Football: Zola's fitness gamble ends with setback.
TRANMERE'S Calvin Zola faces an extended spell on the sidelines after his comeback attempt went spectacularly wrong.
The tall striker's contribution to a 1-0 win at Carlisle lasted just 17 minutes before he aggravated a hamstring strain.
So while Rovers enjoy the view from second place in the League One table following a third win in five games, Zola is looking at a further fortnight in the treatment room.
Manager Ronnie Moore, keen to add height and power to his lightweight attack, gambled and lost on Zola shaking off the effects of an injury that kept him out of the three previous games. "Calvin was a three-quarter place and now he is out for another fortnight," Moore said With target man Gareth Taylor also sidelined by a broken rib, Rovers have been reliant on the pace and mobility of leading marksman Chris Greenacre and 18-year-old Craig Curran, who notched the winner at Carlisle.
Rovers can't be sure how long Taylor will be kept out of action by his injury. Broken ribs have to be left to heal in Mother Nature's own time. Rovers' encounter with Luton Town on Friday night may come too soon for the experienced Taylor.
Moore said: "We are lacking a bit of strength up front at the moment.
That is the biggest problem. We certainly don't lack ability or agility with Chris and Craig.
"It was pleasing to see young Craig come on and hit the back of the net on Saturday. He can score goals, there is no doubt about that.
The question is whether he is quite ready to knuckle down to playing 90 minutes once and sometimes twice a week. It is a big ask for a player so young. He uses up so much energy in chasing lost causes for us. But he has to learn the other side of the game: what to do when we have the ball and how to conserve his energy better."
Moore's planning for the Luton game will also be influenced by fitness issues elsewhere in the squad.
Greenacre and winger Chris Shuker nursed hamstring and thigh injuries through the Carlisle game, while skipper Ian Goodison carried on after twisting his hip.
Moore said: "I was relieved that the players who had the knocks were not the types who put their armup to come off. When you consider the problems we had with the injuries and how hot it was, the performance was tremendous."
Moore expects Greenacre and Shuker will be available for the Luton game, although both men may miss some training this week.
Rovers hope goalkeeper Danny Coyne returns unscathed from duty with the Wales international squad for the Euro 2008 qualifier in Slovakia tomorrow.
Wales were prepared to release Coyne from duty as a substitute against Germany last Saturday so he could play for Tranmere at Carlisle. A similar arrangement may be in place for the Euro 2008 qualifiers in October and November.
Tranmere's bright start to the season in League One is in contrast to their fortunes in the knockout competitions. Rovers went out of the Carling Cup and the Johnstone's Paints Trophy in the first month of the season, prompting Moore to admit: "Cup competitions and me don't seem to go hand-in-hand.
"It was a similar situation last season. I really would like us to progress in the knockout competitions but the league is the most important thing to this football club. Getting to the Championship is the number one target.
"It is encouraging we taken seven points out of the first nine away from home. Now we've got a tough home game with Luton to look forward to on Friday. They have experience and quality in their side.
"But I think other teams will now be looking us and thinking they don't want to go to Tranmere."
We are lacking a bit of strength up front at the moment RONNIE MOORE
Tranmere's Calvin Zola is forced off injured against Carlisle Picture: ACTION IMAGES /PAUL CURRIE