Losing Shaun Pearson, Mark Carrington, Jay Harris and Paul Rutherford meant four of the eight players with the most appearances in the National League for Wrexham left the club in the space of three days. In a series of articles, let’s take a look back at the final campaigns of these old warhorses.
It’s with a heavy heart that I say goodbye to Shaun Pearson.
An inspirational captain, a fearsome competitor and a fine centre back, he has been an outstanding servant of the club.
Ironically, six months ago you could imagine a scenario where Pearson’s prospects at Wrexham might have been limited. We had new owners and a promise that the squad would be upgraded, while Pearson had suffered a frustrating 18 months due to injury.
It wasn’t until February in his second season at Wrexham that he had any issues with his fitness. He’d been available for selection, suspension notwithstanding, for our first 89 games after he signed, but missed three out of five games after scoring in a 3-2 win at Havant and Waterlooville.
That goal showed how important he was to the team, as he drove us forwards to win from behind. His absence was felt too: we dropped 5 points in the 3 games he missed, which included a 3-1 defeat at home to Barrow which was our worst performance of the season by some distance.
When he returned we won 5 of our last 8 games to secure 4th place, and would have won in the play-off eliminator if his headed goal hadn’t been controversially disallowed.
The following season it was clear that something wasn’t quite right. Admittedly, the team had undergone an expensive Summer downgrade, so Pearson had a lot more defending to do, but even after Dean Keates was appointed to do some repair work and things improved, Pearson wasn’t himself.
He didn’t miss a particularly large number of games through injury, but he had to be nursed through the season – he played only 3 of 8 cup ties – and was rarely able to appear in two games in a week.
Frankly, it looked like his legs had gone. The first of those cup ties, an FA Cup game at Chesterfield, saw him make an error which led to their goal in a 1-1 draw, and he looked worryingly exposed when we tried to push up the pitch. It’s not a coincidence that Keates switched to playing three at the back at the end of 2019: it was a way to retain Pearson’s battling qualities and leadership in the side while flanking him with mobile defenders who could do some of his legwork and lessen the necessity for Pearson to have to cover wide areas.
His uncertain performances were due to his struggle to reach peak fitness, but outside the club the extent of his physical problems was not given enough recognition. As a consequence, the false notion that he was over the hill spread rapidly, alongside a strange notion that he was nearing the end of the career when the truth is that he was only 30 when that campaign ended prematurely.
Last season began with Pearson carrying a long term injury. He came back briefly for three games in December, but by the time of the last of those matches, a disappointing defeat at Stockport, it was clear he still wasn’t right.
He was to sit out the next 14 fixtures, meaning he’d been unavailable for 27 of our first 30 matches. At this point, the prospect of him earning a new contract, unless it was as a coach, seemed remote.
However, the story of Pearson’s season is the story of his 4 years at Wrexham in microcosm. Pearson returned unexpectedly against Bromley and treated us to a magnificent display. It was the start of a key period of 4 matches against play-off rivals which, ultimately, would put paid to our promotion hopes.
Pearson played in the unlucky defeat at Notts County but not in the subsequent losses to Torquay and Stockport, save for an injury time cameo as a centre forward as we tried to find a winner against The Gulls.
Pearson returned for the magnificent 4-0 win at Halifax and played all of the final 10 matches of the season, as we achieved our best run-in since 2003. Throughout, Pearson was his old self. The injuries had cleared, and he was able to play 2 games in 3 days as we followed up a home game by travelling down to Maidenhead.
The notion of Pearson being washed up was emphatically dismissed. This was the Pearson we love, unhampered by injury, a high quality centre back repelling the enemy when the penalty area was threatened.
His fortunes continued to mirror those of the team: it’s easy to forget in the disappointment of the final day at Dagenham that we started well, and Pearson had a header which hit the bar in the second minute. Things might have panned out very differently if it had gone in.
So Pearson leaves, with the good wishes he deserves. He never let us down, and played a leading role in the community as much as he did on the pitch. There’s no better way to sum up his contribution that to say that players who stay for 4 years rarely feel as much like part of the furniture as Pearson did. A fine man, and a fine player, he represented the club with pride.