It was a moment which could prove crucial for our title chances, and to be honest I didn’t think too much of it at the time.
As Jay Harris played a long ball into the box the linesman’s flag went up immediately, and as I’d been watching Martin Riley try to wrestle his way goalside of Lathaniel Rowe-Turner I assumed the call was correct when his half-volleyed last minute winner was disallowed for offside. Looking at the DVD makes me think otherwise.
I’ve tried to freeze frame the incident as best I can, and although the camera isn’t dead level, the picture implies Riley’s level at worst. A key refereeing decision might have just nicked two points away from our final total.
Of course, if you’re left needing a goal in the last minute anyway, you’ve not put the match to bed as you might have wished, and this was certainly true of this game. Luton seemed to take their lead from “The Rumble in the Jungle”, which followed a similar pattern. Muhammad Ali went at George Foreman at the start, found that it wasn’t working, and decided to cover up and draw Foreman onto him. Luton tried a similar thing: at the start of each half they went at us, but soon gave up on that and retreated into their shells. The dfference was, Ali had a strategy for winning the contest from there. Luton were happy to dig in and settle for the point.
Wrexham huffed and puffed but struggled to break Luton down. Andy Morrell suggested afterwards that he felt he’d got his selection wrong, which was perhaps a little more honest than he needed to be but at least deflected the blame away from his players, Sir Alex Ferguson style. Certainly an earlier introduction of Adrian Cieslewicz might have offered a different sort of problem for a determined, physically-imposing Luton rearguard to ponder: he nearly teed up an immediate breakthrough within moments of coming on.
However, it seems Morrell was instead pondering whether he ought to have used himself rather than the man who seems to divide Wrexham fans more than any other, Dele Adebola.
Adebola’s detractors are concerned by a lack of mobility, while his advocates point to two goals and an assist in his five games, with signs that he has a good understanding developing with Brett Ormerod and Kevin Thornton. If Ormerod had taken a good first half chance set up by a clever Adebola lay-off he’d have another assist to add to those stats and Luton would have been forced to come out and play.
That would have been the turning point, I think. If we’d got the first goal then The Hatters wouldn’t have been able to defend so deep, and that would have caused issues for them, especially with Phil McNulty at the back.
McNulty’s battle with Adebola was a strangely absorbing one. In the Luton centre back, Adebola came across an opponent even bigger than himself. How do I measure McNulty? Let me count the ways: the Wrexham striker is undoubtedly a big unit, but McNulty outstrips him in pretty much every direction, particularly around the waist! When the two big beasts collided it felt like footage of two rutting stags from a David Attenborough documentary. Every time they crashed together I expected them to create a Higgs-Bosun Particle.
Having seen Adebola and Danny Wright fail to wear down Luton’s stubborn defence, Morrell would probably be wise to look for a different approach on Tuesday, if not necessarily different personnel. Mansfield’s defence showed in the last half hour of their match at Forest Green last Friday that if you thump the ball long into the box they’ll deal with it comfortably. I strongly suspect that Adebola will start on Tuesday though: as he’s ineligible for the Wembley beano, it makes sense to give him a start as we look to make the most of our resources in the run-in.
Still, I’ve never seen Morrell look so agitated on the touchline as he was throughout this match: he’ll be similarly animated if we end up hitting straight long balls into the heart of The Stags’ defence on Tuesday.
Wrexham (4-3-3): Maxwell; S Wright, Westwood, Riley, Hunt; Harris, Clarke (Cieslewicz 79), Thornton; D Wright, Adebola, Ormerod (Little 73). Unused Subs: Walker, Ogleby, Morrell.
Attendance: 3,907 (away: 160)
Miscellaneous: Wrexham’s first clean sheet in 11 home games (last one: Rushall Olympic in November – we’ve kept 6 away clean sheets in the meantime); Wrexham’s first league clean sheet in 14 home games (Last one: Barrow in September!); first goalless draw at home in 23 games (Last one – Grimsby in August); second time Wrexham have failed to score at home this season.