Struggling for form, we face a tough task today, If we lose, it’ll be our longest losing run since January 2016; a failure to score would see us fail to hit the net in five consecutive games for the first time since April 2009. Furthermore, AFC Fylde have the squad quality and financial backing to be serious promotion contenders, and our record against such sides is poor since we dropped out of the Football League. There’s an unexpected cause for optimistic though, as it turns out Graham Barrow has bucked that unfortunate trend.
For years I’ve heard Wrexham fans complain that we’re the sort of side who turn it on against the big sides, but then crumble when we play the struggling outfits that we ought to be able to dispatch easily. Perhaps that’s a common perception among supporters of all clubs: we tend to be a “glass half empty” bunch at the best of times. Lately, though, I’ve been inclined to think that the opposite is true, and after taking to time to look at the proof, I’m surprised to say I’m right!
I’ve increasingly had the feeling over the last couple of seasons that Wrexham struggle against the stronger sides, so I looked at our record against the teams that finished in the top seven for every season since we joined the National League.
The picture was pretty bleak. We really do struggle to beat the stronger sides, which is the natural state of things when you’re a mid-table side, but a genuine problem when you’re pushing for promotion and keep dropping points against your rivals.
Against the teams who are currently in the top seven, we’ve picked up 38% of the points available. That isn’t particularly great, but it’s better than we’ve managed in each of the last three seasons. However, if you drill a little deeper into this season’s results you find an interesting pattern developing. Put simply, our chances of beating a good side this season has varied massively depending on who was manager!
Under Sam Ricketts we enjoyed limited success. Three games against the sides who are establishing themselves as our promotion rivals yielded just two points from a possible fifteen, with disappointing losses at Sutton and Solihull Moors to add to defeat at home to Leyton Orient.
With Barrow at the helm it’s been a rather different matter though. We managed back-to-back wins over Salford City and Solihull Moors over the Christmas period, making him the first Wrexham manager to enjoy two home wins in a season over promotion rivals since Kevin Wilkin in 2015.
Although we lost the away game at Salford, Barrow’s record against the top sides is still rather impressive. Indeed, the 67% of points available against the top seven which Barrow has won is the best of any permanent Wrexham manager in the National League.
The stats show you ought to be careful with caretaker managers and small sample sizes. A win at Grimsby meant the Carl Darlington/Lee Jones combination had a very impressive record, but Darlington’s subsequent spell as caretaker with Andy Davies was as unfruitful as any manager we’ve had in the National League.
The next best percentage is a long way back, and you’ll be surprised to learn that it’s Brian Little in second place with 50%. It was disappointing defeats against the smaller sides which did for him, as he enjoyed a couple of decent early wins: remember our first ever game in the Conference when we walloped pre-season title favourites Stevenage Borough 5-0 at home and everyone thought bouncing back into the Football League would be a doddle?
In third place is Andy Morrell, which feels a little surprising as he set so many managerial records during his time in charge. I was shocked to see how many points we dropped against the top seven sides during that famous 98-point season: we lost three and drew two of twelve games. If we’d fared better against our promotion rivals we might have pipped Fleetwood Town to the title.
At the other end of the scale, Wrexham’s worst manager against top seven sides is Ricketts. He’s won just 13% of the points available from those games: the only other manager to average fewer than a point per game is Gary Mills, who won just 22% of possible points.
Admittedly, these statistics are being taken from a pretty small sample size, but the early signs for Barrow against the big sides are promising.
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.