AARON CRESSWELL reckons he cannot afford to allow his impressive pre-season form to dip if he wants to hold on to a first-team spot with Tranmere.
The 20-year-old from Liverpool has been one of the successes of a difficult first month of the campaign atŠPrenton Park, a solid and consistent performer in the left-back spot.
Cresswell was the name on every Tranmere fan’s lips last weekend when his brilliant left-footed free-kick earned Les Parry’s team a late equaliser at Dagenham and Redbridge.
But he knows he faces stiff competition for this position from Zoumana Bakayogo, who kept him out of the side for much of last season.
Cresswell said: “I would like to think I’m doing okay but I have to keep working hard to stay in the team here. Hopefully I can do well enough to show the gaffer that I deserve my place.”
Cresswell, a graduate from Tranmere’s youth development set-up, made his first significant breakthrough into first-team football at the start of last season, playing 14 games under the management of John Barnes.
But like many youngsters new to senior football, Cresswell found it difficult to maintain his form in a side that struggled under the former Liverpool and England winger.
Barnes signed Bakayogo to provide an alternative for the left-back spot. But by the time the Frenchman had obtained international clearance to play, Barnes had been sacked and Parry was in charge of first-team affairs at Prenton Park.
It was left to the then physiotherapist to take Cresswell out of the firing line. Bakayogo’s impressive form thereafter offered Cresswell few opportunities to get back in.
However, the situation was reversed this summer. While Bakayogo delayed over accepting the offer of a new contract with Tranmere, Cresswell seized the opportunity to stake a claim on the left-back spot with a string of excellent performances in the pre-season games.
A private chat with Parry before the start of the pre-season training programme also gave Cresswell a stimulus.
Cresswell said: “Les took me to one side during the summer, said he did not know if Zoum would be signing and told me I should try to fight for my place.
“I thought I did okay in pre-season and since then I have been taking every game as it comes. I feel I have done all right so far.”
Cresswell added: “Last season wasn’t so good. I did not play that much after the first couple of months. Then Zoum came in, played well and kept his place. There isn’t much you can say when that happens. As a young lad you have to get your head down, work hard and hopefully get that little break.”
Meanwhile, Parry faces a double dilemma over the role of Ian Thomas-Moore now that the front man’s future at Prenton Park looks to be settled.
The long-running saga over Rotherham United’s attempts to prise Thomas-Moore away from Prenton Park cost the 33-year-old the team captaincy last month.
As the close of the summer transfer window this week put an end to the uncertainty, Thomas-Moore was sitting out a second match in four days with a knee injury.
Now a calf injury to John Welsh will force Parry to make another decision on the captaincy while the encouraging form of the young strikers could make it difficult for Thomas-Moore to reclaim a starting place in the side when he’s fit.
Parry said: “When the transfer deadline passed, the issue of Ian Thomas-Moore leaving us was dead. Today we can look forward to having Ian for the rest of the season. Ian being the type of person he is, he will just get on with it.
“But it gives me a selection dilemma because the lads up front did particularly well on Tuesday. We will look at that.”
Parry was heartened by the efforts of young front man Adam McGurk, Lucas Akins, Klad Brown and new signing Sam Morrow in the Johnstones Paint Trophy exit to Accrington Stanley on Tuesday night.
Welsh, who took over the captaincy after Parry said Thomas-Moore had become distracted by the transfer saga, suffered a knock on Tuesday that could keep him out of action for several weeks. So Rovers will be looking for a new captain when they take on Peterborough United in a League One encounter at Prenton Park on Saturday.