Here’s a radical thought: could a striker, brought in expressly to address a lack of goals in a team, be considered a success despite failing to find the net in his first 315 minutes on the pitch for his new club?
I’d argue that after a slow start, Jason Oswell is starting to look like he has something useful to contribute, despite his lack of goals.
Let’s be honest here: Oswell has been a long term transfer target for the club because his scoring record at lower levels – the National League North and the League of Wales – is prolific. However, we also know that there’s no guarantee that players from those leagues will be able to make the step up to our level. Steve Abbott and Paul Roberts anyone?
Oswell certainly hasn’t shown a massive amount of goal threat in his opening performances for Wrexham, failing to hit the net in his first 6 matches, 5 of which he started. If anything, his finishing has been a little worrying: he missed a great chance at Borehamwood and in recent games should have made the keepers work a bit harder with a couple of close range headers.
Yet, when available, Bryan Hughes has selected him as his sole striker, and I can see why. Oswell might not be delivering in the goalmouth yet, but he’s a real battler. He’s not a target man, but he fights for the ball with genuine heart and makes life difficult for centre backs. Sometimes he can really make the ball stick up front, although he’s not consistent in that regard. So, we’ve signed him for a particular reason and appear to be getting more out of him in an area we didn’t expect.
That’s not unprecedented of course: the mind turns to Lee Trundle, who arrived with a sparkling locker full of tricks and scored some sensational early goals. Yet defenders worked him out fairly quickly, and in the 2002-3 promotion season his value was as a foil for a free-scoring strike partner. After 8 goals in his first 14 league games, he managed just 19 goals in his subsequent 80 league appearances for us. His explosion at a higher level after he left us still leaves me slightly confused: I’ve no doubt about his talent, but he must have really developed his game to do so well against better opponents when he’d been worked out in League One and Two for us.
However, the obvious comparison for Oswell isn’t Trundle: instead it’s the man for whom he put in such a superb supporting shift during that promotion season.
Andy Morrell didn’t arrive with a reputation for spanking lower division defences. However, he did show in his early appearances for Wrexham a propensity for hard work. Like Oswell, Morrell always left the centre backs he was up against in no doubt that they’d been in a game. Also like Oswell, Morrell didn’t find goals easy to come by, in the league at least.
Morrell only scored one goal in his first 20 league appearances, and before that remarkable explosion in 2002-3, when he was top scorer in the country, he’d managed just 6 goals in 65 league games.
Despite those figures, he wasn’t in danger of being released. This was partly down to his terrific work rate – one of the best individual Wrexham performances I’ve ever seen was on the last day of the 2001-2 season, when Lee Jones equalled the club record of five league goals in a game. However, it wasn’t Jones who caught my eye: if it wasn’t for the fact that I’d look deliberately perverse, I’d have given Morrell the nod as man of the match, because his remarkable efforts in service of Jones made that record possible.
The other reason his place in the squad was secure related to a defunct competition which, although derided at the time, served Wrexham well. The Welsh Premier Cup was an odd, early example of the influence broadcasters have on football. With the sides in the English pyramid excluded from the Welsh Cup and BBC Wales looking for something to spend their budget on, the competition was born as an opportunity for the cream of Welsh football to battle it out on prime time TV.
If that sentence sounds hollow, I’ve done my job. The concept was fundamentally silly. Cardiff didn’t really take it seriously; Swansea weren’t much better, although they were in a bit of a mess at that time, and perhaps couldn’t be blamed for that.
For Wrexham, however, the competition was an opportunity. Early in his time as the club’s manager, Brian Flynn smartly blooded youth players during the 1990-1 season, when there was no relegation from the Football League. We finished bottom of the Fourth Division, but the likes of Phil Hardy, Gareth Owen, Waynne Phillips, Lee Jones and Chris Armstrong accumulated 180 first team appearances between them that season. The first four would go on to play a crucial role in our development as we enjoyed a remarkable cup run and then were promoted in the next two seasons; Armstrong’s departure would give Flynn useful cash to spend on developing his squad.
When the next wave of youth players came through, he used the Welsh Premier Cup as a vehicle to blood them, because the league was now a much more competitive proposition. Neil Roberts, Neil Wainwright and Mark Cartwright all gained valuable experience, but perhaps Morrell was the main beneficiary.
Morrell’s scoring record in the league was uninspiring, but in the Premier Cup he was terrifying! In total he started 8 games in the competition, and came off the bench a further 6 times., yet managed a phenomenal 20 goals! Before that breakthrough season he made 6 starts and scored 16 times.
Clearly he was up against inferior opposition, but who cares? As Lenny says when it’s pointed out that Homer Simpson is winning a competition for children: “Yeah, and he’s beating their brains out!”
Morrell developed his confidence in that competition, and we enjoyed the benefits when he subsequently couldn’t stop scoring in the league. Oswell could do with a resurrection of that competition, but in its absence, I’ll settle for the disruption he causes in opposing penalty areas.
His aggression earned us a goal in injury time at Gateshead, as he bundled the ball back into the goalmouth, fighting for a far post ball with spirit. It wasn’t pretty, it wasn’t classy, but it was effective.
Oswell has managed an assist in each of his last three games. There’s a lingering sense that he isn’t going to grab goals at the level, although a superb take on his chest, followed by a fine shot on the swivel, against Orient suggested there might be more guile to come. Without some easy games to fill his boots, be might not obtain the confidence Morrell enjoyed. But if other players are able to get into positions to benefit from his diligence, he has a major role to play in the run-in.