A few short weeks ago, Tranmere fans were left purring after watching their team smash play-off chasers Swindon Town with ease at Prenton Park. However, just one point in the five games since have put Rovers in freefall.
This weekend saw the bad form continue. A 3-2 reverse at Northampton didn’t tell the full story.
Tranmere were out-fought, out-thought and outclassed as they rolled over to allow Northampton to build a 3-0 lead. Despite a late flourish, there was no hiding the ineptitude of Rovers’ performance.
Just like at Newport seven days earlier, Tranmere were weak. Defensively shambolic and lacking any leadership or cohesion. For all the big fist-pumps, flicks and tricks when things are going well, nobody on the field stands up to be counted when the going gets tough.
The sad thing is, some brilliant form heading into Christmas is going to be rendered pointless if Tranmere don’t dig-in and find a way of fighting back into some sort of form and do it quickly.
It’s hard to put your finger on what the problem is because there are so many of them. From team selection to tactics, from goalkeeper to forwards, Tranmere are well off it.
Earlier in the campaign, Rovers were lauded for their solid defensive record. It’s only right that they now should be questioned on it. Despite having 3 towering centre backs to pick from, Tranmere are being bullied and beaten on set pieces at both ends of the pitch every week.
We don’t look a threat when we have our own set pieces, and as for trying to defend them, it’s painful to watch.
It’s no better from the back four/five when in possession either. Aimless long balls into the channel despite having no physical threat at all upfront. Possession is conceded all too easily and we’re back under pressure straight away.
The frontline is constantly rotated with minimal impact. January signing Kane Hemmings is fighting for scraps from those long balls – he hasn’t got a chance.
As we head into an enormous game against Mansfield on Friday night, Micky Mellon needs to focus on getting Rovers firing moving forwards. Glatzel, now fit, will hopefully start with Hemmings. The Liverpool starlet is the one player who looks to be able to drag Tranmere up the pitch with intelligent runs and hold-up play.
It’s also time for Micky to find a regular starting place for Josh McPake. The club fought hard to bring the Rangers man in on loan in January and he’s barely featured. He started at Northampton and was one of the few positives.
He’s strong, good on the ball and happy to try and make things happen. Yes, he’s frustrating at times, most players of that type are, but at least he will have a go at getting the ball down and making something happen. We need more of that.
You have to feel that Rovers now need to look at their strongest options going forward and how to accommodate them to give us a chance of winning games. Hemmings, Glatzel, Hawkes, Morris and McPake need to feature heavily for the remaining games (and not at wing back!).
In goal, do questions need to be asked of Doohan and a return for Joe Murphy considered? We need some experience and leadership in defensive situations, and with Clarke and colleagues not offering it, perhaps Murphy needs to come in and do it?
Above all else, everyone in that first team needs to find it within themselves to pull each other out of this wretched run of form before it’s too late.
As crazy as it seems for a team so badly out of form, with back-to-back home games next and several games against promotion rivals still to come, it’s still pretty much in Tranmere’s hands to grab a top three berth.
It’s a race against time for Rovers to get out of this slump in time to play a part in the end-of-season shake-up. If they don’t, then months of hard work will have been thrown away.
Here’s hoping a Friday night under the lights will be the catalyst, as it has been so many times before.