THE League One promotion race looks like it is going to be won by the teams who keep their nerve over the final 10 games, Tranmere manager Ronnie Moore believes.
Rovers, the leaders for more than four months of the campaign, may have slipped back to sixth place after losing six of the last nine games, but rival teams are struggling to deal with the pressure of front running.
Leaders Doncaster were thumped 3-0 at MK Dons in midweek and Brentford lost to Stevenage, leaving Rovers five points off the top as they take on Oldham Athletic at Prenton Park this afternoon.
Moore said: “All of the results went our way in midweek and that should spur the lads on.
“It’s looking like no one wants to go from the division. Look at Bournemouth. They got to the top of the league for the first time and then lost four games on the trot. No one could have predicted that.
“It is a nervous time. Whoever holds their nerve now, with 10 games to go, will be the ones who go up.”
Moore added: “I think it will come down to nerves and pressure. We handled it pretty well when we were up there for four months. Now we are in sixth spot and hanging on by our fingernails. We’ve got to make sure that come the last game of the season, we have something to play for.”
Moore remains convinced that the two automatic tickets to the Championship and four play-off spots could be up for grabs until the final day of the season, with up to a dozen clubs in the frame.
He said: “Everyone’s had a decent run at some stage. Don’t discount Walsall, MK Dons and Crawley, who have games in hand – although it is hard playing catch-up and I always prefer to have the points on the board.”
Moore acknowledges however that Tranmere must bring a halt to a damaging sequence of home results – three defeats and a draw in the last four outings at Prenton Park – if they are to remain in contention.
“We definitely need to improve the home form, which hasn’t been brilliant,” Moore said. “It did not help that we were reduced to 10 men in the early minutes of a couple of games, against Carlisle and Shrewsbury, because we had men sent off. I would have fancied us to win those games with 11 players on the field.
“It says we have to be disciplined as well as holding our nerve.”
Tranmere will be handicapped by the absence of influential midfielder Andy Robinson, who is facing another three weeks on the sidelines with a hamstring injury and fellow midfielder Adam McGurk, who is expected to be out for the remainder of the month with a collapsed lung.
Moore says experienced target man Mama Sidibie may be missing for a fortnight with a hamstring injury.
“It will be hard for us with those three missing,” Moore said. “But we’ve got to get on with it. Every team has had injuries this season. Look at MK Dons. Their two midfield players, who are very influential, are just coming back to the first team and all of a sudden they are winning games again.
“Teams do miss their better players.”
Oldham head to Prenton Park on the back of a lucrative FA Cup run that saw them put out Doncaster, Nottingham Forest and Liverpool before losing to Everton in the Goodison replay.
Their League One form was beginning to pick up again after caretaker manager Tony Philliskirk replaced Paul Dickov in early February.
However, a 2-0 home defeat to Sheffield United saw the Latics slip back into the relegation zone.
Moore, who spent just over a season as manager at Oldham prior to joining Tranmere in 2006, wants to see his former club survive -- but not by taking points at Rovers’ expense today.
He said: “Oldham’s achievements in the Cup have been outstanding and you know they have good players. It’s just that one or two did not come to the party at the right time in league games. Now they are in the drop zone and fighting for their lives.
“This will be as difficult game for us as if we were playing Sheffield United or Bournemouth.
“It is one of those games where I think it is down to what we do. I think our team is better than theirs but we have to go out and prove it.
“The 11 I put out will be committed and give their all. Hopefully we can turn around our home form and get back to winning ways.”