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Bishop's Blog: The pressure is on

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What a difference a couple of months make! Back in October Rovers were riding high with Les’s stock rarely higher. Now the dissenting voices and even banners have surfaced, and unfortunately, just as I predicted when he got the job, the fact he was never a professional player is being used as a stick to beat him.

He’s not the only one. Only the other week one of Jose Mourinho’s players at mighty Real Madrid, (who incidentally tried to copy Rovers in their heyday by adopting an all white kit!), aimed a swipe in his direction, “You don’t know what it’s like because you never played the game”.

For a man who admittedly never made the grade as a professional player Mourinho hasn’t done badly for himself and can point to a suitcase of winners’ medals from his travels. For Les though such snide accusations are difficult to defend.  The use of the “you never played the game” jibe is one I have found professional footballers love to dig up whenever things are going wrong and they encounter someone with an opinion different to theirs.

That abrasive little character, Neil McNab, once told me I should not question someone’s tactics in a programme article “as you’ve never played ‘the game!”

Really?  I countered.   “Agatha Christie has written dozens of murder mysteries but as far I know she never actually killed anyone.”

Now I don’t know if Les, like Mourinho, has had to suffer the “you never played the game” jibe from any of his players - to his face or behind his back - but the inescapable fact he has no professional playing experience to draw upon is cited as a prime reason, according to supporters, why we have slid down the League table from 5th to 17th since October with just one win in 16.

“You don’t know what you are doing Les”, or “you are out of your depth” are popular themes around me.

This argument does tend to ignore the fact that Les must have done something right in the first place to get us into 5th position!

Perhaps Les needs to recognise the danger signs of discontent around him rather than defensively claim as he did recently on Late Kick off that, “We are playing well at the moment”.  Not many would agree with him on that score.

True, we have some key players out injured and we are losing, at the moment, by the odd goal, but that should not disguise our underlying frailties. We don’t score enough goals, we are vulnerable at the back, and are desperately short on confidence. All in all, a recipe for a relegation battle rather than chasing a play off place as we apparently were in October.

The lad who unfurled the “Parry Out” banner before the Rochdale match started quickly realised he was on a loser when the Kop and others booed him, but Les would be wise not to interpret that as an endorsement of his enduring popularity. Had the banner appeared at full time during the cacophony of booing the reaction to it might have been quite different.

As a personality Les is still a popular figure with Rovers fans but many are now beginning to question his credentials to actually manage the team. Down in the home paddock where I sit patience is wearing thin and there seems to be three main bones of contention amongst the crowd - and here we are not talking the odd lone dissenting voice – and strangely none relate directly to just winning football matches.

The groans and grumbles, even the screaming banshees venting their frustration at the home bench may all be symptomatic of not winning but more worryingly, we are haemorrhaging support at an alarming rate. Every week there are more and more empty seats as regulars in the paddock vote with their feet –and many claim with a parting shot they are simply unhappy with the product they are paying to watch.

The first source of general frustration is the 4-3-3 formation that often seems to be 4-5-1 with just one man up front, even in home matches, chasing hopeless long balls with little or no support. And even when Les makes a substitution it is perceived as ‘like for like’ rather than a change to the formation to give the opposition something to think about when we desperately need a goal.

The next big gripe one hears relates to our tactics when defending a corner or set piece in home matches. For the life of me even I cannot see how pulling every outfield player back will result in anything other than a defensive clearance being whipped back into the danger area and putting us under more pressure because we have no attacking outlet at all!

The third and most common complaint one hears is about the quality of the football. As the bloke who sits behind me wryly observed, “you can take it that Les and Kevin Summerfield don’t share Brendon Rogers’s philosophy of how the game should be played!”

Yet for the first few months of the season there were real signs that we intended to progress playing neat and tidy football on the deck –as we did again against Huddersfield -but since October many of our players, particularly those in defence, have, for the most part, reverted to type and just hoof the ball as far as they can.

Our regular strike force meanwhile, stands accused of being as ineffectual as any in recent history, with an appalling goals to attempts ratio, and it has to be said that was no better when Enoch was playing either. The midfield too seems reluctant to get forward into shooting positions.

Now, no one expects Rovers to play like Barcelona ( or Real Madrid), but fans brought up watching Jim Harvey , Johnny Morrissey, Pat Nevin and Ian Muir expect a certain standard of football at Prenton Park, even when purse strings have never been tighter. Like Madrid, that all white kit is synonymous with a proud history of entertaining football!

It’s not as if we have got a squad devoid of skill and technique. Les’s strong point –acknowledged by his fellow Managers - is finding and recruiting Asda players on a Netto budget. Unfortunately, what he couldn’t get for peanuts were any players with real pace, or an out and out goal-scorer with a proven record.

I still maintain what I said at the start of the season, that bar a couple who would be peripheral, the squad we started the season with was as good as any we have had in the last 10 years.  That said, I hadn’t reckoned for the loss of Dale Jennings goals, his magical runs, or the absence of Aaron Creswell’s deadly accurate left boot. They have been missed.

The current situation is still salvageable but we have to return to basics with players told to play the ball short to feet and work an opening not boot it aimlessly up field or lump deep hopeful balls into the box.

If Lateef and Wallace are to make any sort of impact we need to play to their strengths and they certainly won’t be used to chasing long punts during training and reserve matches at West Brom and Everton respectively. We also need to learn how to hang onto a winning position away from home!

In order to appease those frustrated fans who now bay for his blood, albeit with some guilt,  perhaps Les ought to adopt a more “who dares wins” strategy during the last third of the season because most believe we are often too cautious  and in doing so allow the opposition to punish our every mistake.

To be certain of safety we probably need another 20 points from the remaining 17 matches, which is eminently achievable. But in the longer term if the missing fans are to be enticed back through the turnstiles some things need to change before the cheeky chappie, and one time Physio with the scrawny white legs, gets unfairly cast as the pantomime villain and therefore a prime candidate for the sack.

After all his years of loyal service at Prenton Park, Les Parry does not deserve that, but at least it is in his own hands turn things around. Address the three issues which seem to irk fans most and I reckon results will take care of themselves!

Finally, my sincere condolences to the families of Former Rovers Chairman Frank Corfe, and Rovers supporter Chris Metcalfe, a man who more or less dedicated all his adult life to following Tranmere Rovers from afar and for a period was a noted and knowledgeable columnist on the programme during my tenure as Editor. A gentleman of the old school, Chris was always great company for a pint after the match and will be missed by this writer very much. 67 is no age these days.

Our former Chairman and I meanwhile may have had our run in’s when he first arrived at the club, but thereafter I always found him hugely supportive of everything I did as Programme editor and Press liaison officer. Under his stewardship Rovers and the programme achieved many awards. In my view unfairly pilloried following his demise at the helm during an unseemly and bitter spat with his one time friend Peter Johnson, he deserved better as history will show the ground we have today was the legacy of his vision and foresight. RIP Frank and Chris.




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