Tranmere Rovers mid-season review

tranmereThe Football Lab interviewed Tranmere Rovers fan Ryan Ferguson. You can follow him on Twitter @PrentoniaPSV

Tranmere made the unconventional appointment of Rob Edwards as manager in the summer. Why didn’t that work out?

Ultimately, Edwards was just the wrong man at the wrong time. As the club languished in League One for more than a decade, with no sign of upward progression, fans, myself included, yearned for a young visionary to take charge and instil a new philosophy of attacking football. However, when the unthinkable happened in May, and Rovers were relegated to the bottom tier for the first time in 25 years, my feelings changed: with the Conference abyss just one slip away, this was no time for experimentation. We needed an experienced manager to assemble a strong squad for this level, steady the ship, and help the club rebuild.

In Edwards, we got a raw rookie still yet to learn the finer art of winning management. He struggled with substitutions and possessed no Plan B, leading to total capitulation whenever we fell behind. A summer of excessive cost-cutting and woeful recruitment, spearheaded by now-departed Chief Executive Jeremy Butler, didn’t help, but Edwards was simply unable to coax the best from his squad.

In the end, he left with the worst winning percentage of any permanent Tranmere manager in the club’s 130-year history. It just wasn’t meant to be.

You seem to be improving under new manager Micky Adams. What kind of a difference has he made since coming in?

In stark contrast to Edwards, Adams has bags of experience at all levels. He knows how to approach different games, when and how to make impactful changes during a match, and generally how to grind out much-needed results.

The new boss has embraced a rigid 5-3-2 formation which, whilst making us less adventurous and effective going forward, has provided a modicum of defensive stability on which to build. It may look awful, but, at this point, Adams will do almost anything to put points on the board.

Centre-back Michael Ihiekwe has been a consistent presence this season. How has he played?

Ihiekwe has been one of our more consistent performers and, rather like the signing of Zoumana Bakayogo in the John Barnes era, is quite possibly the only positive legacy left by an incompetent regimen. Ihiekwe is big, strong and athletic, and has become something of a leader in recent weeks. The constant upheaval surrounding his central defensive partner doesn’t help, especially when many of the options simply aren’t good enough, but Michael definitely has a bright future.

You seem to have some good technical players in midfield, with Jake Kirby and the aptly named Max Power. Is the task to add a little bit more physicality in there?

In all honesty, Kirby had been somewhat frozen out by Adams until very recently, owing to a perceived lack of work rate, but, as you say, he is very sound technically and definitely has potential. Similarly, Max Power has been our heart, soul and saviour this season, often doing the work of two or three men in midfield.

Ultimately, I think we have the skill to play neat football through midfield, but, with confidence low and Adams preferring a more direct approach out of the relegation battle, this may not be the time. Steve Jennings has returned to play a deep-lying midfield position but, to be brutally honest, I question whether he has the fitness to make a legitimate impact anymore. Likewise, Marc Laird has been a major disappointment. Thus, the acquisition of more physicality in midfield will definitely be a priority in January.

You mentioned Cole Stockton before the start of the season. He has impressed in flashes, but can he be the consistent goalscorer you need?

Cole has the ability to be whatever he wants to be…which is where the problem lies. At times, he can appear slow, sluggish or just plain lazy. Many Tranmere fans are beginning to question whether he wants it enough, and Micky Adams has only included him in the starting lineup sporadically. I believe he has all the skills required to be a very talented striker at this level (strength, power, predatory instinct), but perhaps he just needs a wake up call to realise his potential before it’s too late.

You predicted a strong play-off challenge for Tranmere in the summer. Is it now just a case of staying up this season?

Absolutely. Whatever way you look at it, we’re in this dogfight until the bitter end. At best, we may add some quality through the spine of our team during the January transfer window and ascend to lower-midtable. But, in all reality, we face a grim battle just to stay in the Football League for a 94th consecutive season.