The start to this season has been really disappointing for all concerned at Wrexham Football Club, whether you are a supporter, staff, player, board member or manager there has been no hiding away from the fact that something isn’t right. Ultimately the buck stops with manager Andy Morrell but there has been an undercurrent after the past three or four games when the management or players have met the press. An undercurrent of some discontent in the ranks – the words “Are we working hard enough?” keeps cropping up but maybe we are working too hard doing the wrong things?
Undoubtedly Wrexham have struggled defensively this season with injury and suspensions which has led Joslain Mayebi picking the ball out for the net 14 times in 7 games conceding two goals in every fixture bar the opener against Welling where Wrexham conceded “just” the 1 goal. No clean sheets…. So what has changed since Mayebi kept six clean sheets in the opening 11 fixtures last season?
Mayebi himself suffered a season ending injury in a 2-2 draw with Southport in January, a draw that was good enough to see us raise to joint top of the football conference at the time. Mayebi hasn’t quite been the same since. Remarkably he was omitted from a number of preseason games and although he made a good start to the 2013/14 season with a fine display at home to Welling, all to often he has made costly mistakes and becomes the focus of the opposition supporters pantomimesque jeers. I don’t think he is quite back up to tempo and 100% fit yet. Andy Morrell insisted that Mayebi “Wasn’t quite there yet” towards the end of preseason – maybe he still has some way to go?
The back four in front of Mayebi at the start of last season has one survivor in Neil Ashton which has been telling. Players come and go that is a given but supporters want the next set of heroes to step in, that hasn’t been the case so far this season. Andy Morrell hasn’t quite had his first choice back four available at the same time yet and has come in for criticism for choosing Neil Ashton at centre back while Junior Ntame sits it out on the bench.
Although, I see a logic in this from a footballing viewpoint. Ashton is a warrior, a club legend of this period, but technically he is a clever and tidy footballer. Ashton may not be the biggest and most natural centre back you have seen – but he has plugged a gap that Ntame sprung – that being the diagonal ball over the top, the bread and butter of conference teams. Ntame admitted himself he was not used to that sort of football after plying his trade in the south of France prior to signing for Wrexham. Ntame looked uncomfortable an found himself letting the ball sail over and bounce leading to chances, a routine opponent centre forwards complete in their sleep.
While leaving N’Tame out may look like a snub, I believe that Johnny Hunt hasn’t helped the Cameroonian out in this department. Hunt has shown solid form which makes it hard to leave him out, the utility man’s natural position is left back and his performance away at Tamworth was a highlight. Mark Creighton is on a long road to recovery with his knee (something I can fully understand – believe me!) while Stephen Wright has had a difficult season to get his head around for a number of poignant moments.
On the fringe of the back four Leon Clowes certainly has something to offer while he learns his trade. Steve Tomassen at right back has been been a question mark for many. I was impressed with him in a few games this season – even picking him out for man of the match at Tamworth in commentary, since however there have been nervy displays from the youngster and ultimately nerves and inexperience have gotten in the way of undoubted ability.
A new centre back has been a priority for some weeks – now it is needed more than ever. With Ashton returning to the left side, a new centre back teaming up with N’Tame giving Stephen Wright some time on the right may be just what Tomassen needs. Thus giving Wrexham some stability and something like what served us so well last season.
In the centre of the park we have become far too predictable. I always see the “we have the best midfield in the league” coin phrased on twitter, and that maybe very true, but we are not playing to their strengths. Every game this season barring the tremendous effort in the second half at Halifax, Mayebi or the back four have chosen to bypass our best asset and play the ball long to the head of Bishop (more on that later!) thus taking the play makers out of the game. Although the odd snippets we have been thrown in midfield show that Joe Clarke is some footballer! He has worked on his control and isn’t shy about getting himself into games, he has been the standout player in this area so far.
Kevin Thornton has by his own admission a poor start to the season but due to the style of play by the team as a whole has found himself scrapping rather than on the ball setting up play. Jay Harris was just growing into the season when he saw red against Hyde which was incidentally a turning point in the season. Wrexham dominated Hyde and looked to be growing into a team when they were forced back to 10 men and holding out for a result that was undone by two very poor refereeing decisions.
The club’s captain has watched all of Wrexham’s opening fixtures from the stands due to a toe injury which required surgery. Dean Keates’ return will be much awaited by Andy Morrell as much of what Wrexham have achieved since his arrival in 2010 has been built around the skipper.
Rob Evans has been the addition to this department this season and has performed well, although at times he still looks a little raw, there are flashes of a great footballer in there which being involved more will bring out. Those five above mentioned players with back up from Jay Colbeck and Jonathon Royle, with three positions available would make any conference manager smile, but, Wrexham must get them on the ball more to start moving this season along.
Up top we have suffered year in, year out. By this I mean by loosing our most talented players for whatever reason. Any one of Mathias Pogba, Jake Speight, Andy Mangan or Danny Wright would find themselves starting if still on the books at the moment. Andy Bishop was brought in to score the goals this season during the summer. Bishop won’t be used to having the ball pumped up vaguely to his approximate vicinity, we are not playing to his strengths, something which seeing as we brought him in to score the goals isn’t great.
Bishop from what I have seen of him previous to his tenure at Wrexham enjoys the balls coming into feet or around chest height where we can control it. He isn’t a target man and this style of play is what is confusing me, as we haven’t had a target man for some time (although Danny Wright looked a target man – this was not his strength) apart from Andy Morrell himself.
Morrell has since his return as a player been fantastic at playing in games where we have used the long ball tactic. Wearing down the big centre halfs and buying fouls for 75 minutes to make way for someone else to come along and have a field day with the tired and frustrated pairing. I still think Andy Morrell the player has a part to play for this season at least, as we may have to fall back and resort to the long ball against some teams.
We have pace in abundance! The wide players in the front three can operate as virtual wingers drifting into the centre when necessary – Step forward Joe Anyinsah, Adrian Cieslewicz and Theo Bailey-Jones. Although the latter of this trio is somewhat inexperienced Anyinsah and Cieslewicz are on a par with what you would expect from a wide forward, quick and forward thinking. Cieslewicz being dropped for a period didn’t impress many from the outside looking in but Morrell was strong as a manager at a time when results were poor.
“Ciss” is a fans favourite and I subscribe to that, but he readily admits that he is inconsistent when in a run of starting games – he has come off the bench to maximum effect on so many occasions and this must surely be where he is the teams best asset.
Brett Ormerod is probably the best person to have around for Bishop at the moment, Brett had a similar start to last season as the former Bury front man is enduring now. Ormerod is neat and tidy on the ball and makes very intelligent runs off the ball, he is a goal scorer too but again requires the ball to feet or chest height to be ultimately effective.
Sure Andy Morrell didn’t get some of his target strikers in the summer, but Bradley Reid was a breath of fresh air – raw but capable. It was something of a coup really for Wrexham that after missing out on signing a big named proven striker that Reid would fall at our feet! The centre of excellence product has excelled but at a cost, He’d been tracked as early as last season by league clubs and inevitably he was snapped up by Wolves earlier this week. So not including Reid the above players are backed up by Rob Ogelby while Nick Rushton goes out on loan to Barrow. The front three will vary depending on who we are playing but should be effective once we play to their strengths and serve who ever is filling those important boots with something better than an aimless long ball.
So with all that in mind what gives? It’s not simple, as believe me Andy Morrell and Billy Barr would have addressed it already. “Are we working hard enough?” yes we are, but not on the right things. A disjointed back four has scuppered distribution to midfield and the front players are not getting service. For sustained periods in all of our opening games during commentary this has been highlighted. So why not do something about it? It sounds easy right? During a game you may be instructed to do a number of things by your manager, you may have trained all week being drummed into a philosophy, but its all too easy to fall back in to old habits during the heat of the action.
I believe that is what Andy Morrell has been to referring to post match and I believe that he is spot on with this being where the problem lies. Give Bishop or Ormerod service into the 18 yard box and they will score goals aplenty but this starts from the back working through midfield into the strikers. Build up play and counter attack play done “The Wrexham way” is proven in recent history and thats the horse the players need to get back on!
An addition of one or two players would go a long way in helping Andy Morrell achieve this sure and freshen things up maybe, but, we have players already who are capable of better than current form suggests. Wrexham could still do much better with some focus on tactics from these said players – it takes time to gel in this wonderful game, I believe we can still have a successful season once Andy Morrell can impose his mentality into a settled back four that can steer us out of defense into the final third. The final balls will start coming in on point and we will be winning the second balls when the midfield find themselves included in games.
Starting with Luton Town’s visit on Friday – Wrexham will be a dragon scorned – hopefully Wrexham can get it right in front of the BT Sports cameras and show the rest of the league what we are capable of.