Dec 26 2013 by Nick Hilton, Main WIR
LIAM RIDEHALGH faces the difficult prospect of being the emergency replacement charged with helping to repair the fault lines running through the Tranmere defence at Shrewsbury Town this afternoon.
Manager Ronnie Moore is ready to turn to left-back Ridehalgh to fill the gap at centre-back left by Jim McNulty’s one match suspension.
The task is made more difficult still for the 22-year-old on loan from Huddersfield Town because Moore is looking not just to a short-term repair but for a change in the way Rovers defend through the middle.
The immediate priority is to halt a sequence of three defeats in which 11 goals were conceded, the longer term aim to improve a poor defensive record of 40 goals conceded in 21 League One fixtures so far this season.
Moore said: “We have been looking at the goals given away just recently and they are basically down to poor defending.
“Our centre-backs had a lot to do with the defeat at home to Gillingham last Friday.
“We are going to be missing a centre-back because Jim McNulty is suspended and Ian Goodison is not fit, so it means we are probably going to have to play a left-back in there.
“If Ian Goodison was fit he would have been ideal because we are short of height at the back. But he is not ready.”
Moore said he was reluctant to ask Ryan Edwards, a teenage rookie on loan from Blackburn, to step in alongside Ash Taylor.
“It is not ideal for a young kid to be coming into the side with the way we are playing at the moment,” Moore said.
Moore says he is confident Tranmere have the creative talents in midfield and the firepower up front from 14-goal striker Ryan Lowe to trouble any opponents in the division.
But he points out: “We are needing to score three goals to win a game at the moment, and that’s not on.
“The easy part of football is defending and at the present time we can’t do it well.
“Defending is the most important element of the game.
“You have to be strong, especially down the middle.”
Tranmere’s preparations for the Boxing Day journey to Shropshire included a session examining video clips from the 2-1 defeat to Gillingham.
Moore explained: “It is all very well the coaching staff saying to the players: ‘you did this and you did that’. It is different when they see what they were doing with their own eyes and ask themselves: ‘what am I doing there?’
“Maybe something like that is needed to shake them up a bit.”
Shrewsbury, three points better off than Tranmere, boast a tidy home record and can be expected to pose a threat in the air to the visitors.
“They are a big strong side,” Moore said.
“They have good players in the right areas. We don’t want to be giving away too many set-plays because they have five players who are 6’2’’ or more and we are nowhere near as big as that.
“We have to make sure we do the right things. We can’t go there and just defend because we can’t defend well enough for that. We can’t be gung-ho going forward either. We will have to be organised.”
Andy Robinson could find himself in the starting line-up after making a positive impression in a 20-minute substitute appearance against Gillingham. It was the experienced midfielder’s first action in more than three months, following a lay-off for a hernia operation.
Moore said: “I think Robbo probably has to play now. His fitness level is fine. He came on and influenced the game last Friday and did everything we know he is capable of doing. For the last 20 minutes we bombarded Gillingham.
“We want more of that spirit, the Tranmere Rovers spirit. You don’t have to be the best team in the world or the best individuals if you’ve got that togetherness, that determination to be hard to beat. It can take you a long way. We had it for a time last season and we need it back.”
Tranmere’s most likely formation will be 4-5-1, a system which provides some extra protection for the back four.