Feb 15 2014 Sat WIR
MANAGER Ronnie Moore admits the stakes are getting higher the longer it takes Tranmere to work out a solution to the slow starting problem that’s been dogging them all season.
Rovers head to Ashton Gate this afternoon for an encounter with fellow strugglers Bristol City in which the stakes could not be much higher.
A repeat of the opening phase of last Saturday’s 2-1 defeat at Preston, when they were unable to match the quick and confident football of the visitors, could have dire consequences for Tranmere in a match regarded as a relegation six pointer.
City demonstrated their own ability to make a fast start by scoring twice in the opening 11 minutes of a 3-1 win at promotion chasing Leyton Orient in midweek, a surprise result that took them out of the bottom four and ahead of Rovers on goal difference.
For Tranmere however, the Preston experience was nothing new. They have found themselves chasing games after a hesitant start on many occasions and paid a heavy price in points lost.
Moore says the coaching staff have tried various methods to help the team hit the ground running but concedes the ultimate responsibility lies with the players themselves.
“Making a good start is so important,” Moore said. “It is near impossible to coach it. It is basically down to the players and the tempo they set.
“We talk about starting fast in the dressing room before a game and the players talk about it too. They are fired up before they go out. We say keep it tight in the first 20 minutes, press the opposition and put the ball in their areas.
“But that certainly has not happened in many of the games. We need to come out of the blocks quicker.”
Moore said the staff tried variations in the pre-match build-up to prompt a response. “We tried a warm-up at a higher tempo and then giving them one or two little sprints as they come out onto the pitch. But nothing seems to work.
“It is down to the players to do the things we say to them. I would imagine every manager in the league will be saying at around five minutes to three on a Saturday: ‘go out and set a high tempo.’
“It is worrying we don’t do it more often. If we can add that to our game, we would be off and running.”
Moore and his staff spent the week working on the team’s shape and finding the system that gets the best out of central midfielders James Wallace, Steve Jennings and Jason Koumas as well as front men Ryan Lowe and Jake Cassidy.
Today’s formation is likely to feature all three central midfielders as Tranmere look for a sixth away win of the campaign.
Moore insists the quality of passing and possession work is more important than the tactical shape of the team.
He said: “The week has gone okay in terms of the work we are doing but basically shape means nothing if you don’t have possession. It’s about the ball. If we look after the ball, the ball will look after us.
“Steve Jennings is the sitting player in midfield and the other two, Wallace and Koumas, are fantastic on the ball. They have gifts from the gods. They can pass it short or long.
“There is no reason why they should not have more of the ball and that is what we’ve been working on. We need the other players to make runs off them and they (Wallace and Koumas) can certainly find them. I don’t think there is a better midfield three at this level.”
Moore was among the audience who witnessed Bristol City post their second away win of the season at Brisbane Road on Tuesday.
“They played well and deserved to win,” Moore said. “It helps when you are 2-0 up after 11 minutes but they were always well organised.
“We’re in for a difficult game and it is a very important one.”
Bristol and Tranmere start the afternoon on 31 points in the compact bottom half of the League One table.
Moore said: “We have 16 games to play and it is like we are starting a mini league. We have two vital away games coming up, Bristol and then Crawley Town on Tuesday. It is important we don’t get beaten in those matches and it would be fantastic if we could win them.
“We are seeing signs that we are improving and we have to improve. If we don’t improve our home form, we will go down. We’ve been getting some decent results away and then coming home and getting beaten. The lads understand that.
“It has been easier for us away from home because there is no onus on us to break teams down. We can go and play whatever system we like away from home because we have the players to do that.
“If we defend well, we have the lads who can put the ball in the back of the net.”