Leader Column: It’s The Height Difference That Gets You In The End

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.RankPrivilegeSkit[1]

My dad’s always worried when the opposition are bigger than us. This season, I reckon he’s got a point. But the facts don’t really seem to bear me out, which leaves me wrestling with the question of how important perception is when you’re watching football.

It’s a subject that has fascinated me since I heard of research which suggested players with outstanding physical characteristics tend to be over-rated. The argument suggests spectators’ eyes are naturally drawn to players who stand out. So players with long blond hair, for instance, get noticed every time they touch the ball and we instinctively credit them with more involvement than they actually had. Nondescript-looking dark haired players of average height, by the same token, don’t get the credit they deserve.

That explains Robbie Savage high profile anyway, but it also applies to other areas, I think. I reckon Joslain Mayebi has benefitted a little from being put into the “eccentric keeper” category: that has perhaps bought him a little more leeway than other, more orthodox goalies might have enjoyed when he made mistakes because we have a natural predilection towards letting “eccentric keepers” off when they make mistakes as we automatically think that’s the price we pay for their unpredictable genius.

So how does this fit in with Wrexham’s lack of inches?

It has seemed to me that a worrying constant in Wrexham’s season so far has been a vulnerability from set pieces. Put simply, without Mark Creighton at the back this isn’t a tall side, and as a result we’re finding that there are mismatches in our box for restarts. The first half of the Barnet match illustrated this perfectly: take out the two centre backs and our only other player with any real height was Andy Bishop.

Then there was the Nuneaton match. Every set piece left my heart in my mouth as we got away with defending them rather than repelling the home team easily.

The issue of the mismatch was clear at the start of the game against Woking. Mark Carrington is clearly no mug at the back but we nearly paid early on when we left him marking their big centre back Parkinson and we needed an excellent save from Andy Coughlin to prevent him opening the scoring. We learned from that and Bishop picked him up for the next corner, but that surely created an imbalance somewhere else in the box.

Yet as I looked for proof to back up my argument, I started to falter. We haven’t conceded as many goals from set plays as I thought. Also we dealt comfortable with table-topping Cambridge even though they were a huge team. Most of them towered over their keeper, a certain Chris Maxwell who has also been labelled: he’s been mistakenly put in the drawer marked “goalkeepers can’t dominate in the air unless they’re really tall” by some.

So have I fallen into the trap of trusting my eyes? Or is it just that our opponents make lots of chances from set pieces but aren’t able to convert them?

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