Uplifting or worrying? Depends on whether you’re a glass half-full or a glass half- sort of person.
The final ten minutes or so were euphoric, as we snatched two goals out of the ether and held onto our lead comfortably, and there were other pleasing aspects:Kevin Wilkin showed he’s not scared of making brave, radical changes if the game demands it while his players showed character and earned the sort of messy victory that is often held up as an example of a winning mentality. It would be naive to ignore the awful opening 83 minutes though.
There were worrying echoes of the defeat to Woking last month in this match. Not that the two visiting sides ought to be compared too closely: Woking were an impressive side, solid at the back and capable of breaking with efficiency; Welling were nowhere near that standard and were particularly poor at ball retention, constantly thrashing the ball away to return possession straight back to Wrexham. The common thread was their success in parking the bus. Both sides defended deep and Wrexham had no real answer to that; we’ve looked so threatening in attack this season, breaking with menacing pace, but our capacity to get at the opposition was severely compromised when faced with opposition which denied us any space behind them to run into. Without Dean Keates we lacked a player capable of unlocking a massed defence with an incisive pass and moved the ball around in front of a well-organised defence without threat.
The consequence was that, once the opening energy had dissipated without reward, Wrexham soon became frustrated and the enthusiasm drained from their games, Passing errors became more frequent and ultimately that handed Welling a cheap lead as Jay Harris gave the ball away cheaply in the defensive third. It was a worrying state of affairs when Welling’s inability to build gave us so much possession that we seemed to be in a panic so early, and as things deteriorated Welling started to gain confidence and if anything finished the half the more dangerous side.
By then Wilkin had already started boldly seeking to improve matters. When Billy Barr switched to 4-4-2 last season there was a lack of penetration on the flanks as neither Mark Carrington or Johnny Hunt were likely to go past their man. That problem reared its head again once Wes York;s bright start faded as Hunt wasn’t able to hurt Welling on the other flank. Wilkin responded by replacing Hunt with Durrell, which turned out to be a key decision. Durrell would add creativity and energy to the side, and interestingly looked to have that “Keates Factor” when Welling’s defensive block was in place, threading little passes in pockets of space behind defenders for players to run into when he drifted centrally. His ability to do this would be a key factor in the build-up to the equaliser.
By then Wilkin had again reacted boldly to circumstances though. Although his side gained more of a grip as the second half wore on they weren’t threatening. The dismissal of Jon Nouble gave Wilkin scope to make a radical change, switching to a system which might have looked ostensibly like a 3-5-2 but was in fact something much more adventurous. Either side of Manny Smith, Ross White and Neil Ashton were expected to look to get forward as Welling were leaving one striker in futile isolation up front and Wrexham didn’t need more than two men to stay back to cover him. “Wing-backs” Theo Bailey-Jones and York had no real defensive responsibility, pushed on ahead of the wide centre backs, while Durrell played off the two strikers but often drifted to the right to create a decisive overload on the right.
The formation was proof that you don’t have to fling a big man up front to throw the kitchen sink at the opposition. Indeed, Wilkin’s second substitution was an eye-catching switch which rejected that notion in striking fashion as he replaced a hulking centre back he might have put up top, Blaine Hudson, with the wraith-like wing presence of Bailey-Jones.
It was an astute and game-shifting call, but spare a moment to show sympathy for the defender. Hudson’s passing had been by far the worst in the first half by some measure, and it was no accident: Welling know him well of course, having had him on loan for a season, and were aware that his distribution isn’t his strong suit so they allowed him to be our out-ball, closing down the other members of the back four in order to allow him space to come forwards. By forcing Hudson to be the player who played the pass which switched phases from defence to midfield, Welling ensured that Wrexham often squandered possession and a brief attempt to fix this in the first half by getting Harris to drop between the centre backs didn’t change matters. Hudson’s passing was poor and the crowd turned on him, but to be fair it wasn’t the full picture. Hudson had actually enjoyed his best match of the season defensively, admittedly helped partly by the lack of threat from Welling. It must have been embarrassing for him to be removed so early in front of his erstwhile team mates, but it wasn’t a comment on his defensive efforts and his place in the back four won’t be under threat as a result.
The change, and the subsequent introduction of Andy Bishop, who occupied the centre backs well, turned the game around and earned the win, along with the predatory instincts of Louis Moult and a dollop of luck for the winner. Maybe snatching victory like that was as precious to our momentum as the hard-fought win at Forest Green, but we’ll have to address our problems when we face sides that park the bus.
Wrexham (4-4-2): Bachmann; White, Hudson (Bailey-Jones 71), Smith, Ashton; York, Harris, Clarke, Hunt (Durrell 38); Jennings (Bishop 77), Moult. Unused subs: Tomassen, Evans.
Welling United (4-3-3): Henly; Williams, Fyfield, Bush, Jefford; Fagan (Bassele 78), Beautyman (Hudson 80), Gallagher; Sho-Silva, Nouble, Marsh (Healy 62). Unused subs: Turner, Fazakerley.
Attendance: 2,857 Away: 28
Referee: Paul Rees
Wrexham Player Man of the Match:Elliott Durrell
Miscellaneous: Wes York’s 100th career league appearance; Blaine Hudson’s 75th career appearance.