I suggested on Saturday that Alan Alger and Blue Square might get the epic send-off they deserved at Wembley. How wrong I was. That was as horrible a game as I could imagine, and by a huge margin the ugliest match Wrexham have been involved in this season, not because of the result but because tension overtook both sides.
When two sides field the same formation they often cancel each other out. Oddly, this is essentially what happened when Wrexham’s 4-3-3 met Newport’s 3-5-2
The gaps I’d suggested might have opened up in Newport defence never appeared because of the cautious nature of the game. Their wing backs weren’t adventurous, tucking into a defensive unit which was difficult to penetrate. As a result, rather than get round the back of Newport’s defence, Wrexham’s three strikers often found themselves up against a back five, while there was no numerical advantage to exploit in midfield as it was 3 v 3, and the fact that Newport had two strikers meant the Wrexham full backs were reluctant to over-commit in case they were caught on the break.
The result was a rather unpleasant stalemate. Both sides struggled to create, Wrexham enjoyed more possession and pressure but didn’t really translate that into opportunities to score. Newport, on the other hand were slightly better equipped to take a decisive advantage in this sort of ugly game: I’m not trying to suggest they’re a long ball side by any stretch of the imagination, but they enjoyed a physical advantage and were therefore able to win more second balls, headers and 50-50s. In a scrappy match like this it’s the percentage game which is most profitable: return enough balls into the Wrexham box and ultimately strikers like Christian Jolley and Aaron O’Connor will capitalise. Ironically, the attributes developed by a team which has had to adapt to an even worse pitch than that at The Racecourse were what ultimately did for us.
The decisive goal was frustrating: a minute earlier the same ball over the top had released Jolley, only to be thwarted by an excellent covering tackle by Martin Riley. When the pass was repeated, David Artell again failed to cut it out and this time the exemplary Riley couldn’t get there in time.
The circumstances which had denied Wrexham the chance to take a decisive grip of the match had already kicked in before then though. Injuries had stretched the squad, and Wrexham suffered both through the absence of key players and the lack of fitness of those who limped through the game. Danny Wright’s failure to regain fitness in time meant Wrexham didn’t have the burgeoning presence Newport capitalised upon at the other end, while both Dean Keates and Jay Harris were clearly hampered by injury.
Keates was spent after sixty minutes, having struggled heroically through the play-offs, and Harris simply wasn’t his usual effervescent self. With Kevin Thornton also absent, there were few options in midfield when Keates inevitably had to go off.
The other key issue which denied Wrexham was one which has dogged them all season but was exacerbated by Wright’s injury. Despite a healthy total of goals scores throughout the season, they’ve always looked like they need to create a lot of chances to actually hit the net. Wright was the one striker this season who felt likely to take a good percentage of his opportunities; without him Wrexham were hoping somebody would take a chance, but it didn’t happen. Brett Ormerod encapsulated this: the outstanding creative player on either side in the first hour of the game, he failed to take his big chance and faded out of the game.
But this was just one of many areas of the side which didn’t manage to function on the day, Nobody could accuse this fine Wrexham team of lacking heart, but ultimately, this was a game too far for a side stretched to its limits.
Wrexham (4-3-3): Maxwell; S Wright, Riley, Artell, Ashton; Harris (Adebola 87), Keates (Little 80), Clarke; Hunt, Ormerod, Morrell (Cieslewicz 69) Unused subs: Coughlin, Westwood.
Referee: Michael Bull (Essex) Attendance: 16,346