The problem with season-defining matches is you can only spot them with hindsight. The 6-1 beating at Crewe in 1992, the 1-0 loss at Exeter in 2003 and the decision by Dean Saunders to play Jamie Tolley behind the strikers at Kettering in and throw caution to the wind all stand out as moments which, either by developing a new way of playing or offering a low point from which we recovered, defined a season. Hopefully this match will be looked back on in the same manner.
This was a highly impressive win, and one which saw us exhibit a stability we haven’t shown all season. You know, the sort of stability good sides have.
We’ve been exciting to watch this season, partly because, as I keep finding myself saying, we’re fast and dangerous going forwards and vulnerable at the back. Away to an unbeaten Forest Green side which has a handsome budget to spend on catapulting itself out of the division, we were still threatening going forwards, but a lot more robust when we didn’t have the ball.
The root cause in this shift was a switch to 4-4-2 accommodated by the arrival of Johnny Hunt. All of a sudden we had a compact shape when we lost possession, the full backs who had looked exposed all season had cover from wide midfielders, and it was much harder to get at the heart of our defence. Also, Connor Jennings got to play in a central role, close to Louis Moult, for the first time. He enjoyed it, and he wasn’t the only one!
It wasn’t plain sailing of course: the players at Ady Pennock’s disposal are too good to allow that. Dan Bachmann had to make three excellent saves at crucial junctures-two in succession in the first half just after we’d got a grip of midfield and a fine stop in the last minute, squirting a Jon Parkin header away on the half volley. His two stops from Parkin headers were quality: both efforts were similar in that they were put back across the keeper from right wing crosses, but the first was a looper into the top corner, the second punched towards the bottom corner. Bachmann’s response to each was exemplary: fast feet and a good stretch for the former, sharp reflexes for the latter. It was enough, alongside some swift interventions as he dashed off his line, to rightly earn the man of the match accolade from my co-commentator Ollie, but don’t imagine that suggests we were under the cosh in this game.
Similarly to the opening day at Dartford, for the first half hour or so we had less of the game but created more chances. Moult held the ball up typically well and Jennings buzzed around him; although they often had to operate on their own they looked like a self-sufficient duo. As the half wore on we got support to them more often and began to take control, a state of affairs which persisted beyond Moult’s excellent free kick decider.
As the second half continued our discipline made Forest Green look increasingly ragged. Matching up their 4-4-2 meant they struggled to create overloads and their passing became ragged as they desperately tried to find an alternate way to get the ball into an attacking position which didn’t involve a long ball to Jon Parkin. Hunt and York’s presence on the flanks protected the full backs and made penetration down the flanks difficult, and Forest Green’s passing got worse and worse.
Their mood did too. Pennock’s reorganisation of the squad he inherited from the cursed Dave Hockaday has revolved around bringing in a plethora of gnarled old pros, but they hardly seemed to be blessed with much experience as they grew increasingly tetchy. Parkin accumulated fouls until he got booked and had a long distance confrontation with a steward who tried to get the ball back quickly into play, Kurtis Guthrie perhaps ought to have received a straight red for a frustrated lunge on Jennings and James Norwood’s aggression towards Manny Smith probably would have earned him a second yellow had Lee Hughes not already seen red.
Ah, Lee Hughes. His insane kick in Bachmann’s ribs offered the away end a moment of sweet schadenfreude the likes of which they haven’t experienced since a certain Mister Brodie thumped a penalty into their midst at Wembley. Oddly. his dismissal provoked Forest Green into a fevered conclusion which might have stolen them a point. But that would have been a travesty: the right team won this one.
Forest Green (4-4-2): Russell; Pipe, Oliver, Coles, Stokes; Frear (Guthrie 67), Sinclair, Wedgbury, Kelly (Hughes 67); Parkin, Norwood Unused subs: Arnold,Bennett, Oshodi.
Wrexham (4-2-3-1): Bachmann; Carrington, Smith, Hudson, Ashton; York, Clarke, Evans; Hunt; Jennings, Moult (Bishop 89). Unused Subs: White, Durrell, Harris, Bailey-Jones.
Referee: Dean Treleaven
Wrexham Player Man of the Match: Dan Bachmann
Attendance: 1,401 Away: 236
Miscellaneous: Andy Bishop’s 50th Wrexham appearance.