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Thursday, August 27, 2009

Tranmere Rovers Preview

Four games, four wins and top of the League, not bad for two weeks work although with equal goal difference between us and Leeds its just our one more goal scored, we have got 9 they have 8, that has got us there.
A few weeks back I highlighted Leeds as the biggest team in League One and with Simon Grayson starting his first full season at Elland Rd looks like they will be our biggest threat. In their 4 games they've beaten two of our teams, Wycombe and Walsall, as well as Exeter (10th) and Tranmere (21st). So at the moment there's nothing to choose between us. This weekend they face a difficult away game at Colchester but they came through a tough game against Watford in the League Cup on Tuesday, winning 2-1.
So who's next for the Addicks? Well, at the beginning of the season Parky would probably have earmarked the fifth game, away at Prenton Park against Tranmere Rovers, as our toughest test in August. That's due to Rovers' home form last season, where with 15 victories ( only Leeds won more at home) and only 3 defeats at Prenton Park they had one of the best home records in League One.
And that home form nearly took them into the Play-Offs. Tranmere finished 7th last season just 2 points away from 6th placed Scunthorpe and could have done better because they were just 2 minutes away from beating Scunthorpe 1-0 at Glanford Park on the last day of the season. An 88th minute equaliser got the point that the Iron needed to secure their 6th place and eventual promotion in the Play-Off final.
That draw, snacked from the jaws of victory, spelled the end for manager Ronnie Moore and the new man is none other than another ex-Addick John Barnes, fresh from his success with Jamaica, who finished his playing career at Charlton and played 12 times for us in our Premiership relegation season of 1998/99 although at the time it didn't make a lot of sense and Curbs only started him twice.
Anyway, as already mentioned, the season hasn't started too well for Barnes and Rovers currently languish down there in the relegation zone in 21st place with just 3 points out of 12 from a home 4-2 victory over the Gills and it has to be said, don't really look the force that they did last year. And their good home form seems to have deserted them, as last week they lost at home for the first time since October to MK Dons 1-0 and followed that by losing away at the weekend to Leeds 3-0.
No manager, or team, likes to lose three in a row but thats exactly what Tranmere did on Tuesday by losing out 1-0 at home to Bolton in the League Cup. Barnes took the game very seriously and fielded nine of his regular team but suffered as Bolton scored for the first time this season. And Tranmere's tough season continues with the visit of the league leaders.
Tranmere lost 2-0 at Yeovil on day one of the season and then beat the Gills 4-2 at home before surprisingly losing 1-0 to MK Dons, their first home defeat in 18 league games since they lost to Millwall in October. They have also disposed of League Two Grimsby 4-0 at home in the first round of the League cup.

Whats Their Secret?
Back in 1995 Alan Hansen famously declared that "You can't win with kids," but this is clearly not something that John Barnes believes in. His defence in particular is very young with the keeper a 21 year old loanee from West Brom, Luke Daniels, while fullbacks are the on-loan ( from Man City) 20 year old Shaleum Logan and 18 year old Aaron Cresswell and in central defence is the 18 year old Gavin Gunning. But Barnes does mix age with youth and adding experience to the defence is a Jamaican legend, the 36 year old Ian Goodison with no less than 113 international caps to his name. Should be interesting to see how he copes with fellow Jamaican Deon Burton with only 59 caps to his name, but 4 years younger.

Who Are Yeh?
There's very few players in League One that have played at Madrid's Bernabeu but number 10 Alan Mahon is one of them when he appeared there in 2000 as a member of Sporting Lisbon's Champions League team, they lost 4-0 and Mahon played the first half. Now 31 he's also experienced Premier football with both Blackburn and Wigan as well as playing for the Republic of Ireland twice and is another old hand in the team amongst all those youngsters.

Another player with Premiership experience is 25 year old number 11 John Welsh. Ex-Liverpool he's also played in Europe and has also captained the England U-20's but after injuries now finds himself at Tranmere, a club he joined in the summer.

Like ourselves, Tranmere have a settled side and have used only 16 players so far. Another of the regulars are right winger Chris Shuker and new signing ex-Luton and Wednesday midfielder 32 year old Paul McLaren.

After his eleven goals last season, this years top scorer - and captain - is their number nine Ian Thomas-Moore with 3 goals so far. The son of former manager Ronnie, he changed his name from his more well known Ian Moore (just to fool the defenders maybe, or maybe he's a fan of Paul Scofield) when he got married and at 32 has previously been the subject of two million pound transfers, a bit of a rarity at this level. Strangely, he was the only regular first-teamer to be left out of the squad for the League Cup against Bolton.

And waiting in the wings is new signing and ex-Bolton/Middlesbrough/England international 30 year old Michael Ricketts, who came on for the second half against Leeds to play for his eleventh club. And it would be no surprise if Barnes choose, in front of a home crowd, a willingness to take the game to the Addicks by starting both of his experienced strikers, Thomas-Moore and Ricketts, together for the first time. With all due respect to the Leeds duo of Beckford and Becchio these two form probably the most high profile attack in League One. So a 62 year old forward line against a central defence of 65 years - such be quite a tussle.

Honours in all League games are even with 6 wins apiece with a wapping 10 draws but we have only won once on our 11 League trips to Prenton Park and that was back on Easter Monday in April 1975. A goal by Killer in the 19th minute gave us a 1-0 victory and kept us on course for promotion by getting an eventual 3rd place, no Play-Offs then.
Who's Saying What
Despite it being their 3rd defeat in a row, Tranmere boss John Barnes remained upbeat after the Tuesdays 1-0 League Cup defeat at home to Bolton and believes his side will become more confident as a result of their showing. He said: "I was pleased with the performance and not just the performance but the attitude and commitment of the players. Tonight they really put a shift in against a strong Bolton side and we stood up to them."
The Team
After 4 games unchanged getting us 4 victories, and only 15 players used, it would be a surprise if Parky were to tamper with the line-up and that would have been a fair assumption before Scott Wagstaff came on for Lloyd Sam and delivered a peach of a goal in just 4 minutes. But then again Parky has already said that Scott's been pushed too early last season and with that in mind he'll be content to let him play the subs role for a bit longer.
But its maybe a bit worrying that there's only really one player pushing the starting eleven for a place, although Matt Spring has been a bit unlucky so far not to get a game. Parky has said that he wants more players in the building and looking at central defensive cover you can see why, although a 6-2 win by the reserves over Palarse on Tuesday may not help his argument, although the names of those two mystery trialists has still not been disclosed.
Elliot; Richardson, Dailly, Llera, Youga; Sam, Semedo, Racon, Shelvey, Bailey; Burton.
Before the Dons came calling, the last time Tranmere lost at home was back in October but they made a bit of a habit of it back then by doing it three times in a row and after two consecutive home defeats now to MK Dons and Bolton the alarm bells will be ringing at Prenton Park and Parky will be keen to inflict a third loss. But even with the advantage as outlined by Ketts of a Cup free week, we surely can't carry on winning and I expect Tranmere to put in extra effort on their home ground to avoid an overall fourth defeat in a row so a draw looks the most likely result.

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