Ben Tollitt injury – It’s a huge blow, but Tranmere can’t afford a knee-jerk reaction

“Ben Tollitt is out for the remainder of the season.”

The words almost echoed around the press room as Micky Mellon spoke them.

I looked around at the other members of the media in attendance, and you could see the dawning realisation as it hit them, myself included. It was like a smack in the face, an absolute hammer blow.

The player who has helped turn Tranmere into title contenders, scoring seven goals and bagging numerous assists, will not be part of the promotion run in.

He is probably the most influential lad in the squad. It does not always come off, but there are few others as gifted as the 22-year old in the National League.

Of course, he is still learning. Perhaps at times decision making, such as when to offload the ball, or when to pass instead of shoot, could be better.

But this is a player who can skip past a defender at will, with a long, loping stride carrying him quickly into an area where the opposition simply do not want him to be.

Since arriving at Prenton Park, he has started 15 league games. If anything underlined his importance, it is the fact they have won 10 of them, and lost just twice – to Lincoln and Macclesfield.

The double whammy, of course, is that it is not just Tollitt who will be absent.

Liverpool loanee Jack Dunn picked up a hamstring injury in the same game, a 2-1 win over Boreham Wood, meaning a lay off of up to six weeks.

It perhaps means a chance for Adam Mekki to show what he can do after a long time out of favour, or maybe Adam Dawson will be thrown in for the first real time since he joined the club permanently.

Either way, you would argue that it is a step down from Tollitt. There is no doubting this is a blow to Tranmere’s chance of finishing in first place.

Unfortunately for Rovers, picking up key injuries at time when confidence was high and promotion was a realistic ambition seems to be a recurring theme.

Ronnie Moore came pretty close to getting the club back into the promised land of the Championship when he was at Prenton Park.

Closer, that is, than anyone since Brian Little and his team were beaten on penalties by Hartlepool in the play-off semi-finals in 2005.

The start of the 2007/08 campaign was an exciting time for the club. They were building a solid team around the likes of Chris Greenacre, Danny Coyne and Ian Goodison.

On top of that, Chris Shuker was flying on the wing and Steve Davies was beginning to announce himself as one of the brightest stars in League One after bagging goals against Gillingham and Yeovil.

A flying start had Tranmere competing right at the top of the table. Except it would not last.

On 29th September, Steven Davies picked up a serious knee injury as Rovers drew 2-2 against Northampton. He would only play another two games for the club, right at the back end of the season before controversially signing for Derby when his contract expired.

Fast forward to Boxing Day.

By now, Ronnie Moore’s side are in the midst of a wretched run of form. But if there had been any bright spark, it was Shuker.

They are taking on Carlisle at Prenton Park, but the winger lasts only nine minutes before being substituted.

Again, it is a knee problem that keeps him out, for nearly three months in total, with a horrific tackle (that did not even get penalised) the causation. He was never the same player after that.

Both injuries knocked the wind out of Tranmere’s sails. They struggled to replace Davies and Shuker and eventually finished in 11th place, 11 points off the final play-off position.

A year later, Chris Greenacre, leading scorer over the previous three campaigns, does not play after Christmas because of a collection of injuries, one of them picked up during John Achterberg’s testimonial in March.

It is no coincidence that in his absence, Rovers struggled to score goals, with midfielder Antony Kay finishing as top scorer with 12 strikes in all competitions.

This time around, it is a last gasp draw against Scunthorpe on the final day which costs the side 6th place. Perhaps the striker would have made a big difference, as would Craig Curran and Bas Savage who also spent time on the sidelines.

Now fast forward to 2012/13. This is arguably Tranmere’s greatest chance of getting back into the second tier.

Ronnie has somehow brought together a quite remarkable side on a shoestring budget. They are a breath of fresh air. Attacking with purpose and pace, whilst defending valiantly at the back.

This team holds no fear. They believe they can beat anybody and everybody.

The season starts brilliantly. Jean-Louis Akpa Akpro and Jake Cassidy are scoring at will up front, whilst James Wallace and Andy Robinson drive the team forward from midfield.

Then in defence, Ian Goodison, the evergreen, finds the perfect partner in Ben Gibson, a loanee from Middlesbrough who is now flying in the Premier League.

They win nine of their first twelve matches, including a 5-2 success at Crawley and a sublime 3-1 victory away to Scunthorpe.

It seems to good to be true. And it is.

Akpa Akpro is the first to be injured, breaking a metatarsal during a 1-0 win at Notts County, before Abdulai Baggie is struck down by a particularly dirty tackle in defeat at Bournemouth.

Gibson follows, returning to The Riverside Stadium requiring a hernia operation, before Moore’s men are well and truly killed off as Wallace damages his knee ligaments against Chesterfield in the FA Cup.

He would not play again for nearly 12 months. Some would say he has never been the same player since.

The team continued to fight, valiantly, and were still top of the table after beating Brentford 2-1 at Griffin Park in January.

But eventually things catch up with them. Such players cannot be replaced easily, and they also lost Jake Cassidy after his loan spell from Wolves expires.

They go on to finish 11th, this time seven points off the top six, after failing to score in the last six matches.

So history shows these things happen. And it would appear that Tranmere have had more than their fair share of bad luck when it comes to injuries, particularly absences enforced by a knee problem.

Where Tollitt treads now, Wallace, Shuker, Davies and co have been before him.

The difference is this time Tranmere will not miss out on the play-offs. They are too well placed. They should be able to handle the absence of one winger.

The question is, can they still finish in first?

Their chances have been dealt a huge blow. There can be no doubt about that.

But they cannot mope. There can be no woe is me attitude, like there was back in 2008 and 2013.

A slip up was expected then, particularly with the latter.

Well, this is the National League now, not League One. The teams around can be tamed, as long as the attitude is right and everyone pulls together.

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