If ever there could be a relegation six-pointer in early September, then Tranmere’s trip to Colchester tomorrow could be it.
After a dour start to the new campaign which has seen Ian Dawes side muster just one win in six league outings, Rovers come up against one of only three teams beneath them in the fledgling League Two table.
Colchester, similarly, have won one and lost five of their opening six league games and trail Rovers on goals scored. Defeat down in Essex could see Rovers slump back to the foot of the entire EFL, which is pretty much unforgivable – lessons that should have been learned in 2014/15 clearly have not been. But that’s one for another day.
So, what of Dawes? Well, for the pedants, the definition of a sliding doors moment is when “seemingly inconsequential moments that nonetheless alter the trajectory of future events”.
Of course, the game tomorrow is certainly not inconsequential now, but may have been considered largely that when the fixtures were announced in the summer. The fact that here we are, heading into our seventh game and with enormous pressure now on the management team is a bit mad – it comes off a series of poor results, but backed up by daft substitutions, a seeming lack of tactical awareness and some slightly silly post-match press conference comments.
Dawes stated Rovers were undone by a single moment during the 1-0 defeat to Wrexham last weekend, and while technically he may be correct, the fact is that Rovers conceded a staggering 21 shots on their own goal in that game. At least a single goal was inevitable.
Tuesday’s game at Fleetwood in the EFL Trophy represented marginal improvement in that sense – the hosts only managed 19 shots on goal, but they did win 2-0.
Dawes’ task at the JobServe Community Stadium tomorrow is made all the more difficult given doubts over centre back Tom Davies and Joe Yarney, both of whom missed the game at Fleetwood. Big striker Luke Norris also remains a doubt after he returned from injury last week only to get injured on warm-up.
That said, we expect Davies and Norris will both feature tomorrow. If our source is correct on that one, it would be vital experience and quality for Rovers in a very tough match. Davies, as captain, is needed, though his performance level – and that of fellow defender Jordan Turnbull – needs to improve significantly.
Norris is vital for how Rovers play. He offered a focal point and scored a couple of goals in his short time in the team this season. His long-term fitness, you feel, will be intrinsically linked to the success of this campaign.
If Davies or Yarney don’t make it, then expect Brad Walker at centre back, he got a much-needed 90 minutes under his belt on Tuesday. Goodness knows what will happen at left-back – new signing James Norris was hauled off after 43 minutes of his debut at Fleetwood, a pretty appalling piece of man management by Dawes. Will the youngster start tomorrow if Jake Leake isn’t fit?
There’s no doubt that Dawes is under-pressure by way of job security, and he will know it.
We’d expect to see him get another week at least after tomorrow, based off what we have been told, but another rubbish showing and/or a heavy defeat at Colchester and that may hasten any action. Rovers cannot simply continue to aimlessly limp from one game to another with next to no hope of a result.
A positive result tomorrow will keep him in the job for at least another seven days, but patience if wearing thin. While the blame will rightly point to Dawes, it’s also time for the players to show some professionalism, courage and bravery, to take ownership of their own performance at very least and stop the rot.
See you in Essex.