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.
I remember trying to cheer myself up six years ago as I faced up to the prospect of Wrexham playing in non league football by telling myself that we had a better chance of playing at Wembley than ever. The FA Trophy offered an opportunity to finally get there and last season, of course, we delivered.
So where does that leave us now? Tomorrow we kick off another campaign in the competition. Do we feel like we’ve been there and done that, or is defending the trophy going to make it feel even more special?
It’ll be interesting to see just how Andy Morrell and his coaching staff view the competition. Our recent renaissance in form has left us suddenly looking up towards the play-off spots but balancing the needs of our squad as we try to push on up the table will be trickier this season.
Our squad is thinner this time around and rotation could be crucial as Morrell looks to nurse his resources through the campaign. We are relying more than ever on older players with creaking limbs, and we can’t afford to rush Mark Creighton into regular action either.
When you look at what happened to Dean Keates at the end of last season, where he played himself into the ground, heroically pushing himself beyond the limit and ruling himself out for much of the crucial push to the finish, you’ll see my point.
Injuries and tiredness hit us hard and although we managed to rouse ourselves for the semi-final the exhausted performance against Newport at Wembley showed just what a magnificent effort the players had put in against Kidderminster to get that far.
I genuinely don’t begrudge Newport their victory, and reckon they were the slightly better side on the day in an awful game. But just look at the selection problems Morrell had. Danny Wright, Creighton, Kevin Thornton, Danny Alfei, Nick Rushton and Joslain Mayebi were all ruled out by injury, while Keates wasn’t himself as he dragged himself through the game and Brett Ormerod looks tired after his fine performance at Aggborough.
I honestly don’t think Newport would have been able to handle us if we’d had a full squad to pick from.
The problem with rotation this season is that, as I said earlier, the squad looks a little thinner now. To compensate for that, a number of our young lads look promising and are more prepared to step up to the plate, and the youth team’s run in the FA Youth Cup made me wonder if some of their number might also be used to swell our FA Trophy squads. However, there’s a danger in doing that: we might suffer a repeat of what happened two seasons ago when we fielded a reserve side against Hinckley and were beaten.
Still, that would be a small price to pay if we were to get into the play-offs again. After last season I’ll always love the FA Trophy, but we might need to be hard-nosed about it this time.