Dec 28 2013 by Nick Hilton, Sat WIR
TRANMERE began 2013 defying football’s laws of gravity. The team with possibly lowest budget for players in League One topped the division at the turn of the year. Twelve months on, the financial realities of life at Prenton Park are pressing hard. The promotion dream died after injuries and departures took most of the big players from Ronnie Moore’s team in the second half of last season. The anti-climax of a mid-table finish at the end of April was followed by an uncomfortable start to the 2013-14 campaign marked by defensive difficulties on the field and financial uncertainty of it.
Roverflow charts a turbulent year...
January: Tranmere began 2013 with a New Year’s Day win at Bury and victories later in the month over Crawley and Brentford kept them on course for promotion. The win at Griffin Park would turn out to be a high water mark, however.
February: Rovers slipped to four consecutive defeats and the absence of influential players such as James Wallace, Ben Gibson and Jake Cassidy began to bite. A 5-1 win at Colchester towards the end of the month stopped the rot.
March: Another dire month with four defeats and two victories, at home to Oldham Athletic and Stevenage, which kept alive Rovers’ receding hopes of making the play-offs. Moore, attempting to find attacking players in the loan market, had very little money to work with, as most of his modest budget was already spent. The replacements who were brought in were not able to keep the creative fires burning. Zoumana Bakayogo and Ben Gibson scored Tranmere’s goals in their final victory of the season, a 3-1 success over Stevenage on March 24. The goals dried up completely after that.
April: Most of the month was taken up with a run of five consecutive 1-0 defeats. The rot was only stopped in the final game, a goalless draw with Bournemouth. New sponsors, the Liverpool-based retail chain Home Bargains, were announced, replacing Wirral Council. After Tranmere finished 11th, boss Moore released five pros – Adam McGurk, Danny Harrison, Paul Black, Michael Kay and David Amoo.
May: Centre-back Ian Goodison accepted an offer of a new one one-year contract at the age of 40 and was granted a testimonial. Moore said of the former Jamaican international: “People might suggest that 40, being offered another 12 months as a surprise and Ian Goodison is not 40 in the way he plays his football. He is a one-off.”
June: Moore secured the signing of well-travelled striker Ryan Lowe, who left MK Dons in order to find a club closer to his Merseyside home and family. “It was a big decision and Tranmere was the only club it was going to happen for,” Lowe said. “I spoke to Ronnie Moore and when I said I would agree terms, the text back was: ‘get in, you beauty’!”
Tranmere also signed Stephen Foster, an experienced centre-half who played regular Championship football with Barnsley during the previous season.
July: Rovers announced former Wales international Jason Koumas was training with the squad and wanted to return to the game after a two-year absence. Koumas secured a one year contract, although he was still short of match fitness when the new season began.
August: Tranmere made a shocker of a start, losing the opening game at Walsall 3-1. “We were all over the place in the first 25 minutes,” Moore complained afterwards. “I can’t believe how naive we were in our defending.” The words were to become uncomfortably familiar as Tranmere lost three of their first four League One games. Before the month was out Foster, struggling to cope with a knee condition, left the club by mutual consent, his contract cancelled and Moore began looking to the loan market to patch up his a defence.
September: Rovers lost three League One games out of four and went out of the Johnstone’s Paint Trophy at home to Fleetwood Town and out of the Capital One Cup to Stoke City.
October: Moore abandoned his 4-4-2 formation and introduced a 4-5-1 system designed to provide extra protection for the back four. The change began to produce some encouraging results as Tranmere posted League One wins over Bradford City and MK Dons. Chairman Peter Johnson confirmed he was in negotiations with a number of parties, including the Supporters Trust, to pass control of the club into new hands.
November: Rovers picked up draws against Preston and Bristol City and posted wins over Coventry City and Colchester United to move out of the bottom four. Meanwhile Johnson disclosed he was prepared to write off £5m of historical debt owed to him by Tranmere in order to find a suitable buyer.
December: A black month both on and off the field. Defeats at Peterborough United (FA Cup) Carlisle and at home to Gillingham showed the defensive problems from the early part of the season had not been overcome. A Boxing Day victory at Shrewsbury, secured with a makeshift defence, provided some encouragement. So did the form of Lowe, who had scored half of Tranmere’s 26 League goals by Boxing Day.
Meanwhile two players, striker Akpo Sodje and Goodison were arrested as part of a police investigation into betting fraud. The pair, together with four others, have been bailed until April.