This isn’t something you can blame Bryan Hughes for. The squad he inherited was formed by one manager and adapted by another before landing in his lap. All he can do is look for cosmetic alterations – any major surgery must be reserved for the summer.
His first step has been to recruit some attacking options, although Graham Barrow appears to have limited Hughes’ scope by putting his eggs into the Oswell-Stockton basket. Hughes has brought in Jermaine McGlashan and Anthony Spyrou but this is a time of the year when finding players who can make a difference is not easy.
McGlashan has real pace, as he showed in the opening spell of the Hertlepool match, when he terrified their left back, Myles Anderson. However, his influence waned as the game progressed, partly because an injury to one of United’s centre backs forced Anderson to move inside. His replacement at left back was much more mobile and therefore more able to counteract McGlashan’s pace.
Spyrou’s early signs last Saturday were promising. His first involvement was to win a towering header against a tall centre back – and pick up a nasty whack in the process- although battling in the air isn’t what he’s been signed to do. Our third penalty shout of the second half was brought about by his awareness in the area when Shaun Pearson headed the ball into the danger area, and like McGlashan he clearly has a great deal of pace. However, he’s a young man who we can’t place unrealistic expectations onto.
But as I said earlier, our problems are deep-rooted, and a couple of new players won’t alter the fundamental truth that we need to rethink how we attack. Over the last two seasons we’ve tried 24 players in the forward positions, and that doesn’t even count Freddy Hinds! We’ve even thrown James Jennings up there as a winger!
If that many players have failed to solve the puzzle, then there’s something fundamental to address. It’s a chicken-and-egg situation. Do we lack goals because we aren’t creative or because our strikers aren’t able to finish?
Certainly our midfield has been hobbled lately by the absence of Luke Summerfield, who has missed the last nine games through injury, but still has more assists than any other Wrexham player this season.
With Nicky Deverdics a peripheral figure, he’s certainly our most creative midfielder, although Kemy Agustien’s range of passing means he might become an interesting option. However, we haven’t become less potent in front of goal in Summerfield’s absence. The difference is marginal, but we’ve actually scored slightly more regularly in the games he missed this season: 1.16 per game against 1.14.
Hughes’ dilemma has been laid bare in recent away games. The way we threw the kitchen sink at Gateshead, penning them in and eventually earning an injury time equaliser, was thrilling. The problem is we’ve had to make such gambles in order to inject some threat into our play.
That sort of wild over-attacking approach is generally seen in the closing five minutes of a match, but at Hartlepool the process started with half an hour left, and escalated into a full-blown onslaught ten minutes later. We ended the game with Spyrou, Stuart Beavon Akil Wright and Shaun Pearson essentially playing as strikers, and Jennings as an out-and-out winger as we took massive risks in search of an equaliser.
I applaud Hughes’ boldness, but the fact he has to resort to such tactics so early shows that he knows we struggle to make chances, so when we’re chasing a game we have to take risks much earlier than other sides do.
So what is the solution? I’m not sure, but I do know that Hughes’ most urgent task is to find a solution to a problem which is not of his making.