We know Andy Morrell can motivate his team. We know he can put out a team which can get results. But we’ve yet to see him dabble in the transfer market.
It’s the one area we’ve no idea about, and it could be a crucial one for our prospects this season. We don’t know what sort of leeway Morrell will have in the transfer window to bring players in; perhaps there’ll be no scope to freshen up the squad. Frankly, three weeks ago I wouldn’t have even had the temerity to write on the subject, as like everyone else I’ve been viewing this season through the lens of the WST’s predicted budget for the year, trying to make assumptions on where we’re at based on decent attendances and shedding certain people off the wage bill. As a result, I assumed the priority was to save cash, not spend it, but our FA Cup run might have altered the situation. Despite the payment to Ian Roberts, there’s a possibility there could be some room for manouevre in the transfer market, although clearly if there is money available, it’ll be limited, and how it’s used will be crucial.
Everyone knows that a new face or two in January can galvanise a squad. This is particularly likely to be important for Wrexham, whose squad looks a bit stretched. The Hinckley match was a glimpse at our shadow squad, and it showed pretty plainly that while we have good strength in depth in certain areas, we certainly don’t in others.
With Declan Walker out injured, we’re lacked cover for the back four: Chris Westwood and Johnny Hunt are the only available players int he squad with any sort of meaningful defensive first team experience beyond the first choice back four. Centre back looks to be an area where we’re particularly short, an issue Morrell inherited from Dean Saunders, who started the season with two centre backs and a winger that was in the process of being converted into a defender.
We can’t assume that the superb first choice partnership of Mark Creighton and Nat Knight-Percival will stay fit and avoid suspension for the rest of the season, but that FA Trophy game suggested that we need them to. The Summer injury that Chris Westwood sustained, which meant he missed out on crucial pre-season conditioning, appears to have had a serious effect on his form as the season had progressed, and Leon Clowes was badly exposed for both goals when left one on one with a mobile striker.
Our full backs aren’t the type who could play as centre backs: Neil Ashton filled in briefly out of necessity when Nat Knight-Percival was sent off against Mansfield, but couldn’t be expected to play that role from the start of a match. Likewise, Westwood is the only back-up we have for Curtis Obeng, and he looks uncomfortable at right back, so a player who can cover across the back four is plainly required. Jordan McMillan arrived a year too soon, didn’t he?
In an ideal world we’d summon up a prolific goalscorer from somewhere too, to supplement the energetic forwards we already have. But then every club in the country needs one of those, and it’s rare that you find one. We did manage to reel in Andy Mangan the January before last, but the circumstances for that deal were unique as Mangan was available after his ban and Saunders was given money the club couldn’t afford to splash out on a talismanic striker.
The departure of Lee Fowler has also left an issue in the middle of the park. Not in terms of numbers, as we’ve plenty of players who are performing well in midfield, and Hunt wouldn’t let anyone down if called upon. However, Dean Keates is the one player with a similar range of passing to Fowler at our disposal if we assume Glen Little can only be called upon for guest appearances off the bench. With such a player, the template for future success may well be what we’ve seen in our last three league matches; we don’t look fluent, but grind out a lead and then hold it by relying on our excellent defensive unit. We’re certainly well-equipped to play that way, and it’s wonderful to know that when, as Andy Morrell admitted after the Tamworth game, we can be below par but still get the win, but an injection of creativity into the squad wouldn’t hurt.
If we can draw any lesson from Saunders’ dealings in the transfer market, it’s that a new manager might take a while to work out what he wants. The first year and a half of his time in charge were characterised by some rather poor deals, and although it’s fair to say he did make some very good signings over the last year, it shouldn’t be forgotten that not all his acquisitions were of the calibre of Creighton, Jay Harris and Fowler. Kevin Gall and Scott Shearer hardly set the world on fire, after all.
We know that Fleetwood will splash the cash in January, and it would certainly be in our interests if we could do likewise. The role of Billy Barr, who has experience in planning a foray into the transfer market could be crucial. Morrell has never had to handle a transfer budget though, and we simply can’t know what he’ll make of one, but what he does could determine our ultimate fate this season.