I’m no physicist but I know of the theory that there are a multiple number of parallel universes, as every possible outcome from every possible scenario plays out. According to that idea, there’s an existence somewhere in which Rekeil Pyke stayed at Wrexham last January. I’d love to know how that would have played out. So, I’ll get out my portal gun and play “Rick and Morty”. Welcome to Dimension C-138, where Pyke never went to Rochdale.
Sunday sees Pyke return to The Racecourse, and he’ll get a good reception. He’s a reminder of the good times last season, and despite missing a chunk of the season through injury and departing early, he was our joint top league scorer at the end of it. But what if he’d never left?
The circumstances of his departure were frustratingly avoidable. If David Wagner had not decided to walk away from the Huddersfield job, then Martin from Wakefield wouldn’t have come in and decided to recall all his loan players to see what he made of them.
The annoying thing is that his recall came after Pyke’s best performance of the season. The way he dismantled Maidenhead United suggested he was ready, on his return from injury, to solve our attacking issues.
What if he’d have stayed? We’d surely have had more points, for a start. Pyke would have scored more than the five he’d managed, and would have added to his 5 assists if his spell with us hadn’t ended in January. Two more points would have put us straight into the play-off semi-finals; it would only have taken another five to be level with Leyton Orient!
Bryan Hughes came in for the next match, and would soon start employing a desperate approach to injecting more attacking threat into the side: if he’d had a player who could both score and create, would he have had to do so? Quite apart from the fact that a good striker would surely have brought us more goals, a more rational attacking approach would have allowed us to retain control of matches.
Then there’s the intriguing question of Pyke’s development. His Wrexham career can be divided into three distinct parts: his first spell, when he wasn’t ready to make a real contribution yet; the majority of his second spell, when he showed he’d clearly improved with experience; and that one intriguing start against Maidenhead, which suggested he’d continued the pattern of progress we’d seen across those steps.
It wasn’t just a player having a good day: although Pyke had certainly enjoyed a good season up to that date, his contributions had been a little erratic, and he’d never imposed himself on a match like that. This was a genuine step up, and no huge surprise when the brief substitute appearances he’d made after returning from injury are taken into account. He’d come off the bench in the three preceding matches and looked very good: we lost all three games without scoring, but in the first two he came on in the 72nd minute and enlivened our attack; in the third game, a 2-0 defeat at Fylde, he was brought on with 38 minutes left and was more threatening than anyone else managed to be over the course of the match.
Fans will remember him as Backheel Pyke, of course, but he could have been remembered as something far more important and substantial. Let’s ignore the dimension where everyone gets Cronenberged and take a look at the reality where Pyke stays and gives us increased firepower. Hughes immediately brings Ben Tollitt into the starting line-up, creating a rather attractive front three of Tollitt, Pyke and Paul Rutherford, with the likes of Stuart Beavon, Bobby Grant, Chris Holroyd and Jason Oswell also available for variety.
Of the players who managed more than ten starts last season, only Mike Fondop scored at a better rate per minute than Pyke, who never started through the middle. It’s reasonable to assume he’d have improved on that rate if he’d stayed on, assuming he continued to progress and moved into the centre of attack. However, if he merely maintained his potency in front of goal and played the remaining 16 games, he’d have managed 5 more goals. In our dimension, our central strikers scored 2 goals in those games, one of which was Jason Oswell’s goal in the dead rubber against Harrogate on the last day.
With more goals in our front three (and don’t forget, only Paul Rutherford, Luke Young and Luke Summerfield managed more assists than Pyke, and only Oswell managed more assists per minute), is it unreasonable to expect this alternate reality will see us get more than a draw out of Gateshead, as we camped in their half for the last 45 minutes of the game? Or capitalise on periods of domination which didn’t lead to goals in the defeats at Orient and Halifax? Did we need to mount a hell-for-leather second half fightback at Ebbsfleet, and if so, would Pyke’s quality have meant we’d have pulled off the remarkable renaissance we got so close to?
It’s all guesswork of course, but none of those suggestions are unreasonable, and then where would that leave us? Is it possible that, if he’d had Pyke to call on, Bryan Hughes might have ended up as the man who finally got Wrexham out of the National League? Football, like life, can turn on the smallest of margins.
But if “Rick and Morty” tells us anything, it’s that multiple possibilities exist. Perhaps the true meaning of “Wubba Lubba Dub Dub” illustrates that as well as anything. There’s a parallel dimension where’s it’s on our badge.