Although better known as a successful manager these days, winning promotion has long been a familiar experience for Paisley-born Micky Mellon. Not many players can claim to have won promotion in his first season as a professional footballer, but it set a pattern that continues to this day.
Starting his career with Third Division Bristol City in December 1989, that promotion came almost immediately with a second-place finish behind neighbours Bristol Rovers. Despite being popular with the fans, midfielder Mellon made only sporadic appearances at Ashton Gate and totalled only 48 games for the Robins in his four seasons, scoring one goal. In October 1991 he was loaned to Cork City for two months where he won a regular place in the side. Cork wanted to sign Mellon but could not afford the £8,000 asking price. He returned to Bristol after making 11 appearances (scoring three goals) and continued to exist on the fringe of the first team as City settled into mid-table comfort in the Second Division.
On 11 February 1993, he was sold to West Bromwich Albion, then managed by World Cup winner Ossie Ardiles, for a fee of £75,000. Albion were challenging at the top of the Second Division (then tier 3) and had a squad including Imps Stuart Naylor, Ian Hamilton and Gary Strodder. After sitting in the top four for most of the season, Albion secured a place in the playoffs after a great run of one defeat from their last thirteen games. A 3-2 aggregate win over Swansea took Albion to Wembley but Mellon was not to appear. A red card against Swansea meant he missed the 3-0 win over Port Vale in the final. Promotion in his first season at Bristol City, and now in his first season at West Brom was not a bad record.
Albion got off to a reasonable start in the First Division, but a run of three wins from fifteen games left them hovering around the relegation zone. A great run of four wins and two draws by neighbours Birmingham City led to a dramatic final day of the season. Level on points, Albion’s superior goal difference meant that a win would keep them up and send Birmingham down. Oxford were a further two points behind with the worst goal difference of the three. The results elsewhere did not go Albion’s way, as Oxford beat Notts County 2-1 and Birmingham won 2-1 at promotion-chasing Tranmere. But Lee Ashcroft’s 39th-minute header at Portsmouth proved enough to keep Albion up on a fraught afternoon of tension and pitch invasions. It had been a tough season, but Mellon did have the novel experience of appearing in the short-lived Anglo-Italian Cup, scoring against Italian giants Peterborough. The 1994-95 season got off to a poor start, with one win from the first eleven games. Then a Micky Mellon goal gave Albion a 1-0 win over Sheffield United in October, and kick-started a better run of form. It was to prove his final goal for the Baggies, as Sam Allardyce took him to Second Division Blackpool for £50,000 on 23 November 1994. Mellon scored seven goals in 57 appearances for Albion.
The rest of the 1994-95 season was uneventful as Blackpool finished mid-table. The 1995-96 season, however, was to be much better as Blackpool were to achieve their highest league placing for nineteen years. Blackpool looked dead certs for automatic promotion until a terrible run of five points from seven games saw them go into the final game at York in third place, one point behind Oxford but with a better goal difference. Blackpool won 2-0, but Oxford had been on a great run and beat Peterborough 4-0 to take the final promotion place. Blackpool won the first leg of their play-off semi-final 2-0 at Bradford and seemed certain to go to Wembley; however, a dreadful 3-0 home defeat in the second leg not only cost Blackpool a place in the final, but also cost Allardyce his job. The consolation for Mellon was the Player of the Season award. Blackpool were not to hit the same heights again, and missed the playoffs by four points in 1996-97 under new manager Gary Megson. Megson was replaced by Nigel Worthington after one season, and Mellon was soon on his way, sold to John Aldridge’s Tranmere on 31 October 1997 for a hefty £300,000 fee. He made 145 appearances in total for Blackpool, scoring seventeen goals.
It was to be the start of a relationship with Tranmere that would continue on and off to the present day. Tranmere were in the middle of a golden age, challenging for promotion to the top flight and undertaking regular cup runs, but Mellon’s fourteen-month stay was to prove uneventful with the club in mid-table. Rovers reached the fifth round of the FA Cup in his first season of 1997-98 before the run was ended by an Alan Shearer header at St James’ Park. After three goals from 65 appearances, Mellon was surprisingly sold to Second Division strugglers Burnley for £350,000 on 8 January 1999.
Mellon quickly endeared himself to the Burnley faithful, and his arrival kick-started a revival that would carry them to a comfortable mid-table finish. Burnley got off to a great start in 1999-2000 and kept pace with the leaders for most of the season. A 3-0 home defeat to promotion rivals Gillingham with five games to go appeared to have scuppered their challenge, and they went into the final game at Scunthorpe level on points with Gillingham but with an inferior goal difference. Burnley had a relatively easy game at relegated Scunthorpe, while the Gills had a tougher game at mid-table Wrexham. Gillingham went down 1-0, and Burnley trailed 1-0 at Glanford Park. However, a Micky Mellon equaliser just before half-time set Burnley on their way to a 2-1 win, and Mellon had his third promotion. At no time during the season had Burnley been in the top two.
Burnley quickly acclimatised to life in the First Division and remained in the top half for most of the season. Then came another surprise, as Mellon returned to former club Tranmere on loan on 5 March 2001. He made 94 appearances for Burnley, scoring five goals. Despite a dramatic run to the quarter-finals of the FA Cup, Rovers were struggling at the foot of the First Division. Mellon’s loan was made permanent just three days later on a free transfer, but Aldridge resigned on 17 March as Rovers headed inexorably towards relegation. They picked up just eight points from their last fourteen games to finish in bottom place, the first relegation of Mellon’s career.
Tranmere never looked likely to make a return to the First Division in 2001-02, although there was another run in the FA Cup. Wins over Brigg, Carlisle, Southend and Cardiff took them to the fifth round where they were beaten 4-0 at Tottenham. Tranmere maintained their mid-table position well into the 2002-03 season when a magnificent run of ten wins and five draws from their last fifteen games carried them to within a point of the play-offs. A 3-2 win at Stockport on the final day was not enough, as a 1-1 draw for Cardiff at Crewe meant Tranmere had finished seventh. Form was inconsistent at the start of 2003-04 until an excellent run from October created another play-off challenge. The FA Cup was to prove a distraction yet again as wins over Chesterfield, Hornchurch, Bolton, Luton and Swansea carried the third-tier club to a quarter-final against First Division Millwall. A 0-0 draw at The New Den earned Tranmere a replay at Prenton Park, but two goals in the first fifteen minutes by Tim Cahill and Neil Harris saw Rovers go down 2-1. Disappointment was to follow in the league: despite winning eight of their remaining eleven games, the play-offs were missed by six points.
Now 32, Mellon was released at the end of the season and joined League Two Kidderminster on 1 August 2004 on a two-year contract. Unfortunately, he picked up Achilles injury and left by mutual consent on 8 December 2004 after managing to play only eight games. He moved back north to sign for Northern Premier League Witton Albion in February 2005, and it was here that Mellon made the move into coaching. On 29 June 2006 Mellon was named assistant manager of Conference North side Lancaster City where his manager from Witton Gary Finley had been appointed. Their stay was to be short, as they were sacked as an economy measure on 10 October 2006.
In the summer of 2007 Mellon joined former club Burnley as a coach at their Centre of Excellence, working primarily with the U15 and U16 teams. While still working for Burnley, Mellon was appointed manager of Fleetwood Town on 22 September 2008 on a part-time basis. Fleetwood had just been promoted to Conference North but were struggling at the bottom after taking just six points from their opening ten games. Mellon sparked an immediate revival and became their first-ever full-time manager on 8 January 2009. The run of form continued to the end of the season with a very unlikely eighth place, and the club also reached the second round of the FA Cup for the first time in their history.
The 2009-10 season saw Fleetwood engage in a season-long battle for the title with neighbours Southport. The expiry of Farsley Celtic before the end of the season left Fleetwood three points worse off than Southport, and an unsuccessful appeal against the decision meant a place in the play-offs. A 4-3 penalty shootout win over Droylsden took Fleetwood to the final where a 2-1 win over Alfreton carried them into the Conference Premier for the first time. It was also Mellon’s first promotion as a manager, and his fourth in total. The decision was taken during the summer to go full-time, and it paid immediate dividends. Their first season in non-league’s top division went very well, with another play-off campaign after finishing fifth. It was too much too early though, as Fleetwood went down 8-1 on aggregate to eventual promotion-winners AFC Wimbledon.
There was to be no repeat in 2010-11 as Jamie Vardy’s thirty-one goals fired Fleetwood into the Football League with a massive 103 points. A twenty-nine game unbeaten run gave them the title with two games to spare, and they also reached the third round of the FA Cup. Mellon had his fifth promotion, and his second as a manager. At the end of the season, Vardy moved to Leicester for a non-league record of £1m (rising to an eventual £1.7 million). Despite getting away to a very promising start in League Two, Mellon was sacked on 1 December 2012 with Fleetwood in fourth place. Further to some indifferent form, Mellon was rumoured to have applied for vacancies at former clubs Blackpool and Burnley, and Fleetwood decided to make the change. It was very much a case of being careful what you wish for: Fleetwood slipped down the table after his departure to finish thirteenth.
Mellon was out of a job for a matter of days, joining the Championship’s bottom side Barnsley as assistant to caretaker manager David Flitcroft at the end of December. Despite losing their first game, Flitcroft and Mellon were appointed to their roles on a permanent basis on 13 January 2013. An immediate improvement in form saw Barnsley win five and draw one of their next six games, but they went into the final game of the season at Huddersfield still in danger of relegation. Huddersfield were also at risk, but a 2-2 draw proved enough to keep both clubs up. Peterborough conceded two goals in the last seven minutes to lose at Crystal Palace, and Barnsley survived by a point. Flitcroft and Mellon agreed new contracts at the end of the season, and in October Barnsley rejected two approaches for Mellon from Forest Green. Things were not so good on the pitch, and Flitcroft was sacked on 30 November 2013 with Barnsley bottom of the Championship. Mellon initially stayed on as a coach under new manager Danny Wilson, but parted company with them by mutual consent on 19 March 2014.
Two months later he was back in management, appointed by Shrewsbury Town on 12 May 2014 on a one-year rolling contract. Shortly afterwards he completed the UEFA Pro Licence, the highest coaching qualification in the game. Shrewsbury had just been relegated to League Two, and Mellon made wholesale changes to the squad. It paid off instantly, as Shrewsbury started the season very well and also reached the fourth round of the League Cup before going down 2-1 at home to Chelsea. Promotion was never in doubt, and Shrewsbury retook their place in League One after finishing second. It was the sixth promotion of Mellon’s career, and his third as a manager. Life back in League One proved much more challenging, and Shrewsbury took six games to get their first win. A good run through February and March appeared to have lifted them to safety, but a dip in form saw them avoid relegation by just four points. Compensation came in the form of a run to the fifth round of the FA Cup where Manchester United ended the Wembley dream with a 3-0 win. Better things were expected in 2016-17, but their poor form was carried over from the previous season. With the side in the bottom four after eleven games, Mellon resigned on 6 October 2016 to become manager of former club Tranmere.
Tranmere were now in the National League after a number of poor seasons, and much was expected of them. They were sitting ninth at the time of his appointment, six points behind leaders Forest Green. Mellon had an immediate impact, but despite having a terrific season which ended with 95 points, Tranmere could not close the gap on an outstanding Lincoln side that also reached the quarter-final of the FA Cup. They went into the play-offs as clear favourites, and a comfortable 5-2 aggregate win over Aldershot took them to Wembley for a showdown with Forest Green. Unfortunately, Tranmere turned in an inexplicably poor performance to lose 3-1, and the promotion dream ended in abject disappointment. Only one club has ever won more points without winning promotion (Wrexham, with 98 in 2011-12).
It made them all the more determined to secure promotion in 2017-18, but they got off to a poor start. Promotion looked a million miles away when a 1-0 home defeat by Wrexham left them in eighteenth place after twelve games. Form picked up after that, and a run of seven wins from nine games took them into the play-off spots by the turn of the year. Despite continued good form, they never looked likely to take the title, and a place in the revamped play-offs was secured with a 1-0 win at Dover. A 4-2 win over Ebbsfleet in the single-leg semi-final took them back to Wembley, and despite having Liam Ridehalgh sent off after 48 seconds, a 2-1 win over Boreham Wood carried Tranmere back to the Football League after three years away. It gave Mellon his seventh promotion, the fourth as a manager. During the summer of 2018, he was linked with the manager’s job at home town club St Mirren, but he remained at Tranmere.
The side made a reasonable start to life back in the Football League in 2018-19 and remained on the edge of the playoff race for much of the season. There was also a run to the third round of the FA Cup where they were beaten 7-0 at home by eventual Champions League finalists Spurs. Three straight defeats at the end of January seemed to have left them with too much to do, but a run of eight wins and a draw took them to within shouting distance of the top three. One win in the last seven games consigned them to the playoffs in sixth place, but a 2-1 aggregate win over Forest Green took them back to Wembley to face the season’s surprise package Newport County. With penalties looming at the end of extra time, a Connor Jennings header gave Tranmere back-to-back promotions.
Micky Mellon has a great record at Tranmere, having earned over 1.8 points per game since his arrival in October 2016. Two successive promotions will give the club confidence, although the step up to League One is significantly larger than the step from the National League. Tranmere have lost their talisman and main goalscorer in James Norwood, and finding a replacement will probably be the difference between survival and relegation. One positive is that Mellon has won promotion from League Two before, although his first season in League One with Shrewsbury was not a good one. That experience could prove vital next season, especially if the opening months do not go their way. He will be eager to keep the momentum going at Prenton Park, and will certainly know what is required; but can he find the right tools to do so?
P = Promoted; R = Relegated; SF = Lost in play-off semi-final; F = Lost in play-off final; PO = Won play-off final; D = Demoted.
Figures are league games only; cup matches and play-offs are not included.
League position shown is either the position at the end of the season or the position at the time of departure.
— Vital Lincoln City (@VitalLincoln) July 29, 2019