As we all play the annual game of guessing which players the Wrexham manager will retain for next season, there’s an interesting contrast between two players which will exercise his mind. Paul Rutherford and Iffy Allen perform in similar areas of the pitch, but their approaches are direct opposites.
Superficially, they seem fairly similar. Both are lightweight, quick and happy on the wing or behind the strikers. Yet the way each operates is very different from the other, and that contrast must be giving Dean Keates something to ponder.
We haven’t seen too much of Allen: just one start and three little cameos off the bench. Perhaps that’s an advantage, as a new player always offers a sense of excitement as you wonder what more there might be to come from him. On the other hand, giving him a contract on slim evidence might not appeal to a man as meticulous as Keates.
Allen is all inspiration. He has genuine pace and isn’t scared to use it as he runs at players with enthusiasm. Whether there’s a picture in his head of where that inspiration will lead him is another matter.
His superb assist for Jordan White’s goal at Bromley illustrated this point perfectly. A magnificent turn beat his man, and the pass into the striker’s path was perfect. Yet there was a suspicion that when he’d spun inside he found himself off balance and lacking options: the only thing he could do was release it into a good area and hope someone made the right run. Thankfully, White obliged.
On others occasions Allen’s pace gets him into good areas, but the inspiration doesn’t flow, the fortune doesn’t favour him, and the attack ends.
Rutherford is the opposite in style. Technically he’s as good a player as we have, his movement is intelligent and he is considered in everything he does. The word that comes to mind to describe him is neat. Yet he perhaps doesn’t hurt the opposition as often as he’d like to. He’s played virtually the whole season either as a wide man in a front three or behind two strikers. Considering that, he’ll be disappointed with a return of two goals and five assists.
However, his value is apparent when we don’t have the ball. Think back to the New Year’s Day game at Southport. We dominated the early stages, took the lead, but lost Rutherford to an injury after 19 minutes. Rutherford’s ability to press and its importance to the side was laid bare as Callum Powell replaced him and failed to carry out the same role. With more space in midfield, Southport took control of the match and came back to win it.
Of course, it’s not certain that they are competing for the same place in Keates’ plans. Last Saturday they both started in a 4-4-2, as Keates started with two wingers for the first time. They both had decent games too, but our midfield was often outnumbered, so the formation might be short-lived.
Before Keates rebuilt the squad Rutherford was one of a handful of players who looked like they’d do better if surrounded by better team mates. He’s tidy, admirable and clever. Allen looks more like the sort of explosive player who could win you a match and then have a few quiet games. Which would you prefer, an erratic match winner or a steady, consistent contributor?
This is 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.