It felt like a bit of a surprise on Tuesday when we changed our formation. The surprise was that it didn’t work.
We didn’t earn ourselves an equaliser, and we failed to mount late pressure on Notts County’s wobbly defence, despite having carved a number of good opportunities out throughout the match. That was disappointing, because we’ve regularly fought back successfully after switching shape.
There’s been plenty of discussion lately about whether Wrexham should make fundamental alterations to their starting formation.
Three at the back is Phil Parkinson’s favoured shape; in 64 matches he’s begun the game with a trio of central defenders 60 times.
The comeback win at Oldham which propelled us to the top of the table was achieved as a result of our switch to a back four, though. Elliot Lee changed everything when he came off the bench to orchestrate affairs from the top of a midfield diamond.
Understandably, this added fuel to the fire for those who want to see a change of formation.
You certainly can’t argue with the stats. We’ve got an excellent track record when we switch to four at the back, stretching back to Parkinson’s arrival at the start of last season.
We’ve done it three times this season, clinching victory from the jaws of defeat at Oldham but failing to turn around the 2-0 loss at Chesterfield or Tuesday’s match.
Last season, it was the change he tended to turn to if we went behind, and t was a remarkably successful Plan B. We turned a losing situation into three points four times: against Eastleigh, Dover Athletic, Wealdstone and Halifax Town.
We also rescued a point at home to Chesterfield after making the change, and avoided a humiliating defeat at Marine.
Overall, we retrieved 13 points from losing positions after switching to a back four, which is a remarkable figure. It’s even more eye-catching when you consider that we would only make the move when our original approach had been definitely shown to be failing. On average, Parkinson made that change with 13 minutes of the game left last season, so to achieve so many turnarounds in fortune is remarkable.
That doesn’t mean we ought to change our starting formation though. We’re one point off the top of the table, which suggests to me that the three at the back system must be working pretty well. Why change something which is effective?
Yes, we’ve enjoyed success when switching to a different set-up, but that doesn’t mean it’s intrinsically better. Instead, I would argue that is more to do with knowing when to switch than any general superiority of the system.
Parkinson has done well to judge the correct circumstances in which to make such a positive move, and has been rewarded often as a consequence. He’s not scared of throwing Lee on before the hour in order to pursue a game, as he did with terrific results at Oldham.
It’s not a set-up we should start the game with though. It’s a risk-taking move, which Tuesday’s game showed at the other end. If Mark Howard hadn’t been in superb form, we’d have conceded more than one goal as our pursuit of the game left the back door open.
The midfield diamond isn’t a shape we should be hankering for right now, when our favoured approach is so effective. Instead, it’s a terrific card for Parkinson to have up his sleeve, and the statistics suggest he knows when to play it.