A friendly kickabout on a hot Summer’s afternoon isn’t going to give you an indication of what we’ll be like on a wet midweek winter’s night in Gateshead (or whatever town Gateshead play in these days.) After all, if you look at our friendly results over the years you’d think we were world beaters. I particularly recall getting quite excited one Summer as we looked like a fluent, threatening outfit under Dean Saunders. A win over Wolves stood out, and Wes Baynes looked like he might become something rather special. We came tenth that year.
Still, there is value in these games: if there wasn’t, nobody would play them. In getting into condition the players also reveal something about themselves, we get a first glimpse of new players, and triallists have a chance to impress. The most crucial way to look at these games is as a sequence though: getting a good pre-season in is imperative, a fact illustrated by the two seasons Chris Westwood spent at The Racecourse. The first, whch followed a pre-season wrecked by injury, was just a couple of notches up from disastrous, but last season he had a good Summer and the difference was marked.
So what did we learn from this game?
1. Andy Coughlin is on a mission. We might assume that Joslain Mayebi is Number One and Coughlin his designated back-up. No doubt that’s the plan, but Morrell won’t want to make any of his squad feel like they’ve no chance of getting into the team. He’ll reward performances – that’s how Mayebi got his chance in the first place, after all – and that was a heck of a performance Coughlin put in today. He started off with a good block from a Pedersen free kick, then pulled off superb one-on-one stops from Songo’o and Judge, which frankly he had no right to make. Admittedly, he looked a good shotstopper in the previous pre-season, and did flap at the one troublesome cross he had to deal with, but let’s not dwell on that: the fact is that if he can maintain such form while Mayebi completes his recovery from injury, he has a chance to make himself Morrell’s first choice come the start of the season.
2.The unheralded triallist made the bigger impression. Junior N’Tame might have had more fanfare, but Daniel Collins was the triallist who caught the eye. I was told he’s a 17-year old Australian. He certainly wasn’t the finished article, but if he is indeed that youthful, he’s a prospect, not to mention a considerable unit! N’Tame didn’t look all that comfortable in his defensive midfield role. but it was early in pre-season and perhaps not his best position, so we’ll give him a bit more time before passing judgement.
3. Kevin Thornton can play. Well, we knew that anyway, but it was exciting to see him sparkle with creativity like that. Having said that, a big part of why we look good against big sides in pre-season is that they don’t press with the intensity you’d expect of them in a proper match. A couple of seasons ago Coventry were comically lax, and we pulled them to pieces. Blackburn weren’t so sloppy, but they certainly allowed us enough room in midfield to express ourselves, and Thronton took full advantage. Alfreton in front of a pumped up New Year’s Day crowd won’t allow him such leeway, although to be fair he’s already shown he can look equally good in rather more competitive fixtures!
4. The young lads look like they can play their part. Bradley Reid and Rob Evans are still very young, but they both put in impressive first half performances. After the game Andy Morrell spoke of the value of sending young lads to the League of Wales to toughen them up, but also admitted Reid and Evans might be able to circumvent that approach. With Jay Colbeck still to come in and the last batch of loanees returning looking more confident, the youngsters are coming through nicely.
5. We need a quick centre back. Not that we were ever really exposed by strikers running in behind us, but seeing the range of centre backs we fielded brought home the fact that we lack pace at the back now Martin Riley is gone. Seeing Leon Clowes and Mark Creighton together was interesting, and any striker who faces that duo will know he’s been in a scrap, but if he manages to turn them we could be in trouble.
6. Brett Ormerod isn’t as clever as I thought. I always felt Ormerod had street smarts, but now I’m not so sure. Why on earth did he waste a worldy goal on a meaningless friendly? Save them for the real games Brett!
WREXHAM (first half): Coughlin, Tomassen, Stephens, Clowes, Creighton, Clarke, Hunt, Evans, Reid, Ormerod, Thornton.
WREXHAM (second half): Coughlin (Gray 77), Parle, Wright, Collins, Ashton, N’Tame, Royle, Hunt (Cartwright 71), Rushton, Morrell, Reid (Smith 64).
ROVERS (first half): Kean, Orr, Songo’o, Hanley, M. Olsson, Fernandez, Judge, Pedersen, Nunes, Best, Rhodes.
ROVERS (second half): Eastwood, Kane, O’Connor (O’Connell 73), Givet, Morris, Ribeiro, Dunn, O’Sullivan, Taylor, Rosado, Forrester.
Referee: Phil Roszkowski