What a terrific game! It’s disappointing Wrexham didn’t win it considering the opportunities we had to score and the fact that we played nearly forty five minutes with an extra man when you take added time into account, but on the other hand, when you’re a goal down with five minutes left you should be grateful for what you can get.
Admittedly, one point from six is a disappointing haul for the week when you consider that we could have easily won both here and on Saturday, but on the other hand Halifax’s high league position and fine home record (last Saturday excepted) meant most of us would have been satisfied with a point before kick-off.
Also, it would be churlish to deny that Halifax deserved a point: not necessarily because they hung on doggedly as the regularity with which we created chances suggested they were wanting defensively. Instead, they ought to be applauded for their boldness of approach with ten men: instead of the typical 4-5-1 shell teams withdrawn into in such circumstances, they bravely left two men up the pitch to occupy us, and were rewarded when the duo combined for their second goal.
But all that was to come after a pulsating first half. Wrexham once again came out swiftly at the first whistle, denied only by a superb fourth minute save by Matt Glennon from Louis Moult. But we don’t capitalise upon our good spells enough, a fact which was graphically illustrated in this match when Halifax scored in the sixth minute with their first attack. Credit to Danny Schofield for his direct run and sharp finish across Andy Coughlin, but Wrexham’s defending was horrible: Blaine Hudson’s square header to the edge of the box gifted Schofiled possession in a dangerous area and the heart of the defence dissolved in front of him, last man Mark Carrington’s slip being fatal.
The goal came as a real punch in the guts and for twenty minutes Wrexham were all over the place. Having switched to a 4-3-3, a formation Kevin Wilkin has acknowledged isn’t really to his taste, the team looked uncomfortable with the new shape. Debates broke out over players’ positions and we just didn’t get our defensive block sorted properly when we didn’t have the ball. As a consequence we not only looked vulnerable at the back but also left Moult isolated up front.
Yet we dug in and clawed our way back into the game. Joe Clarke deserves credit for rolling his sleeves up and putting in comfortably his best performance of the season so far: he looked much more at home in a midfield three and his passing was markedly improved on recent games. Furthermore, he gave some drive to our play and began to link midfield and attack, as did Wes York, whose pace constantly stretched Halifax’s defence and drove them deeper as they compensated for the ball over the top.
As a result, just when I was wondering if the 4-3-3 experiment ought to be ditched, we took control of the game, finishing the half strongly but failing to capitalise on the chances we created, largely because Glennon continued to win his personal duel with Moult.
The second half saw us continue on top until the 51st minute, when the dismissal of Marc Roberts handed us a crucial advantage. It was one of those I’d like to see again: for me, Moult, who had done well to wriggle himself into a position where he was taking on the last man, had lost his balance and was already on the way down when contact was made. Whether it was an intentional offence seems doubtful to me, but having given the foul the referee had no choice but to deliver a red card considering its position on the pitch.
Halifax’s decision to switch to a 4-3-2 completely opened up the game. On the one hand, as I mentioned earlier, it boldly gave our defenders something to contemplate, although the front two were often left a long way adrift of a very deep midfield. On the other, it completely surrendered the flanks to Wrexham, especially as the threatening Adam Smith was withdrawn to accommodate the change.
Wrexham had to decide whether to stock or twist on the flanks: normally in dealing with a front two the back four can commit one full back forwards, but not both at the same time: Wrexham decided to be bold and look to exploit the yawning space down the wings though, and showed boldness of their own in pushing Carrington and Neil Ashton forward to overload the flanks. They also looked to switch play swiftly to open those gaps up more, and switched to a 4-4-2 to consolidate the width of their play. The full backs, York and Elliott Durrell all constantly got into threatening positions, as was evidenced by the sheer volume of corners we won.
Wrexham’s first goal exemplified the value of this approach, Carrington switching superbly to his fellow full back Ashton, also high up the pitch, whose cross picked out Moult to score with a brilliant header as the ball arrived slightly behind him on the penalty spot. Perhaps the immediate Halifax reply exemplified the gamble Wrexham were taking, perhaps it also showed that a team whose mentality is totally focussed on driving forwards to snatch a win it knows it there for the taking can lose concentration at the other end as defending is seen as less of a necessity and more as an annoying waste of time better spent going forwards.
Still, Wrexham showed more resilience than they did when they conceded the first and continued to knock at the door. The delivery of set pieces was improved by Durrell’s introduction and headed chances from corners were off target from Ashton and Hudson, who twice missed from close range.
Still, Moult’s sharp second, owing much to an excellent assist from Andy Bishop as he cushioned a dropping ball to perfection, and the weak wrists of the otherwise impeccable Glennon, earned a point at least, and Jay Harris’ extra time shot which scraped the post might have left us going home victorious. Still, it was a decent point in the overall scheme of things, and certainly a grand night out!
Halifax (4-3-3): Glennon; K Roberts, M Roberts, Williams, McManus; Marshall, Ainge, Schofield (Maynard 77); Smith (Pearson 56), Hattersley, Bodin (Periket 70). Unused subs: Senior, Jackson
Wrexham (4-3-3): Coughlin; Carrington, Hudson, Smith, Ashton; Clarke, Keates (Durrell 71), Harris; Jennings (Bishop 71), Moult, York. Unused subs: White, Hunt, Holman
Referee: Steve Bennett
Attendance: 1,617 Away: 358
Wrexham Player Man of the Match: Joe Clarke