When Charlton ventured to Prenton Park last season, almost everything went right. We scored four times in a positive and effervescent performance, Rob Elliot’s goal was not breached and to cap it all, Jose Semedo found the net – an event that proves you’ve had a good day.
A replication of that this weekend, though, looks unlikely. Our clutch of signings towards the back-end of the summer transfer window undoubtedly boosted the strength of our squad, but the influx of numbers has also muddled Parky’s thinking.
Should Paul Benson start? If so, who should partner him? What should do we do with Lee Martin? Who should comprise the back four? At the start of the campaign, our first X1 picked itself (mainly because we had very little in reserve), but now that our ranks have been swelled, is seems as though our manager is scratching his head as how best to fit everybody in.
Despite last week’s narrow – and extremely lucky – victory over Notts County, there is scope for change this Saturday. Parky openly criticised the way Benson and Pawel Abbott played as a unit, and coupled with the way Joe Anyinsah and Akpo Sodje gave us a huge lift when they entered the fray, I would not be surprised to see some striker shuffling.
Abbot was better then Benson, and his superior hold-up and link skills should secure him a starting spot in Birkenhead, probably alongside Anyinsah, whose pace could be an even greater asset away from home. That said, I can see Parky standing his ground and playing his two cash purchases in unison once again, but if that does happen, I would like to see a lot more from Benson than just willing running.
Elsewhere, Therry Racon should replace Alan McCormack in the centre of midfield. I barely noticed the cultured Frenchman in the second half against County, so either the game passed him by, or he got on with his job without fuss.
Whichever of those statements is true, he had a better afternoon than the off-colour McCormack, and should definitely be handed a start. We might be playing an out-of-sorts Tranmere, but we are likely to have less of the ball than we do at The Valley, so Racon’s ability to pick that defence-splitting pass could be crucial.
At the back, it will probably be same again. Simon Francis had his best outing in a Charlton shirt last weekend, Johnnie Jackson is an unenthusiastic but capable left-back, and with Christian Dailly injured and Jonathan Fortune (the first name on my team sheet if we get him anywhere near match fitness) having played about as many professional games of football in the last year as I have, Gary Doherty and Matt Fry should form our central-defensive pairing once more.
Miguel Llera could return, I suppose, to try and combat the commanding presence of 6ft 5in powerhouse Enoch Showunmi, but that would be harsh on West Ham-loanee Fry, who outshone the more senior Doherty against The Magpies.
The ‘Ginger Pele’ actually had quite a poor showing in our previous fixture and under most circumstances would be sweating on retaining his place, but with the Dailly and Fortune situations, I have no doubt that he will. I just don’t see any occasion where Parky would select Llera and Fry together by choice.
The goalkeeping conundrum is a simple one to decipher – if we snap up someone temporarily he plays, if we don’t Ross Worner does, with teenager Connor Gough providing cover on the bench.
Tranmere have begun this season like the last – not very well. They have beaten the occasionally electric but occasionally poor Peterborough 1-0 at home, held hotshots Huddersfield at the Galpharm Stadium, and clawed back a two-goal deficit to draw at Dagenham. But there hasn’t been much else to cheer about with defeats to Oldham, Bournemouth and Yeovil leaving them in the embryonic bottom four.
Early-term form only matters if you let it, though. Last year, Bristol Rovers were flying high and Southampton – admittedly with the frustration of a point penalty – were struggling to pick up results. Fortunes altered as the campaign progressed and I’m sure Tranmere’s will do too.
The strike partnership of Shounmi and Ian Thomas-Moore – now happy again it seems after handing in a transfer request during the summer – could do some damage, and they do have a solid hand in charge in ex-physio Les Parry. He kept them up last season after the ill-fated John Barnes reign and I reckon he’ll lead them to a safe mid-table position in 2010/11.
4-0 last year, I’d take 1-0 this (which of course is a stupid thing to say because if you win 1-0 every week, you’re going to have a lot of success). What I’ll be looking for most, though, is some team identity and cohesion – something that should clarify Parky’s currently-cluttered mind.