IT IS hard to believe that just 15 games ago Hartlepool United and Tranmere Rovers were separated by a cigarette paper.
Today, the gap is about as wide as the Grand Canyon.
And that is 15 games, not 15 months or 15 years.
To say that Pools and Rovers were difficult to separate last season would be an understatement.
The clubs had identical won/drawn/lost/points records – 14 victories, the same number of draws and 18 defeats, all adding up to 56 points.
Pools had scored 50 times, one more than Rovers, though the Wirral outfit claimed 12th place on goal difference – minus four compared to the minus five of Neale Cooper’s side.
Fast forward just 15 matches and Tranmere and Pools are separated by 20 clear places and 23 points.
Ronnie Moore has weaved his magic in his second spell at Prenton Park with Rovers having led the table from the early stages of the season.
Last night’s results saw them knocked off top spot though they could reclaim pole position with a point at the Vic.
Rovers have scored goals for fun, led by the efforts of inspired loan signing Jake Cassidy, who is on a half-season stay from Wolves.
The Wales Under-21 international was the first player in the Football League into double figures and has netted 10 goals.
But Tranmere have been hit by the loss of fellow goal-getter Jean-Louis Akpa Akpro – Rovers have not won in three games, following up a 3-1 defeat at Bournemouth wth a 2-1 home set-back against Doncaster and a 1-1 draw with Preston.
Moore, not surprisingly, is full of praise for Cassidy who he is trying to persuade Wolves to let him keep all season. “He never gives in and he’s not afraid to miss,” said Moore. “As a striker, if you’re afraid to shoot or afraid to miss, you’re in trouble.
“He just needs to get the right partner alongside him.
“We have got the right partner [Jean-Louis Akpa Akpro] but he’s injured until January.
“The chairman has let me bring two in [Jake Jervis and Nathan Eccleston] and hopefully one of those will fit the bill for us.”
Pools will recognise the name Jervis – he committed one of the worst misses ever seen at the Vic when he hit the Rink End stand rather than the open goal when on loan at Carlisle earlier this season.
The Birmingham City striker has not played since suffering an ankle injury on his Tranmere debut, but could feature tonight on the bench. On-loan Blackpool ace Eccleston is also out with a hamstring problem.
Despite their injury woes, Rovers present a major threat to Pools and caretaker boss Micky Barron is an admirer of the job Moore has done on a limited budget.
“It could be hard for them [to keep it going],” said Barron.
“They signed some good players and they’ve had a great start and scored lots of goals.
“But they are a team who need all their players to be fit all the time – if they get a couple of injuries that could affect them.
“It doesn’t surprise me that a team like that can get on a run and get that momentum going.
“Ronnie is a good manager.
“He gets his teams organised into the shape and the style of play he wants them to play quite quickly.
“Full credit to Ronnie, I don’t think they have lots of money to spend, he’s done a great job.”