AN encounter with 2008 FA Cup winners Portsmouth should look like one of the more daunting fixtures in the Prenton Park calendar.
Instead, Tranmere manager Ronnie Moore stresses to his players that they should not take any comfort from Pompey’s recent form and lowly position in the League One table.
Portsmouth, a Premier League club as recently as 2010, have been in freefall ever since. They are the victims of financial folly on a massive scale and became rudderless through a succession of short-lived takeovers and ownership regimes that did not deliver the stability the supporters crave. Now they are reduced to paying players on a month to month basis.
Guy Whittingham, once a goalscoring hero of Fratton Park, took over as caretaker manager in mid-October after Michael Appleton left to join Blackpool. A draw at Coventry City on the last outing a fortnight ago halted a run of seven straight defeats.
There is reason to hope however, that some of the uncertainty about the club’s future might be resolved soon.
A campaign by Portsmouth Supporters Trust to secure control of Fratton Park from the Far East based Portpin Group, and so clear the way for a fans’ takeover of the club, is due to reach the High Court next week, although the Trust still hope to persuade Portpin to settle out of court.
Should a settlement be reached, then Moore believes Portsmouth may well begin to punch their weight on the field.
Moore said: “Portsmouth have some good players. You only have to look at the names on the team sheet. I think the fact they have been struggling for results is down to no-one really knowing what is happening with the future of the club.
“Everyone is on month-to-month terms and it’s not easy to run a side in those circumstances. To feel settled, players like to know the money is coming in.”
Moore added: “Look at the individuals on their team. They have Nathaniel Mendez-Lang on loan. We tried to get him and could not afford him – yet he has been in and out of Portsmouth’s team. Izale McLeod gets goals wherever he goes and Paul Benson is a danger.
“Guy Whittingham has gone in as caretaker and wants the job. It is an opportunity to get himself established. He was a great player and a great goalscorer for them.
“Portsmouth got a great result at Coventry last time out. They may not be far away from stabilising and that makes it a dangerous game for us. Nothing but our best will be good enough.”
If Portsmouth are the classic example of what can happen to a club that overreaches itself in the pursuit of success, then Tranmere, under the ownership of Peter Johnson over the last 25 years, look like a model of prudence.
Moore said: “You only have to look at how the chairman does things here. He does it right, keeps the ship stable and gets the right people in place.
“We have shown what you can do on a small budget. It takes a lot of effort, dedication, will to win and good players and we have not spent money we could not afford.
“When you look at some of the money that has been paid out by Portsmouth over recent years it’s ridiculous. On the playing side someone is always left to try and sort it out and at this present time it is down to Guy Whittingham.
“I think once things are sorted out on the financial side, you will see Portsmouth starting to move up the table.”
Not that Tranmere are sailing along at the top of the division without problems of their own.
Moore’s small squad has been hit hard by injuries. This week skipper James Wallace joined Jean-Louis Akpa Akpro and Abdulai Bell-Baggie on the long-term casualty list and centre back Ben Gibson is unlikely to play today because of a strain.
Moore concedes he may have to adjust the passing style that has been driving Tranmere’s results over the last four months onto more pragmatic lines.
He said: “We have lost four of our big hitters. If you take four of the best players out of the teams at Manchester United or Liverpool, it becomes very difficult and it’s the same for us. That’s no disrespect to the other players at your club.
“It is going to be difficult to try and play the way we’ve played for most of the season.
“We will have to change a little bit in how we approach things. If you want to build from the back you have to have players who can get on the ball and spray passes.
“We are a little bit short and that is what happens when you have a small squad.”
Ash Taylor is likely to return to the heart of the defence if Gibson is unable to play while the experienced Danny Harrison can expect to partner Liam Palmer in central midfield in Wallace’s absence.
Jake Cassidy, returning to the side after missing the FA Cup tie against Chesterfield last week, will renew the striking partnership he started with loanee Michael O’Halloran in the 1-1 draw at Stevenage and fortnight ago.