Feb 8 2014 by Nick Hilton, Sat WIR
TRANMERE, setting out to fight another unequal battle against League One opponents with greater strength and resources, can at least call every man to arms when they face Preston North End at Prenton Park this afternoon.
Manager Ronnie Moore’s squad of bargain basement signings and young loanees is free of injury and suspensions.
Such a rare luxury is just as well, when the visitors will probably have more earning power on the substitutes’ bench than Rovers can afford to pay their entire roster of players.
The imbalance between the division’s haves and have-nots is largely reflected in the table, although there are some anomalies: Little Walsall punching well above their weight in the top six, big-city clubs Sheffield United and Bristol City fighting the threat of relegation to the bottom division.
But for the most part, the table shows the points stack up with the money and the clubs with small budgets like Tranmere’s face a struggle to stay clear of the drop zone.
In attempting to build some consistency into a team who have won only three times at home and have yet to put back to back wins together this season, Moore and his coaching staff are working against the odds.
Moore said: “Consistency is the hardest quality to maintain when you are one of the clubs with more modest resources. When the squad is small, the injuries hit you hardest.
“So for a club like us, it is about having players who will roll their sleeves up and fight week in, week out.
“If we do that there will be games we win but there will also be games we lose, because we come up against better players.
“The way to stop better players is to squeeze them, to deny them time on the ball.
“But it is impossible to do that for 90 minutes, week in, week out, as much as you try.
“You are going to lose some games because other teams have better players.”
Tranmere, fresh from a 1-0 win at MK Dons last weekend in which luck and application were rewarded, don’t need reminding that their last home performance, a 2-1 defeat to Rotherham United, was a big letdown.
The Millers’ desire to maintain a promotion challenge was evident that night and Moore expects Preston, currently occupying fourth position, to be just as hungry for victory today.
A return to the Championship is priority number one for the Lilywhites, who went out of the FA Cup in a 2-0 fourth-round replay defeat to Nottingham Forest on Wednesday.
Moore says he is not surprised to see Preston challenging for promotion after appointing Simon Grayson as successor to Graham Westley a year ago.
“They are a big club, they have good players and Simon knows this division,” Moore said.
“He’s won plenty of promotions out of this league.
“They’re going to be close. Whether they can get an automatic spot is doubtful.
“It’s a lot for them to do, to catch up nine points. The top two in the division, Brentford and Wolves, look strong.
“We have to expect Preston will come here with all guns blazing and we have to make sure we match it.”
Moore added: “Knowing Simon, he will be disappointed in people saying how good he is as a manager at League One level. He will want to be known for what he does in the Championship or higher.”
Moore was encouraged by the way Tranmere emerged from a first half under pressure at MK Dons to push their opponents further up the field in the second half and snatch a 90th minute winner through Ryan Lowe.
“It is vital we don’t throw that good result away,” Moore said.
“We need to show the same commitment, determination and effort.
“Don’t get beaten is the order of the day but we can’t sit back and let Preston attack us. It would be great to get back to back wins. They don’t come easy.”
In the likelihood that Tranmere will revert to a 4-4-2 formation this afternoon, Moore once again faces the prospect of leaving out one of three influential central midfield players: James Wallace, Steve Jennings or Jason Koumas.
All three figured at Stadium MK where Rovers deployed a five-man midfield to counter the Dons’ strength in that area.
Last time out at home, Koumas started on the bench and made a positive impact when joining the action late in the game.
Moore said: “The players I leave out are not going to be happy.
“Part and parcel of my job is to try and keep them happy within the group and hope that when their chance does come, they take