Who knew the old man still had it in him? Only Billy Barr, it would seem!
It was like April 2003 all over again: Andy Morrell was harrying centre-backs into melt-down, Wrexham were winning and all was well with the world. Even the goal celebration music was from the same era.
The forced introduction of Andy Morrell in the eighteenth minute, after Brett Ormerod went off injured, turned this game. Until then Forest Green had looked impressive. They had established a grip on possession and were penning us back in our own half, and without Andy Bishop to scrap with their defenders we were struggling to relieve the pressure.
Danny Wright, despite being goalless in fourteen games, was looking threatening and he must have thought he’d scored with an early header: unfortunately for him, Andy Coughlin is now much more than the keeper Wright will remember, and denied him with a fine stop. In fact, he’d go on to make another sharp stop from him in the second half, and in the last minute the ex-Wrexham striker’s game quest for a goal on his old patch was denied by his namesake as Stephen Wright made a brilliant last-ditch tackle. The square-shouldered centre forward had played well, he was certainly Rovers’ most potent threat, but it seemed as if it was his erstwhile team mates who were lifted by his presence.
But the key striker was at the other end. Wrexham might have thrown Adrian Cieslewicz on for Ormerod, and probably had less upheaval tactically as a result, but the bench were smart enough to realise they had to do something to change the pattern of the game. Morrell certainly did that.
The moment he came on he won a good header and the Forest Green centre backs suddenly found themselves in a scrap. The balance of the match turned immediately as the away side suddenly found it difficult to clear their lines and Morrell’s industrious diagonal runs offered his midfield a target as they drove passes into the corners, pushed Rovers back and started to win second balls higher up the pitch.
The opening goal came from a diagonal ball which was crossed in accurately by Ogleby for Morrell to superbly sweep home on the volley. The second came when Morrell’s menacing cross from the same flank caused havoc, but if you look further back int he move you once more see the same genesis as the first: a diagonal into the corner which Morrell chases, forcing Rovers to give the ball away in their own half.
Morrell also went close with a couple of second half shots from outside the box, and the smart movement of Johnny Hunt up front complemented his perfectly. Hunt doesn’t have a striker’s instinct in the box, but the way he drifts around troubles defenders, and he has a knack for finding space as he showed in teeing Morrell up for a shot late on.
The red card early in the second half was also down to Morrell’s industry. The first booking Billy Turley picked up was harsh in the extreme, but was incurred as a result of Morrell’s street-smarts: the manager chased down a lost cause and, having just about got there first in an unpromising, isolated spot on the touchline, smartly stepped across Turley and invited him to clatter into his back. He did, and the shove earned a booking.
His second, four minutes later, was unfortunate but a definite yellow: Turley was going for the ball but Morrell was too quick for him, nipped it away and the centre back couldn’t stop himself, sweeping the striker’s legs from under him.
Down to ten men, Forest Green showed admirably gusto in trying to haul themselves back into the game. They started off with what was essentially a 4-3-3 without the holding midfielder. The problem with this formation was that it left them very light in midfield, allowing Wrexham to control possession and leaving a lot of space in the hole for them to exploit: Ormerod would have loved it.
When Wrexham had possession for any length of time the wide strikers of Forest Green were forced so deep that Wright was left very isolated, and although he is as well equipped as any striker to deal with that sort of situation, as he showed in superbly turning David Artell, driving typically down the right and pulling back an astute pass for Marcus Kelly to drive over, using this system was hardly playing the percentages. Usually they couldn’t feed Wright in that manner as they didn’t get control of the ball close enough to him to pass to him accurately, and were forced to resort to throwing long balls at the striker. Although he’s good in the air, of course, this is most certainly Artell’s domain and he dominated this aspect of their duel.
As a consequence, in the last fifteen minutes they went very bold, leaving three at the back with no midfield protection in a gung-ho 3-2-1-3. It was a gamble and they might have been made to pay: James Norwood suddenly found himself a lot deeper than he’d like to be and three times lost possession deep in his own half, leading to shots on goal, in the last ten minutes. Adrian Cieslewicz appears to have regained his mojo over the last week and he had a couple of opportunities he might have made more of as Wrexham broke threateningly.
Considering the resources Rovers were pouring forward and the gaps left at the back in a stretched finale to the game it was remarkable there wasn’t further scoring, and one might argue that Wrexham ought to have been a little more clinical going forwards. That would be churlish though: they’d looked in control before their opponents went down to ten men, were the stronger side in the centre of the pitch despite the neat footwork of Kelly, and looked like a side which might just pick up momentum after a shaky start to the season and make a big impact at the top end of the table. Just like in 2003.
Wrexham (4-3-3): Coughlin; Carrington, Artell, Wright, Ashton; Harris, Keates, Clarke; Ormerod (Morrell 18 (Creighton 89)), Ogleby (Cieslewicz 73), Hunt. Unused Subs: Mayebi, Evans.
Forest Green (4-3-3): Russell; Hodgkiss (Styche 81), Bennett, Turley, Asafu-Adjaye; Green, Kelly, Bangura (Taylor 53); Wright, Klukowski (Oshodi 81), Norwood. Unused Subs: McHugh, Forbes.
Referee: Adam Bromley
Man of the match: Andy Morrell