Last season was a lesson learned for Tranmere’s young squad. For the most part, they lead the league until mid-February, and then capitulated with 10 games to go. At the time there were various opinions on why Rovers had such a dramatic downturn in form. Although there is never one sole reason for these occurrences, I think Rovers young squad struggled to cope with the pressure of maintaining such a long run and apart from Andy Robinson and Ian Goodison, they lacked experience in key areas. Also, with such heavy reliance upon short term loans we experienced the good (Jake Cassidy), the bad (Donervorn Daniels) and the ugly (Mamady Sidibe).
Over the summer Ronnie Moore has re-addressed the age balance by signing players like Ryan Lowe, Stephen Foster and Akpo Sodje which will certainly up the average age of the squad as well as experience levels. The other stand out change is the lack of loans brought in this summer. Only one so far, Chris Atkinson who did well on loan at Chesterfield last season joins Rovers for 6 months.
The loan system is one of the depressing sides of modern football in my eyes. Small league clubs become testing grounds for premier league clubs and still have to usually pay for the privilege. Undoubtedly it benefited Rovers last seasons and might well again this season, but I think any football league supporter would rather see a youth player (admittedly this isn’t always going to be the right answer though). Plus I have always wondered how a younger fan relates to seeing his/her team made up by players who are only there short term?
League One last season was probably the easiest it has been for a long time, however this season I would argue is the hardest it has ever been for Tranmere. To repeat something along the lines of last season will be very hard. I can see all the relegated teams from the championship being in the mix for the top 6 come the end of the season and on top of this you have the likes of MK Dons *spit*, Preston, Sheffield United and Brentford. Plus there is always a promoted side from League 2 whose momentum continues into the new season, can Bradford or Rotherham do it again? Potentially. So looking at how strong the league is, has Ronnie Moore made a rod for his own back with last season’s success? Hopefully he hasn’t, but from getting very close to going up last season and fighting over 14th this season won’t be half as fun.
Rovers also need to improve their home form if they are serious about mounting a promotion challenge, last season was mixed at best. Our away form, excluding the end of season collapse was the best I can remember for a long time, probably since the mid 90s! Big wins at Crawley (2-5) and Colchester (1-5) were particular highlights. Perhaps last season the pressure to perform in front of home fans when top of the table started to take its toll and might explain the more confident play when away. As any travelling fan will testify, its great to see your team play with confidence away from home and not just set up for the 0-0 or cheeky 0-1. Fingers crossed the approach continues in 2013/14.
One talking point for Rovers fans over the summer was the potential return of Jason Koumas (yeah remember him?). Sold by Tranmere for 2.5 million in 2002 to Gary Megson’s West Brom and went on to become a fan favourite there and then at Wigan who he was sold to for 5.3 million (earning Tranmere more money in a sell on percentage). At the end of the 2010/11 season he was released, moved to Cardiff and then was released by them 2011. Two years after this he has decided to come full circle and re-join Rovers on trial this summer. Exciting? Yes.
Jason was always one of those players who could pick out a pass, the type of thing you can’t teach. According to Ronnie Moore he still has that in abundance and is in decent physical shape. One nagging feeling though is a sense of déjà vu. Back in 2009 we signed Alan Mahon (former Rovers youth player who did well) re-join us on a 3 year deal, his injury plagued career surprisingly did not let up and we only saw him in 16 matches. So despite the 2 years out of the game, I still think Jason Koumas has a lot to offer Tranmere in League One as do many other supporters and with James Wallace suffering yet another injury setback, class in midfield is needed or I fear the Prenton Park School of Hoofing will return, last year’s star graduates include Ash Taylor and Danny Holmes.
As far as predictions go, this season is hard. I have already stated the high standard of the competition but I hope Rovers will get some luck with injuries this season. Last season was a joke, at times I wondered whether we had a curse hanging over us with the amount of injuries we sustained. I would be surprised if Rovers were 15th or lower and if we were top 6 or above for much of this season. Heart and head are levelling out on this one, so mid table is my bet. Heart is leaning towards mid table to last day play-off spot taken with a Jason Koumas 25 yard strike in the 93rd minute though….
Written by Kenny Orr, We Are Going Up’s Tranmere Rovers Blogger
Kenny tweets at @That_Bald_Owl