That was good. Not earth shatteringly, unbridled optimism generating, devastatingly sexily good. But good, all the same.
It wasn’t grounds to rush to the bookies and put the house on promotion, but it was enough to suggest we could get somewhere this season, without necessarily looking like we were anywhere near the finished article.
Kevin Wilkin wasn’t thrilled afterwards; in fact he was quick to point out the shortcomings in the performance. But I’m warming to that: the fact is that he’s a perfectionist, interested in getting all the details right, and isn’t happy unless everything is spot-on. Of course, they never can be, so Wilkin is on a continuous quest to make his side better, which can only be a goof thing for us.
He was right: this was a satisfying result but not necessarily a rounded performance. Parts of that are down to spells where parts of the team didn’t operate effectively; parts of it were down to a fundamental change in how we play which we’ll have to get used to.
To deal with the second point first, we’re no longer playing 4-3-3 and looking to control possession. Instead we play variations of 4-4-2 and aren’t necessarily trying to keep the ball. Instead, we’re trying to feed early service to a front four which, on this evidence, knows what to do with it.
Wilkin’s main beef was the quality of that service to the forwards wasn’t good enough, and of course he had a point. I felt a little sorry for Elliot Durrell in the first half: he looked lively but wasn’t getting possession in his new position behind a lone striker. But the encouraging thing was that when the front four did get service they looked dangerous. In fact, as the second half progressed it felt like we were going to score whenever we went forward. We didn’t control midfield like we have done in recent seasons, but we looked like we could rack up the goals. That seems like a reasonable trade-off.
But there were areas that weren’t quite right. Blaine Hudson looked a little like Dennis Lawrence at the start of his spell at Wrexham, and didn’t really take advantage of his terrific physical attributes. Still, if he develops as Lawrence did we’ll be alright!
It was a surprise when Dartford’s first substitution saw Tom Bradbrook come off as I thought the target man had caused plenty of problems in the air. The good news at the back was that Manny Smith had an impressive debut, aggressive and decisive in equal measure.
We also lacked that familiar grip in midfield, but it wasn’t due to any failure by the players in that position. It was a good thing that Jay Harris was passed fit before the game as he was terrific – he, Smith and Wes York were the stand-out players. Alongside him Joe Clarke put in a typically solid stint. His passing wasn’t always on the spot, but his work rate was unimpeachable, and he made a couple of crucial interceptions on the edge of the box.You know what you’re going to get from Clarke, and the shift of emphasis in the current set-up might just suit him.
Still, we could have been punished on a different day. Dartford had more of the ball and were certainly the better side in the first half. In the second they again spent more time in our half, but by then we were breaking away consistently and looked the more likely scorers. Still, Dan Bachmann had no testing shots to deal with apart from the goal: a couple of decent hits from outside the box went narrowly over and Dartford got runners into the channels on the odd occasion, but they snatched at their shots and put them wide.
The decision to select Bachmann ahead of Andy Coughlin was bold, and his kicking was genuinely ropey, but the authoritative way he came for crosses took a great deal of pressure off his back four. He looks useful.
And then there’s Wes York. What a debut! Diligent, energetic and he came up with the goods when it mattered. He benefitted from Louis Moult’s Neymar moment as he scooped his best Neymar assist over the defence, and his lateral movement was terrific.
Finally, there was one interesting tactical facet to the game which I think we might see regularly in away games under Wilkin. For the last twenty minutes he switched to an orthodox 4-4-2 with Theo Bailey-Jones on right and the game really opened up. I suspect Wilkin will replicate this: what we started with today was essentially a 4-2-3-1 with Durrell behind Moult and Connor Jennings on the right. It was a tighter way to start an away game, but the substitution allowed us to be bold and counter in the closing stages.
Jennings looked happier through the middle: he has a good picture of what’s going on around him and his little first-time flicks and lay-offs might just be made for a striker like Moult. However, he worked hard on the right and earned his stint in a more central spot.
So, all in all a very satisfactory day. Perhaps the result was better than the performance, but that’s what football’s all about isn’t it?
Wrexham (4-2-3-1): Bachmann; Carrington, Smith, Hudson, Ashton; Clarke, Harris; Jennings, Durrell (Bailey-Jones 69), York; Moult. Unused subs: Coughlin, Stephens, Evans, Rushton.
Dartford (4-4-2): Brown; Burns, Mitchel-King, MacAuley, Green; Noble, Collier, E Bradbrook, Daley (Sweeney 83); Pugh (Harris 73), T Bradbrook (Crawford 63) Unused subs: Cornhill, Hayes.
Referee: David Rock
Miscellaneous: Dan Bachmann, Manny Smith, Blaine Hudson, Wes York, Connor Jennings and Louis Moult’s debuts.