When does a poor start become a bad season?


Defeat for Tranmere at Aldershot on Saturday, in isolation, is not a horrific result. However, as the season approaches being three months old and the gap to the play-offs continues to widen, it’s a time for real concern.

Make no mistake about it, Rovers are in trouble.

Not so much from a danger of relegation, though it’s not out of the question, but moreso from spending yet another season in the murky depths of non-league football. For all of the hope we had for the new campaign following last season’s 95-point haul, things are playing out worse than we could have imagined.

As with anything that goes unexpectedly badly in life, you can nearly always trace it back to several incidents or circumstances, rather than just one. And Tranmere’s on-field problems are no different.

Transfer policy

An area of real concern throughout the summer was the club’s transfer policy. Actually, we shouldn’t use the word ‘policy’ as we don’t know what that is, or if it exists, but from the incomings that did materialise, massive gaps were left.

Two departures that happened over the summer simply had to be replaced. We discussed in a recent article about the problems that not replacing Lee Vaughan created, but we also need to look at the lack of pace in the backline following Michael Ihiekwe’s departure.

Ihiekwe was ‘replaced’ by experienced defender Lee McEveley, but from what we have seen so far, he has seen his better days and now struggles both physically and with pace and mobility. He is still a decent defender, but he’s essentially deployed alongside two with similar characteristics – McNulty and Sutton.

Rovers still have an excellent defensive record this season, but as we’ve said before, is the lack of pace and loss of a fast and attacking right full-back detracting from Tranmere’s attacking play? I believe so.

Of that attacking play, Cole Stockton was the big loss over the summer for Tranmere. For years, so many Rovers fans didn’t rate Stockton, yet once Mellon brought the forward back from his loan at Morecambe last season, he was excellent up front alongside Norwood and Connor Jennings.

The striking department is an area Tranmere brought in players for – I’m deliberately not using the word “strengthened”. George Waring and James Alabi both came in, both unbelievably are out on loan already. While neither have looked up to the job, the unbelievable element is that both were brought in, given little opportunity and are now playing elsewhere.

Alabi did well on his debut for Dover by all accounts, and typically Waring scored in an outstanding debut performance for Halifax. Perhaps both are good enough, but our team set-up or coaching is not?

Either way, we have a squad that is unbalanced, devoid of confidence and severely lacking pace and width, with little done to resolve any of it with the exception of Dylan Mottley-Henry’s arrival on loan.

Pre-season fixture list

Something else you cannot help but come back to is Tranmere’s lack of pre-season games. While we are now several months in to the season and the players have had more than enough time to play and train together, an already thin pre-season fixture list was further depleted by cancellation/postponement of games against Ashton United and Bury.

We understand a behind-closed-doors match was hastily arranged in light of the Bury postponement, but even so, Rovers only played two games that you’d consider competitive. One against a Liverpool first team, and the other against a Fleetwood reserve and youth team. Two extremes, and two matches in which the term ‘competitive’ is subjective.

Where next?

On the pitch, Tranmere travel to Hartlepool on Tuesday night for what is sure to be another tough game. Fresh from relegation to non-league themselves, Pools have found life tough this season – although sit one place and three points better off than Rovers. This will be followed by what can already be described as a much-win at home to Halifax on Saturday.

Tranmere now need to begin making some statements of intent for the remainder of the campaign. If moving Alabi and Waring out was a bid to free up funds for further enforcements, we need to see them arrive in the coming days and be ready to make an impact.

Surely, at least one winger must be a priority, and with two forwards moving out and Tranmere’s goalscoring problems continuing, a striker is probably needed as well – which seems crazy to say just days after having six on our books.

Let’s hope Micky can find a way to take six points, or at four at the very least, from the two upcoming fixtures, otherwise regardless of what happens in the FA Cup, it could be an incredibly long and miserable winter.

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