TRANMERE seek to relocate the formula for upsetting League One’s big hitters when they take on Huddersfield Town at Prenton Park this afternoon.
Bringing down the top teams was something of a speciality for Les Parry’s team last season when two of the promoted sides, Peterborough United and Southampton, were beaten and champions Brighton held to a draw.
Rovers have not been able to repeat that form so far, taking just a point from home meetings with top six teams Sheffield Wednesday, MK Dons and Sheffield United.
Parry puts the size of this afternoon’s task into perspective when he says: “Huddersfield are probably the best side in our division on their day, so it is going to be a difficult game.”
But he insists: “It is a great challenge for us.”
The challenge is relished in the dressing room according to skipper John Welsh. He said: “This could be the perfect game for us. No one is expecting us to get anything from it. A couple of times last season, big teams came to Prenton Park expecting to roll us over and we did a job on them.”
Tranmere’s job this afternoon includes the task of muzzling 28-goal marksman Jordan Rhodes, who scored five times on his last away outing at Wycombe Wanderers a fortnight ago and notched the winner in the Terriers’ 3-2 home win over Brentford last Saturday.
Huddersfield, backed by the wealth of chairman/owner Dean Hoyle, have been batting away big-money enquiries for the 21-year-old Scotland international, who is central to their ambitions of gaining promotion to the Championship.
So Tranmere’s defenders can’t expect to be spared their ordeal by fire.
Welsh said: “We are all aware of how many goals Jordan Rhodes has scored. We will try to do our homework on him and we will just have to defend as best we can.
“Hopefully he will have a bad day at the office and won’t get on the scoresheet.”
It is a symptom of Tranmere’s frustrations at the other end of the pitch that the output of goals for the entire team exactly matches Rhodes’ individual haul of 28.
The lack of firepower has a lot to do with a slump in results over the last three months, with Tranmere taking six points from the last 36 at stake and losing many games by the odd goal.
Welsh said: “Our need to score more goals is well documented. We are working hard and playing some good stuff at times. No one is rolling us over. We seem to be doing well in games without making it count.”
Welsh’s midfield partner Robbie Weir reckons Tranmere will turn a corner if only they can convert more of the opportunities they are carving out. He said: “It is frustrating that we are creating a lot of chances and not enough of them are going in for us.
“I don’t think we are getting the results we deserve. On paper I think we’re good enough to be a top half team.”
Parry has attempted to remedy the problem by adding loan players to his depleted creative and attacking options.
Ryan Brunt, an 18-year-old striker from Stoke City was signed on loan this week and last week young midfielders James Wallace (from Everton) and Lateef Elford Alliyu (from West Bromwich Albion) were recruited on a temporary basis.
Parry hopes to sign a front man of experience from a Championship club before the close of the January transfer window on Tuesday.
Prenton Park should enjoy one of its best attendances of the season with the visitors’ allocation of just under 2000 tickets for the Cowsheds Stand sold out.
Parry said: “Huddersfield’s fans will try to make it a home game for them and I’m sure our fans won’t let them do that. It will be a great atmosphere and a highly charged game.”
Tranmere will once again close the town end of the Main Stand, where a section of the roof was damaged in high winds at the turn of the year.
Rovers will be unable to call on long-term casualties Enoch Showunmi, Andy Robinson, David Raven and Owain Fon Williams.
On-loan goalkeeper Paul Rachubka makes a final appearance of his second month on loan from Leeds United. With Fon Williams due to play his first comeback game in the reserves against Manchester City on Monday, Parry has to decide whether to make the expensive outlay of keeping Rachubka at Prenton Park for another month.
Huddersfield, who have lost only once in a way games this season, could well have the largest budget for players in the division and can afford to keep individuals as talented as former Tranmere defender Antony Kay on the sidelines.
But Parry has nothing but admiration for the job done by Terriers manager Lee Clark.
He said: “It is difficult to spend and get it right. When a manager spends he is putting his head on the chopping block. I don’t just mean transfer fees but paying big wages as well.
“I think Lee’s record stands for itself.”