Feb 22 2014 Sat WIR
ASK Tranmere fans to name the highlight of the season so far and most would point to a 5-1 win over Coventry City at the Sixfields Stadium in November.
Supporters travelling home that evening, after watching Rovers notch their biggest win and extending the longest unbeaten sequence of the League One campaign to four games, had reason to be hopeful that the team had turned a corner.
After all, Ryan Lowe plundered a hat-trick of exceptional quality, lifting the experienced striker into the top bracket of the division’s scoring charts and skipper James Wallace marked his return from a year-long lay-off with a serious knee injury by scoring a fine goal. Surely the only way was up from here?
But three months on, as Tranmere prepare to host the Sky Blues in this afternoon’s return fixture at Prenton Park, supporters can only reflect on how a difficult season has acquired some additional anxieties.
Results on the field have only being good enough to keep Rovers marginally above the relegation trapdoor, with a third of the programme remaining.
Meanwhile, off the field the club is entangled with two unrelated investigations into gambling issues.
Two players, Akpo Sodje and Ian Goodison, were among six men arrested in December and bailed until April as part of a police probe into spot fixing.
At the start of this week, the club suspended manager Ronnie Moore until the conclusion of an FA investigation into his betting activities.
Did anyone mention that chairman Peter Johnson’s search for new investors in the loss-making club does not appear to be going well, while debts mount up? Perhaps we should leave that one for another day.
John McMahon, the assistant manager pushed into the centre of this gloomy stage when he was handed caretaker control of the team affairs until further notice, is keeping his focus on the football.
An experienced coach with a reputation within the professional game as a shrewd and insightful operator on the training ground, McMahon knows Tranmere are in no position to tread water while Moore’s fate hangs in the balance.
They require points urgently, results to put flesh on the argument, shared by Moore, McMahon and the players, that performances have shown a steady improvement since the turn of the year.
The postponement of Tuesday night’s fixture at Crawley Town has at least given McMahon time to prepare a team of his own designs on the training ground ahead of today’s game.
McMahon dropped a hint that he plans to start with the midfield trio of Steve Jennings, James Wallace and Jason Koumas in home games as well as on the road.
He said: “We have to work with what we’ve got. The better players need to be on the pitch, no matter what shape or system we use.”
McMahon added: “I have my own ideas and we discuss things as we go along. There will be a discussion with the players.
“You want to listen to the senior players, take some things on board from their opinions and views. They might think they are going to be a big help.
“It’s also about listening to some of the stuff they have to say and dismissing it. I feel these days, some players think they are coaches. You are getting more and more of that in the dressing room.”
McMahon has a fully fit squad of players to choose from and a positive performance in Tranmere’s last outing, a 2-2 draw at Bristol City last Saturday, to build on.
He said: “I think there has been an improvement in performances and results since the turn of the year. There seems to be a bit more confidence around the place, thanks to the results of the previous weeks.
“The players seem more confident in the roles they are asked to play in the shape of the team.”
Coventry would still be in touch with the race for a play-off spot without the 10-point penalty imposed on them for starting the season in administration. Instead they lie in mid-table.
The Sky Blues have surrendered some ground since losing the twin strikeforce of Leon Clarke (18 goals) who moved to Wolves in January and Callum Wilson (15 goals) who suffered a dislocated shoulder on New Years Day.
McMahon said: “They are a good side who will be smarting from the result against us earlier in the season.
“They have not had a good run of results lately and they will want to address that quickly.”