Here’s my column from last week’s Leader. It forms part of the paper’s comprehensive pre-match coverage every Friday, featuring interviews, an in-depth look at the opposition and lots of statistical analysis. All content in the column (c) www.leaderlive.co.uk.
There’s no history to report on between Wrexham and Eastleigh as the Hampshire side have never played at this level before so our paths haven’t crossed.
Facing new opponents got me thinking: how have we fared against new opponents since dropping into the Conference? We’ve come up against a lot of teams we’ve never faced before in non-league football, and it’s fair to say that our perception of them has been as relevant as our results against them.
I’m sure Brian Little would agree. Defeat in his penultimate match meant he was a dead man walking by the time we lost three days later and he got the chop. The nature of that loss was a contributory factor, but surely more important was the fact that we were well beaten on the Saturday by Grays Athletic, a side which Wrexham fans would expect to be superior to.
But how have we actually fared when coming up against new faces, all of which have been “traditional” non-league clubs, for the first time?
We tend to get off to good starts when facing them. In total we’ve faced thirty four new opponents since dropping into the Conference and have a good record in our initial meetings. In total we’ve won twenty, drawing seven and losing seven, with three 5-0s in the process.
It’s perhaps an indication of how well balanced the division is this season, and a confirmation of our similarity to many of the sides around us, that there have been so few one-sided matches involving Wrexham so far this season.
In eleven games, only one has been decided by a margin of more than one goal. The statistical outlier was that remarkable 3-0 defeat at home to Gateshead, and even then the margin of victory for The Heed hardly reflected the balance of the game. Every other match we’ve played this season has been decided either by one goal or been a draw.
Tomorrow’s match takes place on a significant date in Wrexham’s history. It the forty second anniversary of our first victory in Europe, as Mel Sutton’s goal proved decisive against FC Zurich in the European Cup Winners Cup. The first leg, in Switzerland, ended in a 1-1 draw but although we held the advantage on away goals, our visitors weren’t about to give up the tie and it was they who scored the first European goal at The Racecourse a couple of minutes after the half time interval. However, Billy Ashcroft levelled the tie on aggregate before Mel Sutton got the winner to earn us a second round tie against the Yugoslav side Hajduk Split.
Manny Smith will make his one hundred and fiftieth career appearance tomorrow while Johnny Hunt’s next match will be his one hundred and twenty fifth.
Joe Clarke’s one hundred and twenty fifth league appearance came in unhappy circumstances at The Swansway Stadium last Tuesday, and on the same night Connor Jennings made his seventy fifth appearance in the professional game.