With many predicting Tranmere to spend another season fighting off relegation at the start season, Joe Danson (@Didge2) looks back on a season of surprise for the Rovers, and gives us his thoughts on the future for the Birkenhead club.
So how do you rate the season so far?
Well, I think it is fair to say it has been quite a shock. There aren’t many Tranmere fans who would have predicted back in the summer that after two thirds of the season, we would still have been top of the league. Since we went top after the second game, everyone has been waiting for us to start falling down the league, but it is only in the last 10 days or so that we have dropped out of the automatic promotion positions for the first time. We also finally managed to get a bit of a cup run going this year, with a visit to Derby in the 3rd round of the FA Cup, although unfortunately it didn’t quite go to plan when lost 5 nil. It was our second 5 nil defeat of the season, the previous one coming at the hands of fellow promotion hunters Swindon. But unlike the first time, where we bounced back and won 3 on the trot, we have struggled to come back into form, winning only twice in the following 6 games. Overall, the quality of the league has not been as strong this season as previous years, and we have been too able to take advantage of that. Other teams such as Sheffield United who would have fancied a strong season after last year’s playoff heartache will be kicking themselves for not doing the same.
What are your hopes for the rest of the season?
We have been on a poor run of form, and the next couple of weeks will make or break our season with tough games against Swindon and Yeovil coming up. When I was watching us earlier in the season, we were enjoying our football, and playing without fear, but it seems in the last few weeks we had started to count down the games, and think of what could happen which has maybe added a little pressure. Jake Cassidy, our main goal scorer earlier in the season, returned to Wolves after his loan period came to an end. Players like Jean-Louis Akpa Akpro and James Wallace have come back into the team after long injuries, although have struggled to stay fit, and we look like we are struggling to find that spark which Cassidy could provide up front, as well looking nervous at the back. The once reliable Owen Fon Williams, who was in with a shout of making his Wales debut earlier in the season, has started making more errors, as was highlighted on Friday in the 2-0 defeat to Shrewsbury when the Sky cameras visited Prenton Park for the second time this season. Earlier on in the season we had one of the best goal differences in the entire football league, but now we are struggling to find goals which is a major concern.
Do you think you have had to rely too heavily on loan players this season?
We have one of the smallest budgets in the league, and one of the smallest squads. When you start to pick up injuries and suspensions you are instantly stretched and struggle to cover key positions. Ronnie Moore has, as always, done a fantastic job in the loan market, with Jake Cassidy doing a great job in the first half of the season and Liam Palmer also having some good performances when he was allowed to return after signing a new contract with Sheffield Wednesday in January. But, as we saw when Cassidy did not return in the new year, you are at the mercy of other clubs. Having said that, you wouldn’t be surprised if RM picked up a decent striker for the last 10 games or so to push us on.
Do you hope this season’s success so far will persuade the Chairman into investing a bit more into the squad?
It is no secret that the Chairman has been keen to sell the club for a while, even putting it up on eBay a few years ago. But with no real investors or buyers coming forward, he has been forced to stay put. Funds have been hard to come by, with the average gate dropping in recent seasons, but hopefully with this season’s strong performance, and a run at promotion, we will see a bit more funding being put forward and we can go on and prove that this year has been no fluke. After all, it is only 2 years since we finished 7th missing out on the playoffs by a matter of seconds on the final day.
If you do achieve promotion what are your hopes for next season?
Let’s be honest, it would be a massive challenge to stay up. As everyone knows, there are a lot of big clubs in the league, with the vast majority having played in the premier league recently, so as cliché as it sounds we are under no illusions that there will be some tough games to come. But, Ronnie Moore has always had an eye for a bargain, and I would hope with an increase in gates, maybe some more TV money we would be able to put a decent team together. It would at least offer up some more London grounds to visit which would be good!