Keith Hill insisted he will not gamble with star striker James Vaughan’s fitness to revive Tranmere’s faltering promotion bid after a 1-0 loss at Walsall extended their winless run to six.
Emmanuel Osadebe’s 25-yard rocket left Rovers five points off the top three with five games to go and looking play-off bound.
Jay Spearing was sent off for two poor tackles to add to their woes, and even though 18-goal top scorer Vaughan returned off the bench after a knee injury, Hill said Tranmere cannot rely solely on him.
“I’m being guided by James. I asked him when he could go on and we got 20 minutes out of him, but we cannot put all our eggs into James Vaughan’s basket – it’s not fair on him,” said Hill.
“We have to protect him while taking a certain amount of calculated risk. We want his presence on the pitch but we want him to be able to perform to the standard he can.
“We’ve got to be very careful. He’s a key player for us but he needs minutes on the grass. I’ve got to protect James Vaughan rather than protecting myself from looking a little bit stupid or desperate.”
Tranmere have scored just nine goals in 11 games since Vaughan’s injury and failed to truly test Walsall goalkeeper Jack Rose.
Hill added: “We are searching for a spark and we didn’t quite find it. We’ve not had a difficult spell since I’ve been at the club. We’ve had great successes.
“I think we’ve got to ignore the league table. The players have got to try to clear their minds of what potentially is at stake.”
Walsall, meanwhile, backed up their first victory under interim boss Brian Dutton at the weekend with another to virtually secure safety after a 14-game winless streak.
Dutton said: “It’s been a tough spell, it’s been a storm that we’ve gone through, a really tough, really horrible storm.
“I mentioned a quote to the players in one of the meetings from Einstein – that adversity introduces a man to himself – and these lads can look in the mirror and be fully honoured.
“I thought the performance was excellent in the second half and they deserved the win.
“Two great wins and 49 points looks a good mark. These last two fixtures have put ourselves into a strong position now where we can make ourselves safe and plan for a future in the EFL and that is very important because this club is a sleeping giant.
“It needs to be moved forward and quickly, and to do that we need to be in the EFL and we need to plan being in the EFL and I think we are almost there now.”
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