A DERBY is always something to relish, and the early afternoon trip to Prenton Park on Saturday is no exception.

With our season delicately poised, it takes on an added significance.

I’m not one of those people who will claim, after five games, that a game is a make-or-break six-pointer, but as Phil Parkinson said on Tuesday, the team is settling nicely and looks like it’s about to spring into a higher gear.

The sooner that happens the better, and a big performance in a derby is the perfect way to do it.

We’re on an unbeaten run of six games, but only one of those was a win. So often, that’s the sort of situation which goes downhill.

A team keeps failing to take its chances, and then the draws start to turn into defeats and you’re suddenly scrambling to get three points out of a game.

This team doesn’t work that way; typically they’re taking an opposite path.

The one consistent factor in our matches is that it feels like we should have scored more in each of them. Yet we’re second-top scorers in the division and have had the third-most shots.

There’s a sense that this side could burst into a surge of great form at any moment, and if we could do that before Paul Mullin returns, it would be a rather nice bonus.

Tranmere, meanwhile, have had a wobbly start to the season, but to be fair they have played some strong sides in their opening five league matches.

So, it’s perfectly poised between two sides desperate for a win; indeed, two sides who have each won once this season, on the same day!

I’m a little bemused by those who seem surprised that we’re taking on a tougher challenge this season.

After all, isn’t the most obvious thing about promotion that you’ll be playing better teams next season?

Indeed, there’s grounds for optimism as we’ve played well in the games we’ve not won against those better teams.

Our four draws so far include a match against higher-level opposition, which we dominated, two away games which we ought to have put to bed and won before letting the opposition in, and a freak 5-5 draw which illustrated perfectly the self-belief in the squad, especially when playing at home.

Throw in last Tuesday, when Bradford were gifted a second minute penalty, and you’ve a strong set of performances.

By the way, that was the third awful penalty decision given against us in seven matches.

And, as Parkinson pointed out after the Bradford game, referees have said they’re going to be allowing more physical contact this season!

Those penalty decisions have somehow escalated, with each call more ludicrous than the last. First, we were penalised for shirt-pulling, when it was happening between every man-marking pair.

Then, Eoghan O’Connell was punished for touching a man’s back (which I admit sounds quite sinister when I put it like that!).

Finally, to top it all off, Aaron Hayden was punished for beating his man to the ball!

What next? Will Saturday’s ref give Tranmere a penalty because Ben Foster sneezed in his front room?

Fortunately, Parkinson has carefully created a squad with the character to bounce back from adversity, and there’s a core of hard-nosed experienced characters who will be used to the sort of atmosphere they’ll encounter on Saturday.

Mark Howard, Ben Tozer, Jordan Tunnicliffe, Luke Young, Anthony Forde, James Jones and Billy Waters have all played in excess of 300 matches, and counting internationals, James McClean has played nearly 650 games.

There’s a big chunk of the squad who are closing in on that milestone too: we have a squad of quality players, but also a core of battlers who have played plenty of crunch matches, and are ready to do it again on Saturday. They must look at this as an opportunity which must be grasped.

Two of those warriors can bring up milestones on Saturday. Howard is in line to make his 325th league appearance, while Will Boyle could play in his 250th career match.

We’ve a decent record at Tranmere, with 21 wins from 64 matches. Our recent results there have been good too: we’ve lost in just one of our last six visits, winning four.

Even that defeat was the limp 2-0 loss in October 2016 which precipitated the departure of Gary Mills.

Last time we went there was a typical no-holds-barred derby between two sides targeting promotion.

Dean Keates’ team were handicapped by a red card for Sam Wedgbury (pictured), who went in late on fellow midfield terrier Jay Harris.

We showed real grit to dig in, though, taking the lead through Chris Holroyd’s deflected shot, and holding on for the win.

Now there’s an example of the character we’ll be hoping to see on Saturday.