What If?

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.

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The fine margins which determine a team’s fate fascinate me. No matter how you detailed your plans the smallest factor can have a decisive effect on the outcome. Even though we’ve suffered a terribly anticlimactic campaign, some slight alterations in our circumstances might have made a massive difference to our fortunes, for better or for worse.

In a season as odd as this one I think it’s more natural than usual to consider the “what if” questions. After all, despite consistently failing to look like a top half of the table side and struggling to string any sort of consistent runs together, we’ve remained tantalisingly close to the play-offs. Remarkably, as recently as Kevin Wilkin’s first match we were just seven points off fifth place. A fairly small twist of events in our favour would have seen us at the right end of the table.

By the same token, the concertina effect in this league has meant the relegation has only ever been a calamitous month away. I can only explain this by suggesting that the division has been made up of a remarkably even set of teams, except for Luton and Hyde. The frustrating side to that is the top end is of a lower standard than we’ve seen in our previous five years in the Conference. The sides competing for promotion haven’t impressed me one bit, and it galls me to think how the Wrexham side of any of the last three seasons would clearly have been pushing for the title, or at least comfortably in second place.

Firstly, consider what might have happened if we’d managed to cling onto a consistent goal scorer. We’ve had goals from other areas of the team, but Johnny Hunt’s goal on Saturday gave me mixed feelings. A striker’s finish, getting ahead of his man at the near post, it made me wish we’d had a striker attacking those areas all season. What might have happened if, like Danny Wright and Jake Speight in the last two seasons, we’d unearthed a player capable of chipping in with twenty-odd goals?

At the other end, the timing of the change of goalkeeper was crucial. Joslain Mayebi made a number of costly errors in the early stages of the season and if he’d been kept in the side as his confidence faded we might have been looking more anxiously over our shoulders. By the same token, armed with hindsight we can see that if Andy Coughlin had come into the side sooner we’d have a few more points.

Injuries have altered the balance of our campaign too. If Mark Creighton’s knee had held up, if Stephen Wright had been able to play a whole season, if Dean Keates’ condition hadn’t been so dramatically compromised by his exertions in the last campaign, we’d have surely done substantially better than we have done.

But then speculation gets you nowhere. We can only look forward to next season and hope that Wilkin is able to control the small details which create the bigger picture.

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