I was talking in my Leader column last week about character, and I thought that quality was evident again on Saturday. This time it was Johnny Hunt who showed his appetite for a challenge, and in the most admirable of ways.
I’ve seen young players crushed by a rough ride like Peter Till gave him in the first half of the York match. Till’s a good winger and Martin Foyle admitted after the game that he’d used the knowledge that young Hunt would be thrown in at left back, switching Till’s flanks to attack him.
The tactic worked a treat. Wrexham’s starting formation doesn’t really afford much cover for the full backs as our wide players are encouraged to push up the pitch. It was something Newport threatened to exploit in the opening fifteen minutes the week before, but by taking control of the midfield we nullified the threat.
That same solution wasn’t to be forthcoming against York. Till beat Hunt regularly in the first half hour, and when the youngster lunged rashly in, desperately trying to halt his tormenter, Till skipped past him and drilled the ball home to equalise.
Meanwhile, Christian Smith, whose presence in front of the back four has been so important in the last couple of games, found himself constantly rushing across to try to help Hunt, leaving a gap which York’s midfield runners looked to exploit. Till’s threat was pulling our formation all over the place.
Dean Saunders reacted by changing to a 4-4-2 to give Hunt some protection, but equally crucially, Hunt refused to be cowed by his experience. As a child he clearly had the message drummed into him that if you fall off your bike you get straight back on and try again!
His efforts in continuing to challenge Till were admirable. Rather than go to pieces he kept scrapping away, and slowly he began to work him out. Admittedly, having Nat Knight-Percival drop back to double up with him helped, but the way Till’s threat was nullified wasn’t purely down to that. In the second half, when Saunders wanted to push on and go for a win, he was able to return Knight-Percival to a more attacking position, secure in the knowledge that Hunt had learned how to deal with Till, and when their individual battle was resumed Hunt won it hands down.
The ability to recover which Hunt showed, and which I mentioned last week in relation to Scott Shearer, encourages me. There were times last season when I felt the team knew the weight of fortune was against them, and they failed to fight against it. If things didn’t go their way there was a sense that they would accept it as their fate. They couldn’t drop the culture of failure.
This side, not only through the examples I’ve given, but through those of relentless old stagers like Andy Morrell and Dean Keates, and curmudgeons like Neil Ashton, who take any form of failure as a personal slight, are just what the squad needed. It’s not just the quality of the players in a squad which make it succeed or fail; it’s the quality of the men.