TRANMERE’S hopes of easing key players James Wallace and Jean-Louis Akpa Akpro back into the front line of their promotion challenge this week have been put on hold.
Manager Ronnie Moore admits the influential pair have not made the progress in comebacks from long-term injuries the League One leaders were expecting.
“We were hoping Akpa Akpro and Wallace would be back for this Saturday’s game against Crawley Town but now that looks like it won’t happen,” said Moore. “It is a setback for us because we thought Wallace would be back a lot sooner.”
Midfielder Wallace has not played since he suffered medial ligament injury in an FA Cup tie against Chesterfield at the beginning of December. Striker Akpa Akpro damaged his metatarsal in the win at Notts County in early October.
Moore said: “We are looking at the game at Coventry City (rearranged for Wednesday, January 16) for Wallace but even that one now it is doubtful. He’s a quick healer but the injury has not responded to treatment in the way we wanted.
“We would rather not force him, so he comes back for one game and then perhaps misses the rest of the season. We have to make sure he is right when he comes back.”
Moore added: “It is the same with Akpa Akpro. You can’t rush a metatarsal injury. If you force him to do running too early, the metatarsal can go again and then he is out for another three to five weeks. We have to go on the safety line.”
It is now most likely that winger Abdulai Bell-Baggie will be the first of Tranmere’s long-term casualties to return to action.
Bell-Baggie, who has been sidelined by a thigh injury since November, returned to regular training this week, although Moore did not plan to play the 20-year-old in a reserve team fixture against Bury on Tuesday.
So Tranmere will move deeper into a challenging month of fixtures before the squad edges back towards full strength.
Rovers were due to complete the formalities this week of extending the loans of striker Michael O’Halloran (from Bolton Wanderers) and centre back Donervorn Daniels (from West Bromwich Albion) into a second month.
Meanwhile Moore is hoping to recruit a new striker on loan to replace leading marksman Jake Cassidy, who returned to Wolverhampton Wanderers last week.
The 19-year-old Cassidy saw action as a substitute in Wolves’ FA Cup defeat at Luton Town, a result that cost manager Stale Solbakken his job.
The West Midlands club moved quickly to replace Solbakken with Dean Saunders, who left his post with League One’s second placed club Doncaster to take on the job at Molineux.
The change of management puts a question mark over whether Wolves will now be prepared to make a quick decision on whether they are prepared to release Cassidy for a second loan spell with Tranmere.
Moore said: “We don’t know what the Cassidy situation is going to be now. I will speak to Dean Saunders, now that he is in charge down there and see what his thoughts are.
“But if it was me as a new manager going into the club, I would wait to see what all of my players are like before making any decisions. I don’t see Cass coming back to us within the 10 day period that we had spoken about.”
Moore insists there were “a lot of positives” to come out of Tranmere’s 5-0 FA Cup exit at Derby County last Saturday.
“You can’t legislate for individual mistakes and that’s what cost us at Derby,” Moore said. “It wasn’t as if we put in a collectively bad performance. It was decision-making by individuals that cost the team dearly. The standard we are aiming for is Championship football and despite the result, there was nothing there on Saturday to scare us.”
Moore paid tribute to around 1,700 Tranmere fans who made the trip to Pride Park only to see the League One leaders surrender goals and an easy victory to the Championship side.
“Our supporters were fantastic,” Moore said. “They enjoyed themselves behind the goal and I don’t know how, because it was painful for me to watch it from where I was standing.
“They believe we can go up this season, I believe we can go up and I hope the lads believe we can go up. So we’ll call that game a hiccup.”