So Bryan Hughes didn’t quite manage to equal the best start by a Wrexham manager by winning his first four games, but by way of consolation, here’s something to consider: how good might he be when he can actually pick from a full squad?
It’s easy to forget, blinded as we are by Hughes’ positive impact on the club, just how many experienced players aren’t available to Hughes right now. Seven players were missing at Gateshead, and one might make a case for each of them being worth a place in Hughes’ strongest eleven. Between them they have 2,558 first team appearances: that’s not to be sniffed at.
Hughes had to do without skipper Shaun Pearson, Manny Smith, Rob Lainton, Kevin Roberts, Luke Summerfield, Bobby Grant and Stuart Beavon at Gateshead, but we were still the better side for 70 minutes away to a team in the play-off places. This is one of the factors which is rapidly forcing me to reconsider my opinion of this side and its prospects.
I’ve felt all season that this is a squad which could go up, but ascribed that in part to a relative lack of decent sides at the top end of the table. Where are the likes of Fleetwood Town who, inspired by Jamie Vardy, denied our 98-point season team? Or the strong Crawley, Stevenage, Luton, Grimsby, Kiddersminster, Cambridge and Oxford sides which habitually crammed themselves at the top end of the table?
Now we see a succession of sides scrabbling for promotion, despite the fact that none of them are capable of sustaining a decent run of form. This is no new state of affairs: last season it was clear that the first side to hit a run of good results would win the title, and that was exactly what Macclesfield did to rise above the mediocrity. Did you think last season’s Wrexham side was one of the better ones you’ve seen? Of course not, but if Dean Keates had stayed the least we’d have been was a tough side to beat in the play-offs.
The season before I recall looking with envy at a poor top end of the table, wishing Gary Mills hadn’t torpedoed our chances of rubbing shoulders with them through his pin-the-tail-on-the-donkey approach to squad building the previous summer. For heaven’s sake, there was a point when Dean Keates’ make-do-and-mend side, created to fend off a disastrous slump into the relegation battle, wasn’t too far off the top seven!
This side has momentum behind it, and has made a better fist of getting results against strong sides than we’ve tended to for the last couple of seasons. I’m not convinced it’s the finished article, and the lack of a reliable scorer concerns me. But it’s building momentum.
If Macclesfield can rise from the pack, why can’t we? None of the seven absentees at Gateshead seem to be suffering from long term injuries, except for Manny Smith. Hughes has already made the most of the hand he’s been dealt; when he has those injured players to choose from too, perhaps we can be the side which finds that elusive title-winning run of form.