Aug 24 2013 Sat WIR
BRITT Assombalonga is just the player to test the strength of the repairs to Tranmere’s leaky defence at Prenton Park this afternoon.
The Congolese front man cost League One joint leaders Peterborough United a club record fee, reported to be around £1.3 million, when he moved from Watford during the summer.
The transfer fee alone for Assombalonga matches the budget for the entire Rovers playing squad this season and highlights the difference in spending power between the two teams.
The Posh, relegated from the Championship last May, are in a hurry to get back to the second tier.
Peterborough’s Irish owner, Darragh MacAnthony, a man who made his fortune in property development, was prepared to smash the club’s previous transfer record of £1.1 million for Tyrone Bennett in order to recruit Assombalonga.
“The chairman has backed me on this one,” manager Darren Ferguson said at the close of the deal.
Assombalonga became a hot property after scoring 16 goals in 48 appearances on a season-long loan with Southend United in League Two during 2012/13.
The 20-year-old began repaying the investment by scoring in all three of Peterborough’s League One victories this season over Swindon Town (1-0), Notts County (4-2) and Oldham Athletic (2-1), although he did not score in a 5-1 demolition of Colchester in the Capital One Cup.
Tranmere, it is worth remembering, made a flying start to 2012/13 with a squad put together on modest resources similar to those made available for this season.
The difference this time is the players brought together by manager Ronnie Moore during the summer are not blending as a team as quickly as those of a year ago, particularly in the defence. Rovers have conceded eight goals in three games, collecting just a point along the way.
Moore introduced some cover and competition for the right back spot by signing Andrai Jones on a month long loan from Barnsley last weekend and the 21-year-old can expect to make his home debut in place of the suspended Danny Holmes today.
The manager hopes to make a signing before kick-off to address an imbalance at the heart of the back four. Both centre backs Ash Taylor and Stephen Foster look much less comfortable operating on the left side of the partnership than the right, Moore says.
One of them is liable to find himself on the substitutes bench if a new man arrives in time.
Moore said: “This is going to be a difficult game. Peterborough have a large squad of good players and they are scoring goals for fun.
“Everyone thinks we’re going to get beaten so we have nothing to lose. We’re playing a top of the league team at home. If that’s not an incentive for our lads, I don’t know what is.
“Our back four has got to be right and if they are, we will have a chance of winning. It could kick start things for us.”
Moore believes the Prenton Park fans can play a part in helping his team break Peterborough’s winning sequence.
He said: “It is one where I think the crowd can help. If they stay with us and get behind us I’m sure those boys on the pitch will give everything.”
While Ferguson can choose from a squad of more than 30 players at London Road, Moore may not be able to put 18 professionals on the team sheet this afternoon because injuries are biting into the small squad.
The experienced Akpo Sodje and Ian Goodison are ruled out for the second weekend in succession by injuries, Moore said.
He rates wide midfielders Andy Robinson and Joe Thompson as 50/50 to play after the pair missed training on Thursday with groin injuries.
However, Moore takes encouragement from the improved performance of the team in a 2-1 defeat at Crewe Alexandra last Saturday, where the 34th minute dismissal of Holmes for two bookable offences left the visitors a man short for the best part of an hour.
“I saw some good signs at Crewe,” Moore said. “We rolled our sleeves up and had a good go. I felt that if we’d had 11 players on the park we could have won the game.
“I think we’re going to score goals with this team. We have some good flair players who can do the business for us. At the back we have two new faces in (Foster and left-back Evan Horwood) and the two who had been regulars last season have not been at the top of their form. That’s why we’re suffering and it needs to be put right sharpish.”