"I saw the last of Waring …
Oh, never star was lost here, but it rose afar!"
For our final pre-season friendly game we visit Prenton Park, home of Tranmere Rovers since 1912 - and home of Kieron Morris for the past month or so. Promoted via the play-off final from League 2, they have had a strikingly similar batch of pre-season results to ours:-
July 6th Livingston (H) Lost 1-2
July 11th Liverpool (H) Lost 0-6
July 20th Stoke City (H) Lost 0-2
July 23rd Carlisle United (A) Lost 3-0
Rovers face the same problems as ourselves in the goalscoring department - Andy Cook and James Norwood were a fearsome combination in their promotion achievements, and there is still resentment on the part of some supporters following their departure. (Norwood scored a hat-trick for his new club Ipswich Town in one of their friendlies against Colchester United).
Meanwhile Darrell Clarke has the task of recovering his squad’s morale after Dean Smith’s multi-million £££ Aston Villa side did a number on them, all in the interests of a bit of cash in the till. Our much-heralded “solid defence” found itself 0-2 down after 12 minutes, and although efforts were made to play the ball on the ground, far too often the Villa pressure resulted in our familiar “hoofball” tactic which usually ended up in our losing possession. Villa eased off after half-time, and even with their full side being substituted they still demonstrated a huge gulf in the skills between us. One obvious (and basic) difference was seen in Villa’s running off the ball - so often when they had possession we were guilty of ball-watching, thus missing the movement off the ball which gave them an easy pass.
However, enough of that - it’s highly unlikely that we will encounter teams in League 2 with anywhere near that level of sheer footballing ability which, when combined with the coaching talents of Dean Smith, makes them almost unplayable!
Darrell Clarke will (hopefully) have his first choice XI pretty well sorted by now, and he may well treat this game as a proper rehearsal for the season ahead - so the starting players may be given the chance to complete the game without multi-substitutions…
Prediction? Go with the familiar 0-2 away win for the Saddlers, as long as Maik Taylor has got his goalkeeping students up to speed!