Here’s my column from last week’s Leader. It forms part of the paper’s comprehensive pre-match coverage every Friday, featuring interviews, an in-depth look at the opposition and lots of statistical analysis. All content in the column (c) www.leaderlive.co.uk.
It’s the game we’ve all been waiting for, but a derby which has a momentous feel to it for all the wrong reasons.
Neither side goes into it happy, creating a make-or-break feel to the match. From Chester’s perspective, the longer it takes to get some points on the board the more daunting the season ahead looks, especially as they watch Aldershot start on minus ten points but gradually reel them in.
For Wrexham, failing to beat Chester wouldn’t be a disaster, but it would feel like one. There’s a premature sense of uneasiness building at The Racecourse. Think back to the last three promotion campaigns the club experienced and you’ll see that we got off to poor starts in each of them.
Denis Smith’s side took a while to adapt to the switch to three at the back in 2002 and we lost an early home game 5-2 to Rochdale. In 1992 Brian Flynn’s side stuttered until Mike Lake arrived on loan in November. Even in 1977-8, the greatest season in our history, we didn’t get a win until the fifth game, and immediately went and lost the next two!
So there’s still time to turn things around. However, if Chester arrive at our patch on such an awful run and chalk up their first points of the season, the fans will be restless. The supine performance at Sincil Bank certainly didn’t do anything to calm the nerves.
It also doesn’t help that we’ve become so accustomed to success over the last few years, so a four game run without a win feels like an eternity. Such a trot of results is alien to us, and indeed it’s alien to Morrell: if we don’t win tomorrow he’ll match his longest winless run, having seen his side fail to win in five in April 2012, a sequence concluded by Mansfield keeper Alan Marriott’s notorious goal!
The anticipation is heightened by the fact that we haven’t faced each other in four years. Indeed, that game was expunged from the records as Chester folded before the season ended, so the sense of excitement at facing them again is even more intense as we thought we’d never meet again!
A lot of water has flown under the bridge since then, and only unused sub Adrian Cieslewicz remains in the squad from that day. It wouldn’t be accurate to say Wrexham’s squad has no experience of this fixture though, as Neil Ashton was playing on the left of midfield for Chester that day!
Still, if Stephen Wright isn’t fit Morrell will be worried that his side has been shorn of some big characters just when he needed them. In the heat of derby battle, I think he’d like to call on the likes of Mark Creighton, Jay Harris and Dean Keates too. But the derby is a chance to stand up and be counted. Maybe the defeat at Lincoln was the perfect preparation, focussing the players’ minds on the task of making amends. A win tomorrow and the ineptitude of Lincoln will be forgotten.