Jon McCarthy is ‘full of admiration’ for Tranmere Rovers but is intent on putting a major dent in their promotion charge.
Chester entertain Micky Mellon’s Rovers in front of the BT Sport cameras at the Lookers Vauxhall Stadium tonight (7.45pm) and manager McCarthy believes the Blues can prove more than a match for their fourth-placed opponents.
Rovers are just four points behind leaders Lincoln City but McCarthy has called on his Blues to produce a performance the fans can ‘be proud of’.
In addition, an injury crisis in midfield has led to McCarthy signing 23-year-old midfielder Lucas Dawson on a deal until the end of the season, the former Telford United player having been on trial at the Deva.
“They’ve got the best management team, they’re a big club and have really quality players so I’ve got a lot of admiration for them,” said McCarthy, who is without skipper Luke George (hamstring) and will give late fitness tests to Theo Vassell (hamstring) and Tom Shaw (knee).
“I got chance to see them the other week and I like them. It’s a model you aspire to. The shape, system and organisation is very good, but tonight we have to find a way to be a credit to our club.
“We have to put on a level of performance that our fans can be proud of. We’ve earned the respect of the top teams this season. They come here, bring their best game, then they beat us, but they’ll know they’ve been in a game.
"If they don’t, we’re ready to take advantage and that’s why these games are important for us.
“These games are exciting as they give us the chance to get another breakthrough. If we can beat Tranmere, it takes us to that next level.
“I’ve seen them play 4-4-2, and 3-5-2, there’s a few at the back they don’t tend to change. They rotate their wide players and strikers.
"If Forest Green had gone ahead it would have been a clearer picture for me as I’d have known what system they played.
“Micky has a nice problem after that Barrow performance. If on Tuesday he’d have played Cook and Norwood up front, we’d have expected Stockton and Mangan.
"Now it’s difficult to tell so we’ll prepare for both, they could also play three wide players.”
The Blues produced a thrilling second half comeback in the reverse fixture at Prenton Park, coming from two goals down to salvage a 2-2 draw with goals from Shaw and a last-minute Ryan Astles’ strike, sending the travelling contingent of 1,200 into raptures.
McCarthy believes the players established a ‘connection’ with the supporters that day and has issued a rallying cry to the Blues’ faithful to give his side a vocal backing tonight, and not be overwhelmed by Tranmere’s sizeable following, having sold out their 1,100 allocation.
“When we took 1,200 fans to Prenton Park, that was then the players really got that connection with the fans,” added McCarthy.
“Only really Mahony had experienced that before at Barnsley in the FA Cup, so it was important for the group.
“We showed them too much respect in the first half maybe we didn’t believe it ourselves.
"Shaw’s goal gave us a spark, they got frustrated, had a man sent off and we just went for them.
“The crowd took us closer and closer and it grew and it was the best feeling of the season and the closest we’ve been to as a football club to our fans.
“That’s what I’d request, it’s a rallying call for Friday. In this period we’ve had, that’s when we need the fans the most. We’ve introduced extra sessions in the afternoon and we’ve tried to turn things around.
“For the fans, the vast majority give us unwavering support, but when we are struggling, that’s when we need you to get behind us, as you won’t know what that feels like until you’re on that touchline.”
Chester approach tonight’s derby having ended a four-match losing streak with a 1- 0 win at Southport and McCarthy admits it was a crucial three points.
“It was a big win but I’ll question the ‘much-needed’ part, as I think people have forgotten how well we’ve done and where we were at the beginning of the season,” he added.
“But that’s good because it means we’ve created expectation by over-achieving.”