Injuries. Everybody has them, they say. But has anybody had it quite so bad as Tranmere this year?
The likes of Jean-Louis Akpa Akpro, James Wallace and Andy Robinson have all spent sustained periods on the treatment table. So have wingers Adam McGurk, who even suffered a collapsed lung whilst sleeping, Abdulai Bell-Baggie and Joe Thompson.
To replace these players and patch up his depleted squad, Ronnie Moore has had to carefully use the loan window. Nathan Eccleston and Jake Jervis came in during the autumn, got injured and left.
Current squad members Ben Gibson, Michael O’Halloran and Mama Sidibe have all been injured after arriving on temporary deals, too.
Since injuries have hit the squad – coupled with Jake Cassidy’s return to Wolves in January – Tranmere’s form has subsided. They look a shadow of the team that topped the league as recently as February 9th and scoring goals away from home has become about as rare as a QPR win.
It would be crass to blame Rovers’ poor run on injuries alone. Other factors have contributed to the dramatic downfall, too, such as individual errors and shyness in front of goal, neither of which were present during the glorious autumn months, whilst it could be argued the management have been unwilling to change things around when the going has got tough.
However, what can’t be denied is that the sheer number of injuries the squad has endured has eventually caught up with Tranmere, effecting results and performances.
This though isn’t the first time that Rovers’ promotion hopes have been dealt such a damaging hand on the injury front.
Cast your mind back to the 2007/08 season when Ronnie Moore was last in charge at Prenton Park and had built a squad that included Chris Greenacre, Antony Kay, Ian Goodison and Danny Coyne.
Rovers spent time in and around the play-off zone that year, and even topped the table in October, but long term knee injuries to their two key wingers, Steve Davies and Chris Shuker, were too much to handle and eventually led to an eleventh place finish, nine points off the top 6.
A year later, when Tranmere missed out on the play-offs by just two minutes after conceding a late equaliser to Scunthorpe United on the final day of the season, things weren’t a great deal better.
Chris Greenacre, top scorer in the three previous campaigns, managed just 13 league appearances. One of his strike partners, Craig Curran, who was then a promising young striker and key part of Ronnie Moore’s plans, played just 15 times due to injury and then there was George O’Callaghan, who had his well documented problems.
Even then, Ronnie brought in players on loan to patch up his squad, and they got injured too – wingers Danny Mayor and Robbie Burns, who arrived from Preston and Leicester respectively, managed just five games between them.
Those two seasons are the closest Rovers have come to promotion since reaching the play-offs in 2005 under Brian Little, but it isn’t only top six finishes that have been affected by injuries.
In 2009/10, Bas Savage injured his Achilles and missed a significant portion of the season, likewise Alan Mahon, whilst last season Tranmere were hit hard by injuries picked up by Enoch Showunmi, Andy Robinson, Owain fon Williams and Martin Devaney.
It does appear, then, that Tranmere have had their fair (or perhaps unfair) share of damaging injuries over the past five years and it’s near impossible to say whether such a catalogue of problems can be blamed on sheer bad luck, injury prone players or training ground techniques. They didn’t even subside with a qualified physio in charge of the club!
But whilst Ronnie Moore has bemoaned Rovers’ injury problems this season, I’m not expecting him to use Graeme Souness’ rather novel excuse of attributing Newcastle’s injury crisis in 2005 to the hardness of their training ground pitch.
One thing that is for sure, though, is that despite Rovers’ fall from grace since February, they do have a capable squad at Prenton Park, with lots of promising and exciting young players such as Ash Taylor, Max Power and Cole Stockton already signed up for next season.
And if Tranmere do miss out on the play-offs this April, should they remain injury free next season, they – to use a Ronnie”ism” – won’t be “a million miles away” from achieving a top six finish.