Aug 10 2013 by Nick Hilton, Sat WIR
JOE THOMPSON can expect another chance to show the Prenton Park regulars the new spring in his step when Tranmere play host to Crawley Town this afternoon.
The 24-year-old winger is willing to acknowledge he rarely produced his best form during the season that followed a £50,000 transfer from Rochdale just over a year ago.
Manager Ronnie Moore went to so far as to joke that he thought he might have signed a double or a twin, who could not produce the same exciting skills and confidence on the ball as he witnessed on a scouting mission to Spotland.
But Thompson’s performance in the pre-season games this summer showed why Moore was prepared to invest some of his modest budget in a transfer fee.
And although he missed out on a place in Rovers’ opening League One fixture, a 3-1 defeat at Walsall last Saturday, he was back in the starting XI as Tranmere posted a 2-0 win over Mansfield Town in the Capital One Cup in midweek.
Moore said: “Joe Thompson was unfortunate not to be picked last weekend because he was probably the best player during the pre-season matches. A lot of our goals came from his crosses.
“We had a little look at Jean-Louis Akpa Akpro as a winger but it did not work out the way I would have liked.
“Tommo came back in on Tuesday and I think he deserves to stay in at this present time.”
Moore admits Thompson’s subdued performances last season were a disappointment.
After dropping out of the first-team picture, he was allowed to return to Rochdale for a loan spell early in the New Year.
“I thought I had signed his twin brother last season,” Moore said.
“He wasn’t the player I had seen at Rochdale.
“This summer he showed a lot more of what he is about.”
Moore added: “Joe and his partner had their first baby last season and that may have come into it: the disrupted sleep and the change it brings to a person’s mentality.
“He’s just about through that now. He looks like what I always thought he was, which is a good player.
“He has the ability to go by people and gets crosses into the box for us. He has come back with the bit between his teeth. He is in the side on merit.”
Tranmere will look to Thompson to supply the balls into the box for strikers Ryan Lowe and Akpo Sodje, who’ve yet to hit the mark.
Rovers’ three goals so far have come from midfield, two from acting captain Andy Robinson and the other from Chris Atkinson, the 21-year-old on a half season loan from Huddersfield Town.
Moore is in no doubt Tranmere will be tested defensively by a Crawley side who opened their campaign with a 3-0 win over Coventry City and went out of the Capital One Cup in a 4-3 upset to League Two team Rotherham United.
Manager Richie Barker once played under Moore as a centre-forward at Rotherham and was able to invest in the squad during the summer.
Moore said: “Richie’s done a great job down at Crawley and with the signings they have made, I don’t think they’ll be too far off the promotion pace this season.
“We know they want to play football. They look very good going forward but like us, they can sometimes find they have too many men bombing forwards and get exposed at the back.
“I think it could be a good end to end game for the supporters to enjoy.”
Crawley’s line-up is likely to include Birkenhead-born Mike Jones, a winger who began his career with Tranmere but was released at the age of 20 after making only 11 senior appearances.
Jones went on to join Bury in the summer of 2008, becoming a first-team regular in three seasons with the Shakers. He worked under Barker during that time.
A move to Sheffield Wednesday realised only 11 first-team appearances. He was snapped up by Crawley at the start of last season and went on to play 45 senior games in 2012/13.
Moore, the Tranmere manager when the club released Jones, says he is pleased by the player’s progress.
He said: “You make decisions when players are young and some come back to haunt you. Mike Jones has done well. He went to Bury and now he is at Crawley. He scored the winning goal for them against Coventry and we know he is a threat.
“He is a player who likes to come off the touchline and tuck inside.
“You can causes problems but we like to think our fullbacks can cope with them.”
The manager is likely to stick close to the line-up that started against Mansfield in midweek. Moore says Jason Koumas is not yet fit enough to start a game and the former Wales international can expect to be called into action from the substitutes bench sometime after the hour mark.