You wait all month for some exciting signings, and then two come along at once!
Last Saturday was cause for cautious optimism. Whether it was the best performance of the season is debatable, but it was certainly our most comfortable win, our escapades in the Scottish Distraction Trophy apart. To sit back and enjoy the second half without that voice in the back of your head saying “This can’t last!” was a rare luxury!
It would be daft to say the two new men were responsible for the performance, not to mention disrespectful to the likes of Luke Summerfield, who was excellent. However, it’s difficult to argue against the coincidence of two creative players arriving just as we put in our most fluent attacking display of the season.
Of course the duo only managed ninety minutes between them, as Davis Keillor-Dunn replaced Dan Jarvis shortly after the hour. However, their influence was massive, their qualities obvious.
When I learned they were coming, my instinctive reaction was one of slight concern. With it proving harder to trim the squad down than it was in Dean Keates’ first spell at The Racecourse, it’s going to be tougher to bring in the players who can improve his options. Each signing is crucial.
Therefore, when I heard we were signing a youthful duo with very little first team experience between them, I couldn’t help a sense of concern. We’ve brought in a few players from Scotland recently, and they haven’t been up to standard. As for players from the big teams’ Under-23 leagues, it’s fair to say that hammering goals past fellow youngsters is no guarantee a player will shine in the real world. If you doubt me, just recall the impact Khaellem Bailey-Nicholls and Anthony Spirou had.
However, my doubts were tempered by another factor. Keates does his groundwork on players. Just because the sources the new men were arriving from were dubious doesn’t mean all players in those leagues are poor: it’s just that you have to be thorough and judicious in selecting the right ones.
Keates has a good track record in the transfer market. He brought Scott Quigley from the League of Wales, spotting a diamond in the rough, and drafted in Akil Wright, Ollie Shenton, Rekeil Pyke, George Miller, Alex Reid and Luke Coddington from junior leagues. This reassured me. Their provenance might not be promising, but a keen eye had picked them out.
You could immediately see what attracted him on Saturday. Each has technical qualities way above the usual level in the National League. Jarvis, given a start, had a sensational debut. He started quietly, but sprung to life with an excellent combination across the left edge of the Woking penalty area, linking cleverly with James Jennings and getting off a shot which drew a hopeful handball shout.
That combination play was promising. Good players improve when they have other good players around them. Think of how Glen Little would ignite our midfielders when he came off the bench, giving players someone to exchange passes with, or how Paul Rutherford improved once the hopeless mess Gary Mills pitched him into was replaced by a more logical system, manned by players able to see his intelligent runs and use them.
Given some smart movement ahead of him, Jennings found a willing accomplice when he charged forwards.
That’s not the outstanding quality Jarvis exhibited though. It’s a while since I’ve seen Wrexham look so threatening on the break, and Jarvis was the added ingredient. Quick and confident in his ability to run at defenders, the key attribute he possesses is the quality of his final pass. His decision-making is superior for the National League, as we saw in his reverse pass to Luke Young which led to his debut goal, and the weight of his passing, even under pressure, is exciting. The best example of that was when he played JJ Hooper in on goal halfway through the first half.
Hooper regularly got into one-on-ones with the goalkeeper: he’ll be frustrated at failing to get a goal, but excited at the prospect of being fed by Jarvis for the rest of the season.
Keillor-Dunn had less time to impress, but he settled quickly into a similar role. Again, you could see he’s technically superior. He put a little extra on one of his passes out to the flank showcasing how well he addresses the ball, and found space between the lines with ease, swiftly wanting to run directly at the opposing defence.
Of course, we should be wary of assuming too much from such scant evidence. Our time in the National League is scattered with talented youngsters who flourished early on before being ground down by this damned division. Only a fortnight ago Ben Tollitt, a player who dazzled on his debut against Salford, left having been worn down by reality at The Racecourse.
But both new players clearly have something. At the moment their job-sharing will do just fine, as they build up their match sharpness. However, it must be tempting to unleashing them both tomorrow on a 3G pitch against opposition that like to keep the ball on the floor!