The cliche tells us that tactics go out of the window in a derby game. Maybe there’s some truth to that as a player’s ability to stand up to the pressure of the big occasion is given a thorough examination, but it’s ultimately still the same players out there that have been working on their manager’s strategy all week. How the chalkboard affects the pitch this morning will be particularly interesting, as both sides are in a state of flux.
I wouldn’t have expected to say this a couple of weeks ago, as Kevin Wilkin was trying to work out what was the best formation for his new squad, while trying to work out who was worth keeping for next season, but it’s actually a lot easier to predict the Wrexham line-up than their opponents. That’s because Steve Burr has been scrolling through his tactical options desperately, looking for a shape which will get the best out of the squad at his command. In both of their last two games they switched formations in mid-match, and that’s not taking into account an enforced reshuffle when they went down to ten men against Hyde! It’s all a bit reminiscent of Brian Little’s desperate attempts to find a winning formula in the season Wrexham were relegated to the Conference, and a smattering of unforced errors also serves to remind us of why Chester, despite pockets of promising play, are in the position they’re in. |They must count themselves fortunate that the hapless Hyde, Tamworth’s collapse and the disaster at Hereford look to have tied up three of the relegation spots.
Chester need something out of this game to avoid a last day cliff-hanger as they dangle one point off the drop zone. With this game on the Saturday rather than yesterday they’ve a day less to recover before their next match, across country at second-placed Cambridge, so this is clearly their most winnable Easter fixture. The problem is they look easy to get at when they push on.
This was even evident at Grimsby, where they played a 4-2-3-1 initially which ought to have provided cover for the back four. However, it was too easy for an under-par Mariners side to get behind the deep-lying midfield duo of Andy Bond and Jason Jarrett and enjoy a surprising amount of space in and around the Chester box. Indeed, a lack of physicality in midfield is an underlying issue for Burr; whether the heat f the derby will cure this problem could be an important factor. Jarrett is the one real ball-winner, and he covers a lot of ground battling for possession. However, his decision-making in such situations isn’t the best and he’s prone to conceding free kicks; he gave away a penalty at Grimsby with a reckless lunge and has six yellows and a red in six games this season.
The Chester centre backs have looked quite solid recently, but the first choice pair of Matt Brown and the impressive Michael Kay are both suspended so Burr is liable to start with new signing Luke Ashworth and derby specialist Paul Linwood. When it comes to strength that duo should have enough to deal with Andy Bishop and Rob Ogleby when the long stuff comes in, but it’s tempting to go forwards to the last twenty minutes and imagine what the pace of Bradley Reid might do to them as neither are quick; at Grimsby Kay was clearly sharper than Ashworth on the cover.
Another key clash will come on Wrexham’s left. I’ve grown a little tired of the recent fashion in newspapers of building up to a game by talking about key battles when the author clearly hasn’t seen the other side play, and there was a prime example in the Chester Chronicle this week, claiming Paul Linwood versus Johnny @Hunt will be a crucial encounter. Anyone who’s seen Wrexham this season will know Hunt’s not likely to spend too much time straying into Linwood’s patch, but beyond the facile conclusion that centre back against top scorer must be important, Hunt will be involved in an important duel. We know that his work when he hasn’t got the ball is a strength, and his ability to close down Colin Griffin will be crucial. The full back might be in his mid-thirties and short of match practise, but at Grimsby he was Chester’s most accurate passer, regularly providing good service down the line or cross-pitch. Wrexham’s can’t afford to allow him to be Chester’s out-ball and Hunt must work hard to close him down and force him into simple passes to available team mates with less passing range.
This will then play into Wrexham’s hands, especially if Burr starts with a lone striker as he did at Grimsby. My gut feeling, having watched Chester’s last few games, is that he won’t do that as they lack a target man able to turn long balls into possession. Gareth Seddon is still a very good striker at this level, but is being nursed back from a broken toe; he was sacrificed when Chester had Brown sent off against Hyde and came on as a second half substitute at Grimsby. Burr will surely start with him and another forward, probably Craig Hobson, although the latter is not as strong in the air as his height might suggest. The more burly Danny Carlton offers a Lee McEvilly-style option. However, Chester can’t afford to lump long balls at them; instead them must try to get the ball down and work it through their two creative options, Craig Mahon and John Rooney.
Wayne’s brother is the real threat; he starts either behind the striker in a 4-2-3-1 or deeper and wider in the lop-sided diamond Burr started with against Hyde, and has the ability to create as well as good delivery from set pieces. If Wilkin opts, as expected, for an unchanged side, he’ll have to give thought to what happens when those two drift between the lines. Mahon likes to stay wide but can go both sides of a full back, as can two-footed wide option James Caton who marked his debut at Grimsy with a fluke goal when his cross went straight in. Rooney will want to come more central and Wrexham must be wary that there’ll be space for them to operate in in the hole if Joe Clarke gets involved in battle higher up the pitch and Dean Keates is occupied by Jason Jarrett.
One would also assume that Wilkin will reward Theo Bailey-Jones for his exciting first half hour last Saturday with a start. In his direct adversary, Kevin McIntyre, he’ll find a robust defender who won’t keep up with him if he gets too tight and Bailey-Jones is able to knock the ball past him and take him on in a race. However, McIntyre has been reinvented as an essentially defensive full back and rarely ventured forward in either of Chester’s last two games; if that continues to be the case he’ll restrict the amount of space Bailey-Jones has to run into behind him.
Another interesting factor, albeit not a tactical one, will be the roles of the two goalkeepers. They both seem to be hewn from the same piece of rock as both Joslain Mayebi and Aaron Chapman are keepers with ability who are prone to errors. We all know what Mayebi is capable of (and I mean that in both senses of the sentence!) while Chapman is a looming presence who can look indecisive when it comes to decision-making outside his six yard box.
So, the stage is set. Keep in touch through #DerbyDayLive and see what happens. My prediction? It’ll all be over by two o’clock.