Ronnie Moore keeping them calm
2 February ~ Sitting pretty at the top of the table going into February is not a state of affairs that Tranmere Rovers are used to. The fact that we have occupied top spot since virtually since the opening day is even more remarkable. A win at home to Carlisle today could put us nine points clear of third place and fuel nervous talk of a first promotion in two decades. As the second-longest serving members of League One, recent seasons have seen Tranmere become a byword for modest ambition thwarted by footballing mediocrity.
Occasional flirtations with the play-offs or relegation have been tempered by years locked in a mid-table wilderness. It is too simplistic to thank just one man for this change in our fortunes but the return of Ronnie Moore as manager last March galvanised the whole club. Easing to safety after a dicey start last season gave the fans and, crucially, the players some belief.
Optimism and excitement off the field is being driven by a tangible team spirit on it. Without a star striker or inspirational captain running the show, the players are battling for each other in a way that shows a marked change from recent times. Moore has shed some fringe players and put his faith in a group of hungry youngsters, a judicious use of loans and a couple of old heads to keep things calm. The confidence is paying dividends.
Jake Cassidy has returned to parent club Wolves after a productive 11 strikes by the new year but this Rovers side has been sharing the goals around. Fifteen players have found the net so far, with old stager Andy Robinson already in double figures from midfield. Teenagers Max Power and Cole Stockton are now integral members of the squad, while Adam McGurk's form has earned him a maiden call-up to the full Northern Ireland squad, his first international recognition since an Under-21 cap four years ago.
The players' trust in each other is reflected by the manager, whose calmness in the face of the occasional blip has kept the promotion push going. We handed Swindon an early Christmas present six weeks ago, as they deservedly beat us 5-0, but despite that shambles Moore resisted the urge to make wholesale changes. The same players reacted by winning five of the next six games.
Today's opponents Carlisle are having an inconsistent season, with a narrow victory over a resurgent Coventry one of the few high spots of late. On current form, Rovers should notch up another home win. With that first promotion since 1991 looking ever more likely, Prenton Park is a buoyant place to be. Beating Carlisle will keep it that way. Tristan Browning