Dec 23 2013 by Nick Hilton, Main WIR
MANAGER Ronnie Moore admits he is caught between a rock and a hard place as he seeks to shore up the holes through the middle of Tranmere’s leaky defence.
Moore, eager to do business in the loan transfer market when the January transfer window opens next week, says a strong, no-nonsense centre-back is his top priority.
However Rovers, working with one of the smallest budgets in League One, can’t afford to pay the wages or even a proportion of the wages of an experienced defender from a Championship club, the most likely source for a new recruit.
So Moore may be forced to take a gamble on a younger, unproven prospect from a larger club who is looking to gain experience in the lower divisions.
They struck lucky when taking Ben Gibson from Middlesbrough last season but some recent defensive loanees have been less successful.
Tranmere’s need of defensive reinforcements was underlined last weekend by a 2-1 home defeat to Gillingham in which the quality of the defending caused Moore alarm.
It followed heavy defeats to Peterborough (5-0 in the FA Cup) and Carlisle United (4-1 in a League One game).
Moore said: “We have been looking for a dominant centre half for a while but clubs are reluctant to let experienced centre-backs go and when they do, they are too dear.
“So you have to gamble on an under-21 player and hope you get a Ben Gibson out of it. But it is not easy to do that.
“Des Philpotts (chief scout) is making phone calls and as a staff we are all out watching games, looking for players. This year a lot of Championship clubs are prepared to let one or two players go out but the experienced ones are earning £5000 to £6000 a week. We can’t afford to pay half of that to a player, so we have to shop in the under-21s and hope to pull a gem out.”
To find the funds for new signings, Tranmere will have to release some of the half a dozen loan players currently on the books. They are all on deals that run until January. Overloading with loan players isn’t an option, even if their wages are minimal, because Football League teams cannot use more than a maximum of five loan players in any one game.
Moore was unhappy with the performances of centre-backs Ash Taylor and Jim McNulty against Gillingham, whose two goals were scored by muscular centre forward Adebayo Akinfenwa.
McNulty, who is on loan from Barnsley, was sent off early in the second half for pulling back Cody McDonald when the Gillingham player raced clear on goal. Now McNulty must serve a one-match suspension.
That’s going to leave Tranmere short of specialist cover for the Boxing Day trip to Shrewsbury Town. Ian Goodison is sidelined by a thigh injury and Moore has been reluctant to place the responsibility on Ryan Edwards, a teenager on a month’s loan from Blackburn.
The manager’s most likely solution may be to ask left-back Liam Ridehalgh to play in the middle, a role he has filled before.
Moore said: “We don’t have another specialist centre-back and that’s the thing that annoys me. We put ourselves in this position. Someone is going to have to play centre-back who is not a centre-back.
“We’ve got to do some work on the training ground because whoever plays centre-back has got to get used to it.”
Moore argues Tranmere’s centre-backs have been trying to play too much football, and paying a heavy price.
He said: “We asked the centre-backs to be brave and do the right things but they got caught flat too many times on Friday.
“Gillingham got into one-on-one situations with our goalkeeper too many times, going straight through the middle. Defenders should not be trying to chest the ball on the edge of their own box. They have to head it, clear it.
“We always looked like we were going to get a goal on Friday and every time Gillingham went forward they looked like they were going to score. That is the way it has been for the last few weeks.
“We have got guys who are thinking they are footballers and they are centre-halves. They need to do the right thing in the right areas.”