How to quantify the unquantifiable? This game just didn’t want to be analysed. It made little logical sense, and just when it looked like it might settle down to a mundane conclusion, the referee provided the most illogical moment of all.
Essentially, we were awful for twenty minutes, terrific for thirty, and then the game settled into a turgid spell as a result of Alan Devonshire’s tactical rethink. And then Brett Huxtable happened.
Clearly we were disrupted by the pre-match injury to Junior Ntame and resulting reshuffle of the back four. Mark Carrington’s own goal didn’t help us to settle either. That’s no excuse though. For the first twenty minutes we were horrendous, and were lucky to only be two down when we discovered our equilibrium.
It seemed to be the personal intervention of Jay Harris which turned us around. He was outstanding, and seemed to take the dismal start as a personal affront. He stomped round the pitch, demanding his team mates show a similar appetite for the fight back, and hauled us into the game. He was involved in the fine first goal, a delightful dink over the keeper by Johnny Hunt after Brett Ormerod’s fine through ball, and then smashed the equaliser in himself with the aid of a slight deflection. If Joe Clarke’s similar shot had gone in just before the break, or Theo Bailey-Jones’ header hadn’t been denied by a superb clearance off the line shortly after the break, I suspect we’d have swept to a comfortable victory.
But our domination was halted by an astute substitution. Braintree sought to plug the gaps by switching from the midfield diamond which had caused us such problems in the opening period, but left them vulnerable once we applied some pressure. They matched us up and essentially neutralised the game.
It looked like the game would follow a clear pattern to its conclusion: the away side showed little adventure but were now comfortable in defence. Wrexham would dominate and the result would be down to whether they could find the cutting edge to break down a well organised rearguard. But the ref had other ideas.
It’s hard not to see Huxtable as a showboater, grabbing the chance to make an impact at a big venue with both hands. His melodramatic departure from the pitch, achieved in installments, certainly brought him attention. His decision to overrule his linesman’s flag was remarkable. I can sort of see the logic of his decision, but only if I apply a jobsworth’s interpretation to the rules, treating the game as a legalistic exercise rather than a game. Any intuitive reading of the situation, any judgement passed by a person with any notion of what’s actual going on in a game of football, would immediately disallow the goal. Sometimes the argument that you have to have played the game to understand it is a bogus one; on this occasion you had to be startlingly unaware of the dynamics of the game to make the decision Huxtable did.
And just out of interest, since when did a referee have to spend two minutes convincing his linesman that his offside decision is correct? It’s rare to see a ref undermine his assistant to the extent that he’ll overrule his offside call, but if he does, he merely has to say that he had a different view and make the decision. Why did Huxtable make such a show of debating with his linesman? Did he simply want to enjoy the drama of making a spectacle of himself?
Anyway, his remarkable decision made him happy, and that’s what matters, isn’t it? It completely sucked the life out of Wrexham and Braintree closed the game out very effectively, albeit with a cynical approach which won them few friends. But the ire of the fans at the final whistle, while directed towards their match winner, wasn’t directed towards one of their players.
Wrexham (4-3-3): Mayebi; Carrington, Artell, Tomassen (Morrell 90), Ashton; Harris, Clarke, Hunt; Ormerod (Ogleby 83), Bishop, Bailey-Jones (Cieslewicz 66) Unused subs: Coughlin, Evans.
Braintree Town: McDonald; Peters, Wells, Massey, Harbagham; Paine, Isaac, Davis, Mulley (Sparkes 79); Strutton (Enver-Marum 54), Marks (Cox 88). Unused subs: Griffiths, Hamann.
Attendance: 2731 Away: 14
Referee: Brett Huxtable
Man of the Match: Jay Harris