Tranmere manager Ronnie Moore refuses to use the ‘p’ word
IT IS a little early in the season to be referring to Tranmere’s fixture at Crawley Town today as a promotion battle, even when the visitors are the League One leaders and the hosts occupy fourth place in the table.
Everyone at Prenton Park is trying to talk carefully about Rovers’ unbeaten start to the season while at the same time enjoying the attention that comes when the team sits at the top of the division after seven games.
Manager Ronnie Moore insists the words ‘promotion’ and ‘play-offs’ don’t get an airing in the dressing room. But he does like to view Tranmere’s haul of 17 points in terms of another P word – platform.
Rovers are already one third of the way down the road to meeting the season’s first objective of 50 points - the benchmark for securing League One status for the following season.
The sooner Rovers pass the half-century, the more likely you are to hear those other P words.
Moore said: “We are building ourselves a platform. If you are scoring goals and not conceding, then it is going to put a team where we are now.
“How long we can stay there is down to good fortune and we have had a little bit of that. It is also down to being organised, doing things in the right way and having a solid squad of players.”
The good fortune to which Moore refers means more than just getting the kind of breaks they enjoyed in the home wins over Coventry City (2-0) and Bury (3-0) over the last week.
It also means the good fortune of keeping influential players free of injury. Tranmere can’t afford a squad with the kind of strength in depth enjoyed by many of the bigger spenders chasing their tails.
Even so, Moore says he would back his first XI against anyone in the division just now.
He said: “I know this team is competitive. On our day, when everyone clicks, then there won’t be a side at this level who will beat us.
“It is when you get the indifferent days, like we had in the last two home games, that you have to be able to grind out results. We did that against Coventry and Bury. It’s a sign of a good team if you can do it regularly.
“Maybe we were a bit fortunate that we were at home in those two games. If we had been away, it might have been a different story for us.”
Tranmere’s away form last season was so fragile – 15 defeats in 23 games on the road – that Moore made improving it a priority for this campaign.
Draws at Crewe Alexandra and Shrewsbury to follow a win at Carlisle United represents a promising start. Crawley, big spenders with the momentum of two promotions behind them, look like a difficult proposition.
The Sussex club headhunted Richie Barker, once a player under Moore’s guidance at Rotherham, to become their new manager five days before the start of the season. Results so far have been promising.
Moore said: “If we could keep another clean sheet it would certainly be pleasing to me. This will be another tough game. I keep on saying there are no easy ones in this division.
“Richie Barker was always a good talker as a player and he thinks a lot about the game.
“When you’re a manager you don’t look at your players and say this one or that one could be a manager one day. But when they become managers, you think back and remember the signs were there. Richie was one who was always into coaching.”
Barker is working alongside Crawley’s director of football Steve Coppell. The former England winger was also, briefly, a member of the same Tranmere team as Moore during the 1970s, prior to a £60,000 move to Manchester United.
Crawley’s lineup is likely to include Mike Jones, a winger you came through the youth ranks at Tranmere.
“Mike really blossomed as a player as he got older,” Moore said.
Barker said: “I played for Ronnie Moore for more than four years and that was the longest I have been under one manager throughout my career. He was good for me. He plucked me out of League Two and we ended up in the Championship.
“He’s extremely organised. When I was at Rotherham we knew as a group exactly what we needed to do. He had a strong work ethic and would not accept people just turning up and going through the motions.”
Barker added: “When he came in at Tranmere last season, they won four out of five and their form towards the end of the season would have put them in the promotion picture had it not been for the first 30 odd games. They are certainly an established League One club and that is what we need to be.”
Barker said he is pleased with his side’s start in League One. He said: “If you had said after seven games that we would be in the top four, I would have taken that.
“We have to enjoy it while we can and we are looking to maintain a good run of form.”
Tranmere report no injury problems following the midweek encounter with Bury and are likely to be unchanged. Crawley’s Shaun Cooper is unlikely to be available after limping off with a groin injury during the 1-1 draw at Colchester on Tuesday.