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.
The decision by the referee to press on with the Dartford game last Saturday dealt a serious blow to our ambitions for the rest of the season. Not because we went on to lose, although defeat to a side in the bottom four certainly did nothing for our hopes of making a run at the play-offs.
Rather, I’m thinking that playing the game might have done damage to the pitch which will probably not be repaired until the close season.
Ironically, after a couple of years of fretting over the effect of frost on The Racecourse pitch, we’ve evaded that problem only to find an even worse one was around the corner.
For a couple of campaigns where the pitch has suffered over the Christmas period and we’ve played the second half of the season on a rapidly deteriorating surface, often grateful for away games on less capricious turf.
The 2011-12 season saw the problem at its most striking. We’ll all remember it as a record-breaking attempt to claim the title, amassing the most points of any Wrexham side yet going unrewarded. However, the story of that season splits into two parts. We undoubtedly played an increasingly direct game as the pitch deteriorated and it became more difficult to pass the ball accurately.
A common characteristic of both seasons was the growing exhaustion of the squad, which looked shattered as we hit the final stretch, failing to overtake Fleetwood Town before losing the play-off semi-final in 2012, then digging remarkably deep to win the post-season semi-final at Kidderminster, only to pay the price with the performance of a side running on empty at Wembley.
It seemed we’d dodged the bullet this time following a mild winter, but the rain has put paid to any sense of complacency about our ability to stay fresh for the end of season push. Anyone who saw the video of the pitch which the club posted when the Hereford match was postponed will have seen a terrible quagmire. It was difficult not to despair of our prospects of playing on a decent surface again this season as I looked at the sodden, rutted surface.
It’s impossible not to have immense sympathy for the team who work on the pitch. They battle the odds heroically prepare it for the demands of hosting both a football and a rugby team, but they’re not miracle workers.
I’ve had the predicament facing them explained to me vividly. Imagine a sponge: it can only take so much water. The pitch is like that: once it hits saturation point there’s no more you can do. Water will simply sit on the surface as it can no longer be absorbed.
So is there any reason to be cheerful? Well, around this time last season I wrote off Newport’s chances of promotion as their pitch was in a similar state and they faced not only a run-in on a terrible surface but also a horrible fixture back-log. Look where they are now!