Woking v Wrexham Tactical Report

Starting Line-ups
Starting Line-ups

A strange one this. The game turned massively and decisively around the half hour, but there was no obvious reason. Things just changed, or maybe more accurately, things fell apart for Wrexham. There was no incident which triggered it, no tactical alteration which swung things around. The most obvious explanation was quite simply that tiredness finally caught up with Wrexham.

There were other problems: a failure to take one of their many good chances in the opening half hour was costly as Woking looked like they might collapse if they went behind. Indeed, they looked to be in a state of collapse through much of that period, but Wrexham weren’t clinical and paid the price as the home side showed admirable gumption to turn the game around.

So what was happening in that opening period? Wrexham kept the ball well as they commanded midfield, while up front Dele Adebola was causing all sorts of problems with his size and strength in the air. Woking had injury problems coming into the match and fielded Jack Parkinson at centre back, wh si more usually used as a midfielder, although it should be pointed out that he does have experience in the middle of a back four.

The Woking defensive unit looked vulnerable though. Headers won in the danger area by Adebola and Joe Clarke nearly led to goals and Wright headed against the bar. With Johnny Hunt and Declan Walker able to get into advanced crossing positions because Wrexham were dominating midfield, there was a good supply of balls into the area too, although they didn’t have to come from advanced areas to trouble Woking’s defence: Keates stood a few up from deep and caused problems.

Brett Ormerod’s movement was sharp as well, and rare spells of Woking possession in Wrexham’s half usually ended in a sharp break made possible either by Ormerod’s movement or Adebola’s strength. By way of contrast, Woking were particularly unthreatening and passed sloppily. Jayden Stockley was a weak presence in attack, often left isolated and handled comfortably by Stephen Wright and Martin Riley, while the two wide men were forced deep by Wrexham’s command of the match.

And then things changed.

A further possible cause of the sudden swing on fortunes might have been anxiety. Perhaps Wrexham got a little over-anxious at failing to turn command into goals, although that would be unlike this tenacious, experienced side. However, they certainly started to leave space between midfield and defence, and Woking exploited this.

Their midfield trio took control of the game. Billy Knott, on loan from Sunderland, was outstanding. A left-footed play-maker, he was energetic and judicious in his left footed passing. Alongside him, captain Mark Ricketts and Lee Sawyer were energetic alongside him,

Meanwhile, the veteran Kevin Betsy was a constant threat down the left hand side, and Wrexham’s over-committed midfield offered little support to Declan Walker as he tried to deal with him. The young full back tried to handle this by getting on the front foot, with some success: he made a number of sharp interceptions, nipping in front of Betsy as the ball came in to stop him from turning and running at him. However, it wasn’t possible to do that all the time, and once Betsy was able to get the ball down and make progress down the flank, Wrexham’s defence looked stretched and exposed.

Woking really ought to have been ahead by the break: they missed chances, some breaks broke down because Stockley wasn’t the most adept target man and the inept referee failed to give a stonewall penalty in injury time when Walker clattered into the back of Knott.

The second half opened in the same manner, and only the excellence of Maxwell kept Woking at bay. The Wrexham bench didn’t hang around, making a double change ten minutes into the second half by introducing Glen Little and Kevin Thornton for Ormerod and Keates, whose deteriorating physical condition had undoubtedly been a factor in Wrexham’s total loss of midfield.

Thornton and Little were two of Wrexham’s better performers the remainder of the match, and introducing them was a reasonable response to the need to increase the amount and quality of possession they were enjoying, but it wasn’t a move which addressed the over-commitment in the centre of the pitch and Woking continued to attack dangerously, breaking into the space allowed them in Wrexham’s half.

Woking took the lead with such a break, Little reacting furiously to the referee for not giving him a free kick in Wrexham’s half as the home side won possession. There were spells in the second half when Wrexham enjoyed some pressure, but they rarely threatened and Jay Harris, Joe Clarke and Danny Wright, three of the side’s outstanding players this season, put plenty of effort in but found it difficult to get things going. The two attacking substitutes were the main source of hope, but they offered possession without threatening much penetration.

Woking soon grabbed a second, scant reward for Maxwell’s efforts as the rebound from his excellent save was tapped in by Stockley. Soon afterwards the young striker missed an open goal for a hat trick which would have summed up Wrexham’s unhappy afternoon; if a striker who looked rather wet behind the ears had managed to keep the ball then it would have summed up a miserable afternoon.

Maxwell kept the score down, Wrexham’s loss of Riley left the back four looking uncomfortable as they finished with a back four consisting of four full backs (if Johnny Hunt could still be considered that). Neil Ashton’s return to the side in an emergency centre back position was rusty and he admitted after the game that he might have been at fault for the second goal.

Ultimately, the outcome was the result of a number of factors, with Wrexham’s tiredness and Woking’s fresh-faced, enthusiastic ability to outrun them surely the determining issues.

Eight of Woking’s starting line-up were 25 or younger; six were23 or younger. In the opening half hour they looked terribly naive and there for the taking; for the remainder of the match they looked energetic and eager. Three thirty on Saturday was the point where Wrexham’s tank finally ran dry.

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