Dec 24 2013 by Nick Hilton, Main WIR
JAKE KIRBY admits he will find it difficult to celebrate his personal achievements in 2013 unless Tranmere can round off the year with a couple of positive results.
The Liverpool-born teenager can look back on the last 12 months as his breakthrough year with Rovers. He graduated from reserve team prospect to first-team player.
But Kirby, 19, is keen to shake off the disappointment of a run of three successive defeats which have dented morale and left Ronnie Moore’s team uncomfortably close to the League One relegation places ahead of the Christmas holiday programme.
The 2-1 home defeat to Gillingham last Friday night was Kirby’s 14th appearance of the season and he nailed down a starting position on the side through most of October and November.
Kirby said: “I’m enjoying being a first-team player but not so much when the results go the way they have been in the last few games.
“We were a bit disappointed about Friday night and all we can do is try to take the positives out of the performance and try to improve in the next game.”
The defeats to Gillingham and Carlisle the previous weekend have put added pressure on Tranmere to take rewards from the holiday games at Shrewsbury Town on Boxing Day and Sheffield United on Sunday, December 29.
“They are two crucial games, but then so was the Gillingham one,” Kirby admitted. “We need to start picking up points before the New Year to try and get us away from the relegation zone. Otherwise we will be looking over our shoulders going into 2014.
“We know it is so tight down there. A few points could move us up to the middle of the table, so we have to stay positive.”
Kirby can at least reflect on a positive change in personal fortunes over recent months.
Last season, when youngsters Max Power and Cole Stockton were breaking into the Tranmere first-team, Kirby remained on the fringes. Moore went as far as to warn the Kirby’s versatility in being able to play a number of midfield and attacking roles could even work against him unless he could carve out a niche in one position.
That all changed when Kirby was picked to play in a wide midfield role in October, as Tranmere adapted to a new 4-5-1 formation.
Kirby’s promotion to the starting XI marked the beginning of a run of positive results – one defeat in seven games – which lifted Rovers out of the bottom four.
Kirby’s place in the side is coming under greater pressure now the talented and experienced professionals such as Andy Robinson and Jason Koumas have returned to action following injuries and winger Chris Peterson has been recruited on loan from Liverpool.
However, the main concern for Moore and the coaching staff is addressing the defensive problems thrown up in the last three games, in which 11 goals were conceded.
Moore said: “We are a match anyone going forward and we can be quite clever. But we are naive when it comes to closing the back door.
“We have not got a Mr Nasty at the back. We have to remember when we are going forward that we are also defending. You can’t switch off because the counter-attack is always on.”
Moore wants to add a no-nonsense centre back to his squad through the loan market when the January transfer window opens next week.
In the meantime he hopes Tranmere can recover enough defensive composure to squeeze out results at Shrewsbury and Sheffield. He said: “We need to be still in touch with the teams just above us when the transfer window opens.”