The closest I’ve seen to a Conference team playing like that was when Wrexham had Lee Fowler and Dean Keates at the heart of the team at the start of Dean Saunders’ last season.
This was a win which owed much to the quality of Wrexham’s play and was absolutely fascinating tactically. However, ultimately it was down to the Wrexham team’s grit and character. Four times they were massively tested mentally: on each of those occasions they rose brilliantly to the challenge.
Perhaps I should say five times as there was a trying moment before the game. Andy Coughlin has been a reassuring presence at the back in recent matches but he was ill and unable to play so there was disruption at the back once more. Jos Mayebi returned to the side and would have a key influence on the game, but not in the way he might have hoped.
In commentary I described Gateshead as the fifth tier Barcelona which went down well on Twitter! But they deserved massive credit for the way they set about their game: they were clearly influenced by the spirit of tiki-taka.
The passing was patient and intelligent, with the keeper refusing to hack the ball away unless under extreme duress, and they pressed extremely hard as a unit when they lost the ball.
As a consequence of their patience Wrexham were totally starved of the ball for the first 10 to 15 minutes. How Wrexham dealt with it was massively to their credit. A lot of Barcelona’s success is down to the mental disintegration of their opponents as they become frustrated and worried by a lack of the ball. Wrexham kept their cool.
Instead of fretting and squandering the ball in a panic, when they had it they kept calm, worked hard and allowed Gateshead some leeway to pass the ball about in the knowledge that they were keeping them at arm’s-length. For all the Heed’s admirable passing they failed to really penetrate and Wrexham slowly clawed their way back into the match. Keates was fundamental in this process. He worked hard, passed shrewdly and kept our shape tight in midfield.
At first we were looking to turn Gateshead, using Ogleby’s pace, and even when he wasn’t able to get in behind the centre backs, that approach at least lengthened the pitch and meant there was more space behind Gateshead’s forward press to exploit.
As time wore on Wrexham stretched Gateshead more and began to get a good amount of possession as the energy in their pressing waned slightly and we began to get on top of the game not just through fast counter-attacks but because we were starting to gain equality in the centre of the pitch.
It was absorbing to watch. When Andy Bishop gave us the lead with a good controlled finish it was exactly what we deserved but another test of Wrexham’s resolve was just around the corner. Mayebi’s horrible error gave Gateshead a way back into the match and a stunned defence conceded again 90 seconds later
At the time I felt that Mayebi had moved like he’d been deceived by a deflection. The problem was that nobody around me could detect any deflection and having looked at the video highlights I still don’t think there was one. It was a horrible moment and it had a massive effect on both the team and the crowd.
The atmosphere, so raucous for the opening half hour, was deflated and remained so until Wrexham hauled themselves level in the second half. The team was stunned and you could clearly attribute the second goal to that as Boyes was allowed too much space on the edge of the area. Still, they showed heart in fighting back to look for an equaliser in the closing minutes of the second-half.
The second half was gripping in the different way to the first. Gateshead’s priorities were different. Either that or Wrexham did massively well to wrest control of the game from an impressive side with clear principles. The neat passing was gone to some extent although Gateshead broke very swiftly and threateningly. However Wrexham forced Gateshead back and seemed to have got something with David Artell’s goal bound shot 10 minutes into the second half.
Looking at the video the ball didn’t cross the line despite the premature celebrations but by the same token it struck the defender on the arm and could well have been a penalty and red card. Had that been the case I suspect Wrexham would’ve ghosted to victory. As it was we were denied that, and instead given a night of remarkable drama.
Wrexham showed genuine guts and quality to claw themselves on top of the game and they got a deserved equaliser when Artell was climbed upon in the box. Bishop’s penalty was beautifully struck and it was game on.
Once more, Morrell threw his two quick wingers on, and once again it worked as they penned Gateshead’s full backs even further. Baxter particularly was dangerous in the first half and Wrexham were pounding at the door but it took some quality in the 93rd minute to claim victory.
Bishop was involved in the buildup play as he had been throughout the match: even if he hadn’t scored his goals I’d have still seen him as man at the match. He found Carrington but as the full back broke down the right hand side there was little on in the penalty area because Bishop was still on his way in. Carrington intelligently held on, despite the calls of the crowd to throw something in earlybeacause the diminutive Bailey- Jones was the only aerial target. He waited as long as possible then delivered a beauty to the edge of the six yard box but there was still work for Bishop to do.
He rose above the central defenders and planted a lovely flick header in to send the crowd wild. It was quite a moment.