That’s more like it! There were edgy moments – about twenty minutes of them as it looked worryingly like the pattern established at Bromley would be repeated and the side would fail to sustain the penetration of its passing game beyond the opening twenty minutes. However, a barn-storming second half allayed those fears, helped by a subtle bit of tinkering by Gary Mills.
Mills opted to change the starting shape of the team, switching from a 4-3-3 to a 4-2-3-1, with Connor Jennings playing off James Gray and Jon Royle coming into the centre of the pitch to anchor with Adriano Moke.
Torquay played the same formation, but in a highly impressive opening period by the home team, they found their players were unable to match up with their Wrexham counterparts in the areas of the pitch which Paul Cox would have wanted.
The problem was epitomised by Shepherd Murombedzi, who was ostensibly playing on the left side of the second line. Rather than offer support to the isolated Quigley up front, he found himself constantly doubling up with Butler to cover the threat of Wes York. Wrexham’s ability to get the ball swiftly to the most direct and swift member of their team affected Murombedzi’s starting position, and the smothering extent to which Wrexham dominated possession meant he was inclined to drift deeper and deeper once the home side had committed men forwards.
Not that Murombedzi was alone in this – in fact he was particularly diligent in supporting his full back, to be fair. Across the five men between defence and attack the same was happening as Torquay were unable to disrupt Wrexham’s passing rhythm and sat deep.
Of course, this is exactly what Bromley did on Saturday, leading to a moribund second half as Wrexham passed the ball around in front of them with little penetration or tempo. So what was different this time? Key to the opening stages was Moke, who had shown flashes of promise in a central position at Bromley.
Here, he was particularly decisive, driving forwards with pace whenever an opening presented itself in the centre of the pitch and frightening the Torquay midfield. His quick thinking allowed him to receive an early short corner and sweep in a perfect far post cross which cut out the goalkeeper and left Manny Smith with a close range free header which he could not control.
Then, in the fifteenth minute he embarked on a sensational run through the centre of the pitch which was incredibly reminiscent of a similar manoeuvre he pulled off at Bromley. On that occasion he took on one man too many and lost the ball, leading to the third goal; this time the timing was perfect as he released Gray into a one-on-one which was denied by a good save from Fabian Spiess.
Such was their control of the match that surely the scoreline would have been more lop-sided than it eventually was if one of those chances had been taken. However, they weren’t and Wrexham began to lose momentum as the half wore on and Torquay’s deep defence settled into its job.
This period of play certainly was reminiscent of Wrexham’s frustrations in Kent, and the addition of another sloppily-conceded goal rubbed salt in the wounds, and opened debate into whether too many players in this squad lack robustness in defending set pieces.
Mills was not about to allow the game to drift away from his team, though. Six minutes into the second half he’d seen enough and opted to make a subtle change which altered everything.
Royle had done a sound enough job in midfield, recirculating the ball competently, but was sacrificed to get Robbie Evans into the heart of the pitch and facilitate a switch to 4-3-3. There may not be a huge distance between 4-2-3-1 and 4-3-3, but in this case it was decisive. Now Wrexham had swapped a holding midfielder for one who is eager to drive on into advanced positions: to put it in simple terms, instead of the striker and three supporting midfielders looking to get into advanced positions, now there was an extra man pushing up as Evans and Jennings, now ensconced in an attacking midfield role, augmented a front three.
The opening goal, while rather fortuitous in its build-up, illustrated perfectly the value of having numbers in advanced positions. York crossed from high up the flank, Gray attacked the ball in the box, the ball ricocheted off Evans, who was also in a shooting position, and fell for Vose to smartly side-foot home from ten yards. The extra man released into the box had worked and led to a breakthrough.
The second goal also involved three of the advanced players, but had very specific short and long term causes.
The short term factor boiled down to that crucial attribute which good players have – the ability to make the correct decisions in a split second. Encouragingly, it was Wrexham’s creative players who showed they could do this. Vose typically drifted inside from the left after Torquay had got plenty of bodies behind the ball, and released his pass at the perfect moment, just as Courtney Richards, previously holding in a supporting position behind the full back Smith, snapped and decided to step in and challenge the Wrexham playmaker. His fatal stepping up meant he wasn’t able to cover the recipient of Vose’s pass, Jennings, who was further aided by Evans’ movement into the pocket Richards had left to create space. Jennings needs no second invitation to pull the trigger from the edge of the box.
The long term cause of the goal was one of Wrexham’s key strengths throughout the match: the creativity of the outstanding Vose. Vose had been a constant threat down the left, holding the ball up superbly and bringing players into play with his fine range of passing. The build-up to the goal, when viewed in full, encapsulated how important he was in keeping attacks moving and creating attacking momentum. He initially received the ball on the half way line tight on the touch line, which three Torquay players advancing on him. Rather than panic he coolly invited them onto him, manipulated the ball neatly and knocked it off one of them from the throw. He remained switched on, received the throw, beat a man and played a well-weighted forwards pass towards a diagonal run by York which left his marker with no option but to put the ball out.
Wrexham look to take the throw quickly, but almost immediately Vose appears, eager to still run matters. He receives the ball, beats a man on the inside and waits for Richards to crack so he can play his killer pass to Jennings.
Vose’s intelligence and ability to see a pass is clearly going to be crucial for Wrexham this season, and the 4-3-3 looks to be the best way to make the most of him. His inclination to hold a deeper position and link into play as he did in the build-up to this goal is certainly helped by the shape as he has more players around him to interact with, and in Jennings and Evans he has willing runners who are have the energy to get into attacking positions and compensate for the loss of a man off the striker.
Pushing Vose and York a little higher up the pitch also facilitated their link-up play more easily. Vose’s vision is already a delight to watch, and with him receiving the ball in more advanced areas he was able to switch play sharply to York, who was naturally as high up the pitch at the other end. When he was playing deeper York’s pace tended to take him into areas which were more difficult for Vose to pick out, although that did allow Vose to look for Javan Vidal in the space York had cleared out behind him, as he illustrated when he played the pass of the season.
In fact, York’s lateral movement was noticeable in this match. Apart from that run and a similar one to receive the long pass I mentioned in the build-up to Jennings’ goal, he often made such a dart to make space for Vidal’s overlaps – and of course he made a similar diagonal run to score his goal at Bromley.
With Vose’s propensity to drop deep and York’s inwards movement, plenty of space is created for the full backs to push on, and both Vidal and Sean Newton enjoyed getting up the pitch and further driving Torquay’s wide men back.
It was all very comfortable from that point onwards. In conversation after he’d completed his media duties, Cox told me he was frustrated throughout that his side had sat so deep and failed to take the game to Wrexham. He was right – the best way to combat their passing game would have been to get on the front foot and try to disrupt their rhythm, but in truth plenty of sides will come to The Racecourse and encounter a similar problem if Mills’ side can continue to absorb his passing philosophy like this.