I suppose you could see this coming. Two sides which lack creativity and punch up front scraping their way to a scrappy goalless derby draw. The tension of the occasion gave it an edge which for some obscured the fact that neither goalkeeper had all that much to do.
Indeed, that fact that the one decent save either keeper made, a sharp low stop by Joslain Mayebi to deny John Rooney in the second half, came about following a moment of penetration down the flanks, told a story in itself. There was little width in this game,with much of the play congested into a narrow midfield battleground, so creativity was at a premium.
Steve Burr opted for another variation on the midfield diamond for his starting line-up, using Andy Bond to hold but using Lewis Turner as his wide option rather than Craig Mahon. It was a move which was vindicated in the first half as Turner was the only player to offer any penetration on the flanks. He cut in to have the first shot of the match and the danger of his constantly having a clear run at Neil Ashton meant Johnny Hunt was forced to play deeper and more narrow than Kevin Wilkin will have wished. On the other flank there was no creative punch from Chester as Jason Jarrett, more of a holding midfielder, played a tucked-in role and Kevin McIntyre failed to overlap in front of him.
So the midfield area was packed and there was a lack of players with the technique to prosper in the crowd. Dean Keates was the one player with that quality, but he was constantly closed down, while Joe Clarke’s energy was undoubted and his ability to drive forwards began to bear fruit in the closing stages as Chester took more chances and left gaps behind their midfield by removing Bond and evacuating the defensive midfielder’s spot, but he doesn’t enjoy operating in confined spaces. For Chester, Bond was the player finding space but he doesn’t have the range of passing to capitalise, while their creative force, John Rooney, was able to occasionally find room in the hole, but in general Wrexham squeezed that space effectively and his best opportunities, apart from the shot Mayebi saved, came from set pieces, which he didn’t deliver with his usual quality.
The main surprise in Wilkin’s starting eleven was a place for Joe Anyinsah, who was straight back in the team after an injury. His running off the ball proved to be both and asset and a problem: in the first half his diagonal runs in to out, often breaking into the space ahead of Hunt, offered an out ball for Wrexham’s defenders and most of Wrexham’s attacking positions came from balls into his path. However, his final product was poor so his involvement tended to be both the beginning and the end of any moments of first half threat.
The other problem was that, in looking to offer himself down the channels, he didn’t really operate in tandem with his strike partner Andy Bishop. This was a shame as Bishop had a good game, not only working hard as usual, but also winning more than his fair share of the ball in the air. However, he found himself fairly isolated and had to wait for support in the first hour. The difference made once Bradley Reid came on was marked as the youngster fed off Bishop, offering a pacey target for his flicks. It was no coincidence that Wrexham’s best period came directly after Reid’s introduction, and throughout the last half hour Wrexham got into more threatening positions than in the first hour.
That was also down to the changing formation of the home side. As I alluded to before the game, Steve Burr is an enthusiastic tinkerer within a game, and his Chester side rarely finish a match with the same shape as they started it. As the final whistle grew closer and the desire to press on for a win became more pronounced, Burr took chances, making attacking substitutions which left him playing a 4-4-2 which featured two attacking wide players and a play-maker in the centre of midfield. This didn’t threaten to break Wrexham’s stubborn back four down though, and Chester were much more vulnerable to the counter attack than before, especially on their right where Johnny Hunt suddenly found himself enjoying a chance to run at the right back. Perhaps enjoy is the wrong verb; unfortunately for Hunt the right back was Andy Griffin, who is clearly far too good for this level of football and handled Hunt’s threat well.
On the other flank Theo Bailey-Jones had struggled to get at McIntyre, partly because the nature of the game meant he was dragged narrow and deep and also because he wasn’t really offered many opportunities to run at him by good service to his team mates, although he did receive two early balls from his unlikely partner in creativity, Dave Artell, who pinged a glorious through ball to him last Saturday and tried to replicate that ball twice before bowing to reality and falling back on his usual mode of distribution: simplicity mixed with the occasional launch up the pitch. However, Bailey-Jones got into the game more in the last ten minutes as Chester committed more men forwards. Dropping deep, the young winger was able to initiate breaks by being available for the short pass which bypassed Chester’s advanced midfield line and then using his pace to accelerate into the newly-created space and make sure covering midfielder weren’t able to get back to him. A number of four man breaks involving Bailey-Jones, the two strikers and the always energetic Hunt ensued, but Wrexham didn’t have the quality to capitalise.
The narrowness of the game, and that lack of quality on either side, was what essentially condemned this to be a nil-nil from the start.