Meet the new boss; same as the old boss. That seems to be how a lot of Wrexham fans have greeted the appointment of Graham Barrow, but I don’t think they’re right.
Clearly the club evaluated other options, which might be interesting indicators of our future targets. However, those deals all had practical drawbacks, while the appointment of Barrow is simple, ensures the squad have a manager they will play for, and avoids any awkward issues with contracts or compensation.
That doesn’t make him the lazy option though; surely we know by now that the board is diligent in its appointment process.
While the difficulties in making the other deals happen have been revealed, Barrow has been quietly getting on with a very impressive job application through his team’s performances on the pitch. There has been a discernible lift in performances compared to the last six weeks under Sam Ricketts, but the biggest difference has been a very pleasant surprise.
We’ve shown a greater amount of game-to-game tactical flexibility since Ricketts left. That seems somewhat ironic, considering how loudly Ricketts trumpeted his thorough preparation and scouting of opposition. This suggests there was a willingness among the coaching staff to take a more adaptable approach, but such versatility was rarely obvious before Ricketts left. As he had the final say, one has to assume that he must have been the hand brake.
Ricketts deviated from the 4-3-3 he favoured three times, and none of those changes was a huge shift away from that shape. He.shifted to a 4-2-3-1 twice, strangely only against sides from Hampshire – is he the inventor of Geographical Tactics? Can I call it GeoPressing? The shape against Harrogate in the FA Cup replay looked more like a 4-1-4-1, with Brad Walker a lot deeper than normal.
Since he left we’ve made radical changes. The surprise tactic of using a diamond against Newport worked beautifully as Paul Rutherford, at the tip of the diamond, harried Andrew Crofts and consequently disrupted County’s passing rhythm. We then sprung another surprise on them for the replay, but were undone by an early red card.
Last Saturday we were at it again. Two features were striking for me, as we reverted to a 4-2-3-1. The first was the change of philosophy to a counter-attacking set-up: we didn’t look to dominate possession, but instead were happy to patiently allow Boston the ball. We maintained an excellent shape when we didn’t have the ball, and pressed at the right times. This meant that Boston’s inferior technique as a side from a lower level was exposed: they tried to pass the ball around but found it difficult and inevitably made mistakes, either from their midfielders passing their way into pressured areas or their centre backs being deliberately allowed time to pass forwards, so they could hack it wildly to us. We were then very quick on the counter attack and picked them off.
The second change was a very positive reflection on our preparations for the match, as the team looked extremely familiar with their roles in the formation, even though it was a relatively unfamiliar shape and a rotated side. A high level of discipline is required to play like that, but it worked perfectly. That suggests meticulous work on the training ground.
One of the reservations I’ve seen expressed about Barrow is that he hasn’t managed in 13 years. Clearly we need a manager with a modern approach, able to fit in with our coaching structure, so I understand those concerns. I suspect they’re unfounded though, as we’ve looked more tactically savvy since he took the helm. Meet the new boss; same as the old boss? Early signs suggest not.
Here’s 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.