MANAGER Ronnie Moore is ready to thrust teenager Cole Stockton into the sharp end of Tranmere’s promotion challenge over the next fortnight.
The 18-year-old striker will be asked to lead the attack in the absence of the suspended Jean-Louis Akpa Akpro for the next three matches – unless Rovers’ luck in the long search for an experienced target man in the loan market takes a turn for the better.
Moore says he is willing to give Stockton his chance on the strength of the youngster’s encouraging performances in a succession of substitute appearances and occasional starts in his first season as a professional.
“We are trying to find an experienced, tall striker who can take the weight off the forward players who are not so physically strong – the likes of David Amoo and Michael O’Halloran,” Moore said.
“It may be Cole can do the job. Every time he has played he has done well. If I don’t get anyone in on loan this week, then Cole will start the game at Leyton Orient on Saturday.”
Stockton, a graduate of Tranmere’s youth development setup from Rainhill, signed a new 2 1/2 year contract last week and made his 19th substitute appearance of the season in the final half hour of the 1-0 defeat to Carlisle United
Moore said: “For an 18-year-old he is strong and solid. He is still learning, still wet behind the years, but he is getting there. If I can’t sign a centre forward on loan then Cole has to grow up fast.
“There is a big future for Cole if he listens and takes on board what we’re trying to do for him.”
Akpa Akpro, who returned to action last month following a 12 week absence with a broken metatarsal, was dismissed late in the first half of the Carlisle game for taking a retaliatory kick at an opponent – Frank Simek.
The French striker (below) will miss the trip to Leyton Orient and the home games against Shrewsbury Town on Friday, February 15 and Swindon Town on Tuesday February 19. He also faces a club fine for an act of petulance described by Moore as “letting everybody down.”
Tranmere were frustrated by a couple of near misses in the loan market last week.
Chris O’Grady, an experienced 27-year-old striker from Sheffield Wednesday, turned down a loan move to Prenton Park and joined Championship strugglers Barnsley instead. Rovers also missed out on O’Grady’s Sheffield Wednesday teammate Gary Madine, a 22-year-old with close to 200 senior games under his belt.
Moore said: “We were very close to Chris O’Grady and he would have been a wow.
“We are hunting but trying to find experienced strikers is difficult. I don’t want to bring in another 18 or 19-year-old when we have Cole.”
Tranmere have a clear week ahead of the visit to Brisbane Road, although the players on the fringe of the first XI will be involved in a reserve team match, a Central League Cup fixture against Stoke City at Prenton Park on Wednesday, kick-off 7pm.
Two members of Tranmere’s table topping team are on international duty this week and hoping to pick up their first caps.
Goalkeeper Owain Fon Williams is with the Wales squad preparing for the friendly international against Austria in Swansea on Wednesday.
McGirk joined up with the Northern Ireland squad for the friendly against Malta in Valetta , also on Wednesday.
Moore said: “I hope Adam plays because it will do his confidence no harm. Fonners has been involved with the Wales squad on a regular basis but never seems to get a game. I think he deserves his chance, he’s been outstanding for us this season.”