Wrexham’s Game at Borehamwood Illustrates How Weird Football Is

Just a quick word of warning before I begin. What I’m about to write could easily sound like an argument against data analysis in football, but it’s nothing of the sort. Intelligent, through analysis can only help in the preparation of any team, and I look forward to the day when the football dinosaur is extinct: I’m sure I’ve already mentioned Gary Mills’ reluctance (or should I say refusal!) to look at videos because his feel for the game at the time, as a “football man”, was enough. To be fair, I think he did read games well, but to reject assistance because you “know best” is naive. Contrast that with Dean Keates, who not only used data analysis as part of his match preparation, but was also open to listening to a range of opinions. He had the final say, but such open-mindedness is the way forward.

Stegosaurus

Having said all that, Tuesday’s game showed why sometimes football makes very little sense at all.

Firstly, let’s look at it on an emotional level. Two goals up, deep into the last ten minutes, we looked home and dry. To then allow Borehamwood back in for a draw, with a rather fluky injury time equaliser, is galling. Yet Wrexham fans ought to feel positive about what happened on Tuesday.

Okay, we threw two points away, but we looked consistently threatening when we went forward, and ought to have scored more than two goals. When did we last come away from an away game (or perhaps any game?) thinking that? So the sensations after Tuesday shouldn’t be negative: we’ve known all along that the urgent priority this Summer was to add cutting edge to the side, and this display suggested we’ve done exactly that.

The way the game panned out made very little sense. We didn’t play well in the first half, even though we led at the break. Borehamwood were the side consistently putting pressure on, and we struggled to retain the ball. Christian Dibble made a string of good saves. Yet, as I said earlier, when we attacked we looked dangerous and could easily have had more than Mark Harris’ goal to show for it.

Mark Harris celebrates his first Wrexham goal at Borehamwood.

Bryan Hughes seems to have developed a side that likes to come on strong in the second half, indeed, stern half time words were credited by Bobby Grant for last Saturday’s improved performance after the break. The stats bear this out to a remarkable extent: before Tuesday we’d only scored 3 first half goals, but had managed 20 after the break! Our first 12 goals scored under him came in the second half! A similar story unfolds at the other end too: we’d conceded 13 in the first half and just 4 in the second under Yosser. Incredibly, the Borehamwood game was the first time we’ve led at the break under him!

Goals forGoals AgainstGD Half “Won” Half “Lost”
1st Half313-1016
2nd Half204+16133

Comparison of goals scored under Bryan Hughes by half.

Well, we lost the second half at Meadow Park, so obviously the pattern wasn’t maintained on Tuesday. Except it was. We played much better in the second half, were the better side and enjoyed a lot more of the ball while continuing to make chances.

Even more oddly, our grip of the game increased the deeper we went into the match. Borehamwood had been threatening throughout the game, and shortly after Bobby Grant scored they missed a great chance to pull a quick goal back. Yet after that, we took control of the ball, and the remainder of the game was essentially played out in their half. There was no late charge by Borehamwood, no kitchen-sink throwing, just a textbook example of how to play out an away win. Yet during that period of control, we lost a 2-goal lead.

Nothing can go wrong now!

Again, it’s not an easy one to explain. The first goal came out of the blue, the result of a sharp finish after an excellent piece of wing-play by late substitute Sorba Thomas, the only moment in the game when anyone managed to get the better of the impressive Mark Carrington.

The second one was equally hard to cater for. It’s the classic late comeback scenario, isn’t it? The side with a wide range of big blokes to throw forward win an injury time corner and get a break. Except they didn’t. We defended the corner well, but didn’t deal with the second ball in.

People complain about a lack of leadership when a side concedes late on, but ironically it might have been a surfeit of leadership which led to the goal: Shaun Pearson had been superb throughout, and the only time I recall him losing a header was when he was beaten to the late ball into the box which led to the equaliser: it’s hard to tell for sure, but it looks to me like Jake Lawlor might have been in a better position to challenge for it but Pearson, being the decisive leader he is, stepped in to take responsibility. Exactly as you’d want him to. Except this time.

So we lost a second half we controlled, played the end of the game out perfectly but conceded twice, and perhaps let in the equaliser because we have players who want to stand up and be counted. Football certainly doesn’t defy analysis, but the fact is that when you let 22 people of the pitch, each making their own decisions through every split second of the game, you create the potential for chaos.

Enjoy the 8-8 draw at Dover tomorrow.

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