Rochdale v Tranmere preview: Rovers facing battle of kindred spirits at Spotland
TRANMERE and Rochdale may not have met in the league for 21 years but the teams that face each other at Spotland this afternoon have much in common these days.
Both are fighting to protect their League One status while working under tight financial disciplines and modest budgets.
Rovers pulled off the job last season after putting long-serving physiotherapist Les Parry in charge of team affairs two months into the campaign. Meanwhile Rochdale secured promotion from the bottom division for the first time in 41 years last May as manager Keith Hill and his staff squeezed value out of every penny in the kitty.
Parry said: “We put ourselves in the same boat as Rochdale.
“We both cut our cloth according to our means.
“Rochdale have shown you can achieve success on a budget. They have done a fantastic job. We play them regularly at reserve team level and you get to know the staff and how they run things. They run things very well. They are well organised behind the scenes.”
After making a confident start to their long-awaited return to the third tier, notching up notable wins over Southampton and Huddersfield, Rochdale hit a slump that pushed them to the edge of the relegation zone, alongside Tranmere on 22 points from 19 games.
They had not won in five games before the freeze brought a run of postponements. Today’s game will be Rochdale’s first since December 10. Tranmere fared little better with the weather, suffering five postponement in December. They must hope memories of defeats in the last three games are also fading.
A long lay-off through December gave Rovers time to nurse some of their casualties down the recovery road, although indoor training does not generate match fitness. Rovers were able to return to work on their Raby Vale training ground only on Thursday of this week.
Parry should have experienced defender Marlon Broomes back in selection contention after a back injury while influential players such as Ian Goodison, Ian Thomas-Moore, Enoch Showunmi and John Welsh have had time to get over knocks and strains. Only two players, long-term casualty Alan Mahon and on loan full-back Liam Darville (recovering from a head injury) are ruled out altogether.
A new arrival, centre-back Mark McChrystal, is due to sign from Derry City next week but the Irishman can’t play today or in the holiday fixture against Carlisle United on Monday because his registration requires international clearance.
Midfielder Joss Labadie is available after completing a three-match suspension.
Parry said: “The lads have been working indoors most of the last three weeks and it’s a bit like cabin fever. They have been gnawing at the bars wanting to get out, so let’s hope they are hungry. Rochdale have been dealing with the same problems so it’s possible players on both sides will be a little rusty.”
Hill has told his Dale players they are now in a relegation battle – and it is one he is determined to win. He said: “It’s going to be a stern test, particularly as the squad is pretty depleted at the moment. But we’re all working hard to get things going in the right direction again. That’s the aim.
“I’ve said all along that we want to establish Rochdale as a League One club, and our first priority is to ensure we stay in the division. There will be no slacking with respect to the work we need to do to achieve that.”
Hill guided Rochdale to success with a brand of attractive football. Midfielder Brian Barry-Murphy believes the manager will pull them out of trouble without compromising his football principles.
Barry-Murphy said: “The football we play is unreal – Keith Hill is a real student of the game. We study videos of Barcelona all the time. We watch all the Spanish teams. Hilly has really opened my eyes over the last few months.
“The problem is that, although we started off like a house on fire – beating Southampton away and Huddersfield at home – we’re on this run where we’ve lost six out of seven. At every other club I’ve been at, the managers would say: right, we’re going more direct. But he says we’re going to kill teams with possession.
“I admire that about him. He says the fans have to put trust in the players, that we’re going to play a certain way and if you don’t like it, I’m not the right man for the job. He’s also brilliant at bringing through good young players.
“The problem right now is we’re not shutting out teams and we’re not taking our chances.”