RONNIE MOORE wants his young Tranmere side to be brave enough to keep faith with the passing game, even when they are getting out-muscled by bigger, stronger opponents.
Rovers lead the League One table after almost a third of the campaign on the strength of developing a pass and move style of football, allied to pace going forward, that many opponents have struggled to cope with.
Manager Moore reckoned Tranmere put aside some of those principles during a 1-1 draw with Preston North End at Prenton Park last weekend, which he rated the team’s worst performance of the season.
“That was as bad as we have been,” Moore said. “Preston sort of bullied as. They were bigger, stronger and in the end we started to play too many long balls.
“All season we have been trying to pass and play and Preston were a team we needed to pass and play against. They have a good squad of players, a good budget to work with and they will expect to be in the top six. On Saturday’s performance they won’t be too far off it. We salvaged a point from a game we really should not have got anything out of.”
Moore added: “In a situation like that it’s about us being brave and staying on the ball. Preston were good at pressing us and trying to stop us playing but we should have stuck with it.
“We did not keep the ball well. We have good footballers with good ability who are capable of keeping the ball. We have to keep faith with the way we’ve been playing.”
The draw against Preston, secured by an 85th minute equaliser from striker Jake Cassidy, halted a sequence of consecutive defeats, to Bournemouth and Doncaster, that had checked Tranmere’s runaway progress over the first two months of the season.
Even so, Rovers can take a break from League One action this week holding pole position in the promotion race on one of the lowest budgets in the division.
Moore reckons his team’s performance over the first 15 games is remarkable. He went on: “One or two people might be upset that we lost a couple of games but let’s be realistic. If people can’t be happy with the situation we are in at the moment, then for me they are not really Tranmere supporters.
“What we have done as a group – as players and staff – in being at the top of the league is fantastic. Staying there is going to be the hardest job.
“We’ve got to this position through hard work and through playing some good, attractive football. It is hard to stay at that level through 40 odd games, so you’re going to get some ups and downs. Hopefully we have put one or two little downs behind us now and we can get back to winning ways.”
Moore says he is confident there is better to come from Nathan Eccleston, the former Liverpool striker who joined Tranmere on a month’s loan from Blackpool last week.
The 21-year-old made only one Championship appearance for Blackpool this season prior to making his Tranmere debut against Preston.
Moore said: “I thought Nathan looked short of games but he is going to be a threat once he is match fit. You can’t be with Liverpool and not be a player. Saturday was just the staleness of him not being involved in first-team football for a while.
“Nathan has pace and we need that. I don’t think anyone knows his best position yet. He can play wide left, wide right or down the middle. He could be a good player to complement Jake Cassidy for us.”
Eccleston, signed by Liverpool from Bury as a 15-year-old, made five senior appearances during his time at Anfield. He also played close to 40 games on loan at Huddersfield, Charlton and Rochdale between January 2010 and November 2011. Ecclestone made the move to Blackpool in the summer.
He may well get another opportunity to impress when Tranmere take on Conference National club Braintree Town in the FA Cup on Sunday. The first-round tie at Cressing Road is being televised live by ITV (kick-off 12.30pm).
Jake Jervis, another loan striker, is unavailable for the Braintree game because parent club Birmingham City have refused him permission to play in the FA Cup.
Moore is hopeful Andy Robinson will be available for selection at the weekend after missing the Preston game with a hamstring injury.