Thursday, February 21, 2013

Tranmere Rovers 1 Swindon Town 3, League One, 19 February 2013

A couple of months ago I was lucky enough to be given a ticket to attend the North West Football Awards. It's a great event where, among other things I shook hands and had a brief chat with Fabrice Muamba. What a nice man he is, honestly.

On my table I was wedged between Dennis Tueart on my left and Tony Barrett on my right. Dennis was nice enough to me, putting up with my inane chit chat, but Tony was ace. I apologised to him at one point for virtually pinning him to the floor with football conversation but he was having none of it. He loves it and can't think of a better way of spending an evening than talking about the game.

He told me he was due to write a piece on Tranmere and wondered what I thought his angle might be. I suggested he might look at how the loan system makes the lower leagues a very strange place to follow football sometimes. Sometimes even season ticket holders can't name all the players on the pitch, such are the irregular comings and goings.

That thought sprung to mind on Tuesday when, despite lots of huffing and puffing, our defeat to Swindon had a sense of inevitability about it.

Let's remember, Tranmere went until late October without losing a game. I remember us being nine points clear at the top at one point, yet the Swindon game saw us lose our third successive home fixture.

It's hardly surprising though. The team that shone so brightly at the start of the season has been decimated. Our most effective players have all vanished. Wallace, who is brilliant, is out until the end of the season. Akpo Akpro has been injured too and then got himself suspended almost as soon as he came back. Bell Baggie, who I really like, shone for ten minutes when he came on as a sub on Tuesday but has been injured too.

But the biggest gaps have clearly been at centre back and centre forward. Jake Cassidy was brilliant at the start of the season and scored for fun. Being on a half season loan deal meant we had to send him back to Wolves in January though, because he was playing too well.

And, Wallace aside, the best player in the team for me was centre back Ben Gibson, who we had on a half season loan deal from Middlesbrough. He was superb for us and made Ash Taylor up his game. He too got injured though and has ended up back at Boro.

So in my mind it's no surprise we've fallen off the pace. The spine of our team has disappeared for one reason or another. Fon Williams in goal is off form. Gibson (loan) at centre back was sitting at home in Middlesbrough. Central midfielder Palmer (another on loan signing, this time from Sheff Weds) was suspended and Cassidy (loan) was back at Wolves.

My thinking is fuzzy over the whole thing really. The loan system certainly served us well in the first half of the year, but it's easy to see how it can leave you a shadow of a team later in the season. When you think how precarious it is to rely on loan players in so many key positions, which we have done, it's hardly surprising that a team that was miles clear at the end of October can now look as if they've got a real struggle on to even make the play-offs.

At the time of writing it looks like Gibson is on his way back to us for a second loan spell and we've also got some lad from Stoke City on a temporary basis. Hopefully it works out, but it's not how things used to be.

1 comment:

Dan Flynn said...

Nigel. I'm from Sunderland tho living in Manchester. At least you haven't got Paulo Di Fascio managing you.

Ps. I liked Voodoo as a track.