam Sercombe’s corner from the left was headed into his own net by Paul Lewis to complete the scoring.
The opener was a powerful header from Charlie Raglan from Chris Hussey’s corner on the right in the sixth minute.
The second goal was a well-worked move involving George Lloyd and Finn Azaz, who released Andy Williams and the summer signing and former Robins youth team player finished confidently for his first goal in (senior) Robins colours after 20 minutes.
There were a couple of occasions when Cheltenham were guilty of over-complicating things playing out from the back, which presented Tranmere with their only noteworthy chances before half-time.
But more often than not they built convincingly from around their own penalty area, with Duff happy for them to take risk.
When Cheltenham did lose the ball, they seemed to win it back almost instantaneously as Tranmere were forced to retreat.
Duff would like to have seen more clear-cut chances carved out as they were enjoying so much possession, but it was still convincing and every player was involved in some of the slick passing moves.
Defensive organisation on show in second half
The second half was altogether different, with Tranmere able to take risks in a bid to claw their way back into the game.
Josh Griffiths saved well with his legs to deny debutant Feeney in the 48th minute after James Vaughan’s pass.
From then on, Cheltenham showed the other side to their game, withstanding pressure and registering an impressive clean sheet against a team relegated from League One last term.
Ben Tozer was pushed from the middle of the back three into a holding midfield role, which he has been asked to do in previous matches as Cheltenham adopt a back four against a front three.
Matty Blair came through his first 90 minutes at right wing-back and then right-back, while Hull City loan midfielder Elliot Bonds went on for his Football League debut in the 65th minute, replacing the impressive Azaz.
George Lloyd seizes big chance
Although he did not score, one of the most pleasing aspects of the afternoon for Duff was the performance of George Lloyd, who was making his first League Two start since New Year’s Day.
Lloyd returned for pre-season with outstanding fitness levels, helped by intensive off-season training sessions at Plock Court in Gloucester.
He was on the verge of a loan move to National League club Dover Athletic and the move may still happen.
But the absence of Alfie May through a minor illness and knock and Alex Addai due to a hamstring problem saw Lloyd promoted to the starting XI alongside Williams in attack.
Lloyd has always been strong for his size, helped by his background as a talented young gymnast, but he gave Tranmere’s defenders a hard time until being replaced in the 83rd minute, having gone down with cramp.
There was workrate, but also quality on show from the 20-year-old, who did not look like an inexperienced youngster at Prenton Park.
May, who has seven goals in 13 League Two starts since joining the club, is expected to back in contention for next Saturday’s home match against Grimsby Town.
But Lloyd’s contribution has given Duff plenty to consider and it is high time a Gloucestershire-born player established themselves as a first team regular.
Two more signings to round off recruitment
As they did last season, Cheltenham have recovered from an opening day defeat by winning by a three-goal margin against a team relegated from the third tier.
Cardiff City utility player Tom Sang is set to join on loan and there is also the possibility of a specialist number 10 joining before the transfer window closes on October 5.
Most areas appear to be well-covered, but the number of midweek matches will put added demands on the squad and two more additions is likely to spell the end of Duff’s recruitment.
Tranmere Rovers: Davies; Clarke, Ellis (Feeney 36), Monthe; O’Connor, Morris, Spearing (Banks 82), Lewis, Ridehalgh; Khan (Payne 82), Vaughan. Subs not used: Murphy, Nelson, MacDonald, Ray.
Cheltenham Town: Griffiths; Raglan, Tozer, Boyle; Blair, Thomas, Sercombe, Azaz (Bonds 65), Hussey; Williams, Lloyd (Freestone 83). Subs not used: Harris, Reid, Campbell, Clements, Horton.
Referee: Carl Boyeson.