It used to be only goalkeepers who would be left in limbo if they lost their first team place: after all, outfield players can adapt to a different role on the pitch, but a keeper unlikely to pop up on the left wing! However, the way tactics are moving these days, a couple of Wrexham’s attacking players could find it hard to find the spot they desire in the team.
It’s odd how things turn out. Certainly, Andy Mangan wouldn’t have expected to find himself in his current situation when he signed for us, or indeed as recently as the start of this season. Come to think of it, neither would have Dean Saunders.
Admittedly his injury, following a criminally unpunished challenge by Paul Edwards, hasn’t helped him. However, things didn’t stand still in his absence, and if Wrexham build on the impressive showing at Bath, Mangan will find himself fighting for a place in his favoured position rather than being the man Dean Saunders builds his team around.
Because let’s not kid ourselves: that was Plan A as long ago as last Christmas, when Mangan release from Forest Green was negotiated, and possibly even earlier than that. Mangan would be the man who would rattle in the goals, and the issue was whether we’d be able to inject some creativity into last season’s staid side.
However, Andy Morrell’s form confused matters. At first they looked like a perfectly compatible pair; if Saunders did play two up front they complemented each other well; if he picked one, Morrell looked very effective coming in from the right to support Mangan.
However, Saunders seemed to start seeing things differently after Mangan had shown enthusiasm when Saunders, in a desperate attempt to squeeze as many attacking players as possible onto the pitch at Forest Green, used him on the right.
It was a move repeated against Kidderminster and Barrow, but Mangan is not a natural fit for the position. No problem, you might think; stick him up front when he’s fit again and Morrell, much more suited to the right-sided role, can shuttle across. The problem is, things changed at Bath. In Mangan’s absence Morrell played the lone striker role to perfection. His energy occupied the centre backs (actually, make that terrified them!) making him a constant threat. End Product? He scored the first and won the free kick the second came from when he typically chased a lost cause and forced a mistake from a panic-stricken defender.
If Morrell keeps playing like this then Saunders has a tough choice: does he play Mangan out of position when there are better alternatives on the right (Wes Baynes, the forgotten man of The Racecourse springs to mind!), or sacrifice Morrell the striker? I see Mangan as crucial to our chances; he’s a proven goalscorer and we don’t get our hands on them too often. But would I want to see more performances like Morrell’s on Monday? Of course. I don’t envy Saunders his decision.
David Brown, having had a good run early in the season, also faces a problem if Monday’s performance is the shape of things to come. Saunders, perhaps over-reacting to that lack of spark going forward last season, packed four attacking players into his early line-ups with Brown playing in front of the midfield duo. It worked nicely in flashes, not least against Cambridge. However, the Forest Green match saw him rendered peripheral and since then Saunders has clearly had doubts: the longest he has managed on the pitch in a game since the first day of the season is 67 minutes.
Again, if the Bath game was a turning point, Brown finds himself with a battle to regain his place. Instead of a player in his position ahead of Keates and Harris, the midfield looked a lot more balanced with Christian Smith sitting in behind them. So, with his favoured position gone, where would he fit in? He might suit a wide role, but only by trying to drfit inside and find space, as he doesn’t have the obvious attributes for that role. Likewise, he doesn’t look like a natural lone striker, and there’s be plenty of others who’d fancy themselves to be ahead of him in that particular queue.
Naturally, players go in and out of favour at a club. It’ll be interesting to watch these two key parts of Saunders’ plans fight to regain their spots in his favour. I suspect Mangan, particularly, will be given every chance to find his place somewhere in the eleven, but he might find it harder to break through if the team that played on Monday maintain their form.