Turns out 4-4-2 is the answer after all then!
Billy Barr made bold changes to his team, switched around the formation and was rewarded with a result which was a tonic after last Tuesday. Most notably, he cracked the 4-4-2 conundrum, playing Mark Carrington high on the right. He and Johnny Hunt on the left would give a perfect illustration of the roles wide midfielders need to fulfil in that system.
This was a match which fulfilled the cliche of a game of two halves, as Wrexham had to approach each period differently. In the first half they struck out boldly and won it, scoring two, creating numerous chances and completely dominating. If it hadn’t been for Rhys Evans enjoying the game of his life with three fine saves, one of which was ludicrously good, it would have got embarrassing for Hereford. (Actually it was the half of his life as he didn’t emerge for the second period following an injury he suffered BEFORE he pulled off those great saves!)
The second period was different as United reacted to the carnage by matching our formation and regaining a level of equilibrium. They succeeded in plugging the gaps when we had the ball, and enjoyed more possession as a result, but they still offered absolutely no threat going forward. A weak 87th minute header from a free kick was their only effort worth mentioning, and even then, only at a stretch!
The first half was a joy though. Wrexham’s energy was terrific, the pressing relentless, with Joe Anyinsah and Andy Bishop leading by example up front. Hereford had switched from the 4-4-2 they played in their previous match, fielding Chris Sharp on his own up front in a 4-2-3-1, but Wrexham’s hard work negated the tactic as the striker was left horribly isolated, his midfielders forced to play deep as the visitors hemmed them in.
Anyinsah’s hustle was particularly impressive: he chased things down aggressively, held the ball up intelligently and massively deserved a goal. (Although as my co-commentator Ben pointed out during the podcast, you could go through he team and argue pretty much all of them all deserved a goal!)
Dean Keates and Joe Clarke showed hustle and got the ball forwards a lot earlier than they usually would. It was a bit of a treat to watch the old hand put on a display of his versatility: after three seasons of neat play-making, here he was bossing the midfield and adapting his game, constantly turning Hereford’s defence with well-placed long balls. It was like watching a curling captain tactically placing the stone where it will cause most problems (there, that’s my gratuitous bandwagon-jumping Winter Olympics reference out of the way!)
However, the impact of Hunt and Carrington was the key. A good 4-4-2 succeeds when the wide men can get into good positions; Hunt’s run across the box to get the near post for Clarke’s excellent cross was an object lesson in this. As for Carrington, he was twice denied in the six yard box by the outstanding Evans and earned an assist when Rob Ogleby side-footed his shot home.
The second half was different, but still comfortable. Wrexham’s midfield sat a lot deeper, and the defensive block kept an excellent shape. The back four were impressive as a unit and individually, and Andy Coughlin was no more than a curious spectator.
Of course, we have to keep a bit of perspective. Hereford, I’m afraid, look like a relegation side. They worked admirably hard, and the grief their fans gave them in the second half felt harsh, but they were awfully limited. Shaky at the back and totally blunt creatively, they were ideal opponents for an energised side eager to prove a point. But you can only beat what’s put in front of you, and for Billy Barr this was a better job application than the stream of dumb inquiries from world class Football Manager coaches which the club is receiving! Don Bircham wasn’t there; Barr needs to plonk the DVD of this match on his desk on Monday morning.
Hereford (4-2-3-1): Evans (Lloyd-Weston 46); Leadbitter, Graham, Collins, Bush; Artus, James; Walker, Purdie, Brown (Williams 80); Sharp (Smith 69). Unused subs: Bowen, Edge,
Wrexham (4-4-2): Coughlin; Tomassen, Livesey, Wright, Ashton; Carrington, Clarke, Keates, Hunt; Bishop (Ogleby 24), Anyinsah. Unused subs: Mayebi, Clowes, Evans, Bailey-Jones.
Referee: Richard Martin
Attendance: 1,884 Away: 364
Miscellaneous: Joe Clarke’s 125th career appearance
Wrexham Player Man of the Match: Joe Anyinsah