Tactical Report: 26th December 2011 AFC Telford United 0 Wrexham 2 Blue Square Bet Premier


Spirit, resolve and set pieces saw Wrexham through this typical derby match. It was a game in which you’d hardly describe them as fluent, but they showed the mental toughness and appetite for a scrap they might need to stay above Fleetwood Town.

It was also a game which offered a clear illustration of Wrexham’s strengths and weaknesses. With Lee Fowler’s future up in the air, they went into the fixture lacking a creative passer in midfield and were immediately faced with a Telford side which took its derby-day responsibilities seriously. Lining up  with a 4-2-3-1 formation allowed them to commit men in the Wrexham half, pressing fiercely when they didn’t have the ball, Indeed, Adams and Trainer, the two most withdrawn midfielders, certainly weren’t sitting in front of their back four; instead they both looked to go forward when possible, which increased the intensity with which Telford played, but would ultimately allow Wrexham an opportunity to counter attack decisively.

The genuine width of that formation caused problems too, as Ashley Cain, who had troubled Neil Ashton at Mansfield for an hour last season, was again a constant threat down the right.

On the one hand, Fowler might have been the ideal player in that sort of situation, able to hold onto the ball under pressure and slip through passes which took Telford’s pressers out of the game; on the other, Wrexham’s three midfielders are all combative and both Joe Clarke and Jamie Tolley also boast the physique required to withstand a scrap. Whether Fowler would have relished such a contest if he hadn’t been able to play the game on his own terms is debatable; whether he’d have shown the invaluable defensive discipline Clarke provided is not.

Clarke, having finally been offered a contract in the week, responded with an outstanding performance, easily his best in a Wrexham shirt. It was notable, and impressive, that he stood out the most when Wrexham were under the greatest pressure, standing up to Telford’s threat manfully and constantly breaking play up in front of the back four, something which was required as Davies was drifting cleverly behind the lone striker Sharp.

Telford certainly took the game to Wrexham and asked questions of the defensive unit, which once again stood firm. In fact, that led to Wrexham becoming something of a “broken team”, with the three midfielders essentially forced to sit in front of the back four for long periods and launch long balls to the attacking unit of three, who essentially stayed up the pitch. Potentially this was another area where Fowler ought to have been missed, as he is the obvious provider of quality service to the strikers when the pressure’s on, but again Clarke would prove to be the answer. In the past he has looked like a solid defensive midfielder who is well advised to keep his distribution simple, but in this match he constantly hit accurate long passes to change defence quickly into attack, particularly the long sweeping pass to Speight on the left which, intentionally or not, turned into Wrexham’s main out ball.

With neither Trainer nor Adams given a specific holding role and Wrexham leaving three men up the pitch, the visitors therefore were able to present an attacking threat without having to be too accurate with their passing; a natural 3 v 4 situation was created up the pitch, so there were plenty of options whenever a Wrexham striker was able to bring the ball down. Therefore, without being able to control the midfield, Wrexham remained a genuine attacking threat; in fact, even during Telford’s best spells, Wrexham were still the side more likely to create something as the wide strikers constantly threatened to get round the back of the full backs.

Having said that, it would be set pieces which would actually turn this match into a victory. Admittedly, Wrexham’s ability to wear down opponents and take control in the second half has already been exhibited regularly this season, but it was the timing of the two goals, both from set plays, which would turn out to be crucial.


In their previous game, at Braintree, Telford had been troubled from set pieces by the big centre back Dean Wells, and in this match Mark Creighton would prove too difficult for them to handle, glancing on an Ashton free kick for the opening goal, then forcing a defender to glance on Curtis Obeng’s long throw for the second (to my recollection the first goal Wrexham have scored direct from a long throw this season). Although Telford responded well to going behind, the goal gave Wrexham something to defend and inevitably United became a little less composed once the steam ran out of their initial onslaught with barely a sight of Wrexham’s goal having been achieved.

The second goal was a killer, and ought to have opened the floodgates. Telford were forced to push on more, hardly helped by injuries which deprived them of a centre back and his replacement, forcing the impressive Salmon into the centre and Samuels, who had come on as a left winger, to go to right back. Naturally he looked to push forward, but Telford’s commitment of an extra man forward from the back, while necessary, only caused them problems. Wrexham’s defence remained impregnable, and on the break they really ought to have scored more to put an emphatic gloss on the result..


So what does this match tell us about what’s likely to happen on New Year’s Day? The key element is surely how Telford will go about their business. Taking the same in-your-face approach as they did in this match would be a high risk strategy, especially with first teamers out injured or suspended. If they do that and are able to land an early punch it might come off, but if not they’d be leaving themselves wide open to a repetition of what happened on Boxing Day.

More logical would be to park the bus and ask a Wrexham side which has lost its most incisive passer to find a way through them, although obviously Andy Sinton will have to weight up what personnel are available to him before deciding on the wisdom of such an approach: with two centre backs going off injured in this match, he might find himself asking a makeshift back four to withstand a lot of pressure.

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