I missed the last two games. I hear they weren’t great.
In fact, I’ve heard rather more than that: the impression I’ve gleaned from people who were there is pretty catastrophic. And let me be clear – I choose who I ask about Wrexham games carefully. I aim for the non-hysterical end of the spectrum,. They weren’t happy.
So what’s to be done? Well, first we need to identify the problem, or establish whether there’s a problem or not. I totally accept that basing an analysis of our situation on two matches I haven’t seen, apart from on video, is a dangerous game. There are useful perspectives to be gained from not being there, as I can more easily step back and take a wider perspective, but I also can hardly talk in detail about the nuts and bolts of the Southport and Halifax defeats. That’s why I’ve decided to take the Gwyneth Paltrow option and try a “Sliding Doors” angle.
At the end of that film, Paltrow’s two divergent fates come together again as she bumps into John Hannah on the tube. As he did in the beginning, he tries to encourage her by saying “You know what the Monty Python boys say…”. Her two replies suggest the different paths life could take:
1. Always look on the bright side of life
Maybe things aren’t as bad as we think. Sure, we’ve just had two dismal back-to-back performances, but is that so catastrophic? If you happen to carry bad form into the most congested point of the fixture list you’re going to drop points, but weren’t we all purring after our previous match? The 4-2 pounding of Tranmere was a treat and we left Prenton Park proclaiming how we’d sweep all before us. Have things really changed so much in the course of 180 minutes?
I suspect not. The truth is that we’re play-off contenders. That means we’re not consistently at the top of our game. The paucity of the other contenders, and their resultant inconsistency, means we don’t have to be incredible to get into the top five: we just need to have enough Tranmere moments.
We were never flying this season, and we’ve already had a spectacularly bad patch. Half way through October we played six games without a win, but we managed to come back from that though and put together a run of six wins in eight games which ended spectacularly once Santa had been. I blame him.
Which brings us back to the “Sliding Doors” idea of fate hinging on a particular moment. If we’d dealt with the attack which led to Halifax’s first goal, which we ought to have done, what would have happened next? If we’d profited from a good start and gone on to win, everyone would be happy. And the squad’s no different. A solid performance will put things right and, although I hope some tinkering is done to the squad by Mills, I think that’s all that’s required to fine tune a side which isn’t too far off where we want it to be.
We look good enough to squeeze into the top five as it is, and there’s scope to improve. When I think back to the two promotion campaigns I’ve seen, in 1991-2 and 2002-3, we got off to much slower starts and then suddenly clicked. If we can click this season, we’ll be top three, easily.
2. Nobody expects the Spanish Inquisition
So were we ever all that? I enjoyed the Tranmere win, but was it actually a sign that there were cracks under the surface?
Firstly, Tranmere were in the most hideous form, so they were asking for a spanking. But did we actually enjoy the superiority a 4-2 away win, with their second goal a late consolation, suggests? They hammered us in the first half and we survived mainly through the heroism of Rhys Taylor. This is the “Sliding Doors” moment in this scenario. If he hadn’t made those two magnificent early saves when the score was 1-0, what might have happened? In the second half a desperate, out-of-form home team pushed on and were exploited superbly on the break. If it hadn’t been for Taylor’s work, they wouldn’t have been chasing the game and leaving such yawning gaps at the back.
We’ve had spells when we’ve looked good, but we don’t sustain them. Why is that? Plus, I’ve argued that since pre-season we’ve looked too open when we lose the ball. I accept the side’s shape looks better now, but despite the introduction of a fine keeper in Taylor, we’re still conceding. In fact Taylor has let in nine goals in seven matches, keeping just two clean sheets, so we’re having to score twice in each game to win.
None of those goals are attributable to him, but to a fundamental lack of defensive solidity which still dogs us.
I’d better declare my opinion then! I tend towards the former, more optimistic version that the latter. The Southport performance looked poor, but you’re allowed a few bad days at the office in a good season. Halifax looks like it might have turned out rather differently if we hadn’t conceded an unnecessary first goal.
By the way, this is not an endorsement of “Sliding Doors”, which as far as I recall is a pretty dreadful film. The ending is far too ambiguous: does Gwyneth Paltrow actually get promoted to League Two or not?