Here’s a puzzle for you. When Bryan Hughes was appointed Wrexham’s manager, his first and most obvious task was to find a way to start scoring goals again. Part of his solution was to move the player you’d least like a chance to fall to into a more advanced position. How come it’s worked?
It’s certainly had the desired effect. Wrexham have scored eight goals in Bryan Hughes’ first five games in charge: a significant improvement on the two we managed in the seven games before his appointment.
Some of this is down to having the common sense to do the obvious thing: we didn’t get the ball forwards quickly enough under Graham Barrow, failed to find space and didn’t break quickly, so Hughes did something Barrow never did: start Ben Tollitt, the player in his squad who is most suited to doing all of those things.
However, another key change affected by Hughes was massively counter-intuitive. Akil Wright is a massive asset for Wrexham. His energy, physical strength and ability to burst through the lines make him a key player. In a defensive midfield role before the arrival of Brad Walker he was instrumental to our good start to the season, showing strength in the tackle and an ability to read the game. He even won the National League’s player of the month award.
The part of his game which isn’t so strong is when he’s in the final third. He’d be the first to admit that his finishing isn’t the best, and sometimes when he bursts into a promising position he finds it difficult to play the right pass while arriving at speed.
So when Hughes unveiled his plan to increase our attacking potency, which involved pushing Wright high up to support the striker in what is essentially a 4-2-3-1, I had serious reservations.
You could argue that Hughes’ first game in charge showed why I had my doubts: as Dagenham tired, we carved out chance after chance in the closing stages. The problem was they all fell to Wright, who found increasingly exotic ways to miss them!
However, Hughes persevered with Wright in an advanced position, and I can now see the logic behind it. While Wright missed all those chances, the fact that he was getting in there and causing disruption was a positive sign. After all, in our previous games we’d struggled to create opportunities: all of a sudden we were slicing Dagenham apart!
Wright has raised his game in front of goal too. He’s managed two goals in his last four games, which is quite the improvement when you consider that he’d scored two in his previous sixty-seven games for us. His winner against Chesterfield showed that he can sniff out space in a crowded penalty area, and offer the thrust from deep positions which we’d been missing as he burst beyond the striker to score.
He’s still snatching at chances, of course, but maybe we need to look at one of the biggest clubs in the world for a bit of perspective.
Real Madrid’s 18-year-old wonderkid, Vinicius Junior, has thrown up an interesting statistical quirk in Spain. After last weekend’s defeat to Barcelona, he’d managed 80 shots so far this season, and scored just three goals. This has caught the eye of critics who complain that there’s a remarkable lack of end product to his game, although there’s an interesting counterargument to be made around one of his club’s great legends.
Cristiano Ronaldo’s goal-scoring exploits for Real Madrid are remarkable, but his chance conversion rate was actually nothing special. This suggests he wasn’t a phenomenal finisher, so much as a guy who took an incredible amount of shots in every game and therefore accumulated a spectacular total.
Wright’s conversion rate, surely, is rather lower than Ronaldo’s and it would be very unfair to expect anything different. However, there’s no question that he’s good at forcing himself into shooting positions. He might miss quite a few of them, but football is a low-scoring game: if he can nick a goal every couple of games, he’ll make a massive impact on our run-in.
Reflecting on this quality versus quantity argument has made me accept that playing Wright so high up the pitch isn’t such a wild idea after all.