Last Tuesday felt reassuring. We might not have closed out the win, but Dean Keates’ first match back as boss didn’t just have a sense of familiarity because he was on the touchline. We looked comfortingly compact again.
There was a sense of organisation about the side, a solid shape and good distances between players. We weren’t open to the break as we have been this season, and it was an error which opened the door to the equaliser. Keates has scope to tinker in the transfer market, and the likes of Rob Lainton, Manny Smith, Mark Carrington and JJ Hooper to build on these foundations. He has also identified that morale needs lifting, and by all accounts there was a buzz about the place amongst all the staff once he arrived.
Some crazy names were being floated around before Keates was appointed, some of which genuinely alarmed me. Appointing Bootlegger couldn’t have done any more harm than a couple of the supposed candidates! However, I suspect the speculation was exactly that. The board played their cards close to their chests throughout the process and came to the correct conclusion.
Appointing Keates is a no-brainer. He has unfinished business at Wrexham, has already shown that he can take over a struggling side and turn things round, and built a promotion-challenging side with remarkable swiftness. He inherits a better situation than first time round and still has the best parts of the squad he assembled at his disposal.
That will help morale too. Keates deliberately accumulated strong characters because he wanted leaders on the pitch. Mark Carrington was already at the club when he took over, and he brought James Jennings and Shaun Pearson in to add changing room character. They’ll be glad to see him return, and the likes of Luke Summerfield and Luke Young are cut from a similar cloth.
Keates successfully constructed a strong defence, and knew he had to introduce more attacking flair to build on it when he left. He has a better range of attacking options available to him now, and although additions are needed to make this squad capable of a promotion push, Keates has shown that his knowledge of lower division football, and the respect he is held in, allows him to recruit successfully.
While there doesn’t seem to be an immediate prospect of Manny Smith returning to the side, Jake Lawlor is a solid centre back, and Rob Lainton ought to be available soon. Most people would consider last season’s player of the season to be a stronger option than Keates’ last keeper, Chris Dunn.
Once JJ Hooper is fully fit, Keates will have a range of interesting attacking choices. Chris Holroyd and Scott Quigley did well for him, despite Quigley’s diminishing returns, but Hooper, Grant, Harris and Tollitt are still better options than Massanka, Boden, Mackreth and Ainge.
Some say that a manager cannot truly be considered to be fully-rounded until he has failed. If that’s the case we can assume Keates, a man who not only has the natural instinct of an experienced player, but is also someone who thinks about the game, will have learned for his disappointment at Walsall and be in a position to utilise that experience to our benefit.