Surely the same is true of a football team. When they’re on a roll, momentum high, it seems like nothing could possibly go wrong. There’s little to learn about them then: watching any side put in its optimum performance tells us they can be good on their day, but it doesn’t tell us how they’ll cope with a setback.
Once the golden form fades, you find out the true calibre of a side. Do they wilt or push back? On Tuesday Sam Ricketts’ Wrexham side had to address that question for the first time. Thankfully, they pushed back.
Last Saturday’s defeat to Sutton United was the first serious setback they’ve suffered. I know we had already lost disappointingly to Solihull Moors earlier this season, and plenty of observers drew parallels between the two losses, but it’s a false comparison.
The Solihull Moors game was a grim match in which the home side’s direct, aggressive style, facilitated by a lenient referee, stopped us from performing to our capabilities. However, it should have been a goalless draw, but we conceded a sloppy late goal which led to defeat.
Sutton was different: it was a complete power failure!
We couldn’t argue that we might have escaped with a draw from Sutton were it not for a late error; we were on the back foot from early on, and the final scoreline probably flattered us, in all honesty.
So how would we bounce back? Harrogate, like Sutton, were looking to bounce back themselves. Both had suffered unexpected heavy home defeats in their last matches, both wanted to make amends, and both started fast. Also, both had the advantage of an artificial turf pitch. I don’t want to make too much of a big deal about that, as those surfaces have improved massively over the years, but when you’ve just taken a beating in those conditions, it would be understandable if there was nervousness about playing in the same circumstances again three days later.
However, Wrexham showed both character and quality as they bounced back from Saturday’s loss. Their resilience was tested most in the opening twenty minutes. An energetic Harrogate forced us back and won a series of set pieces, which they delivered consistently into dangerous areas.
Yet Wrexham stood firm. Jake Lawlor, Kevin Roberts and Shaun Pearson in particular stood up to be counted, winning numerous aerial battles, making blocks, and simply refusing to give in.
Their efforts were rewarded as the half wore on. Inevitably, Harrogate’s fire subsided and Wrexham were allowed to play, first on the break, then with more control of the middle of the pitch.
Indeed, we dominated the game until the last ten minutes, when Harrogate threw on their big target man, Mark Beck, and got some late momentum, hurling balls into the box and once again winning set pieces in threatening positions.
However, this time there was less threat. Wrexham’s defence had shown they could repel Town’s best efforts, and there was a reassuring solidity to their late work.
In many ways, Pearson epitomised Wrexham’s spirit, as he has come to personify so much of what the club has done well over the last year and a half.
He admitted after the Sutton game that he had suffered a rare uncomfortable afternoon, conceding the penalty for the first goal and confessing an error for the second. Typically, he responded on Tuesday with a massive performance, constantly fighting to protect his goal, nearly scoring from a corner and even turning play maker late on with a neat pass which might have led to a goal if Jordan Maguire-Drew’s first touch had been better.
Should we be surprised by Pearson’s performance? Of course not. His character is a huge part of what makes him such a fine defender. Should we be surprised that a side led by him would show resilience when it needed to? Not at all. That’s why this week has made me feel that perhaps there’s substance to our latest promotion tilt.