Before the World Cup started, England manager Gareth Southgate was under severe pressure, as all England managers are prior to a tournament.
A strong performance against Iran has quietened the noise around him, but it’s not a free-flowing win that makes them contenders for the trophy. As Phil Parkinson’s Wrexham are currently showing, flamboyance is great, but it’s solidity which brings rewards.
Our remarkable home run rolls on. We’ve a hundred percent record, and the change in the nature of our performances at The Racecourse illustrates how Wrexham evolved in recent weeks.
The last two home matches have, on paper, been tight affairs, as we beat Maidenhead United 1-0 and Aldershot Town 2-0. Exactly the sort of narrow scorelines against average opposition which Southgate is criticised for.
In reality we won both matches very comfortably. Maidenhead had no threat going forwards, and Aldershot only mustered a decent shot on goal when the game was already beyond them. There was no real sense that pulling a late goal back might create a sense of jeopardy in the closing stages of the match.
The only things which made the results less decisive than the performances were a lack of ruthlessness in front of goal and a couple of outrageously good goalkeeping performances.
Yet these matches reflected something important in the development of our title challenge. We completely controlled both games, in a way we weren’t able to do earlier in the season.
Remember that chaotic 7-5 win over Barnet? It was crazy, but it was only fun up to a point. We never really looked like we would drop points to The Bees, but we most certainly didn’t control the game either.
The scoreline brought back memories of the play-off defeat to Grimsby which brought last season to a premature conclusion, and that remarkable Dover match, and not only because of the common factor of conceding 5 goals at home.
It compounded the notion that, even though we’re clearly a fine side, we could still suffer a defensive malfunction and lose just when we couldn’t afford to.
The wins over Aldershot and Maidenhead were the opposite. It isn’t a coincidence that since the Barnet game we haven’t conceded a goal in open play at home in the league. We were still terrific on the ball and exciting going forwards. However, the back door was firmly shut. We’ve been spectacularly for months, but now we were securely so.
That’s why the draw at Wealdstone wasn’t too much of a problem. Admittedly, we didn’t hit our usual levels on the ball, but we never looked like conceding.
The narrative throughout the match was “Will we get a breakthrough?” not “Will we suffer a sloppy 1-0 defeat.”
That level of assurance is what separates contenders from winners. We’ve shown lately, in wins which have been less emphatic than we were enjoying a month ago, why we’re better equipped to win the title than anyone else in the National League. We sparkle less brightly now, because we have found a method of play which gets the job done.
You can win the league by looking spectacular, but you’re more likely to in it by relentlessly amassing points. Phil Parkinson has recalibrated his side to do exactly that.
It’s a philosophy which has seen managers right down the decades. It’s why Southgate is a much better manager than many seem to want to acknowledge.
It’s why Roberto Martinez is criticised for his cautious management of Belgium’s golden generation, but keeps taking them deep in tournaments, something which is not common in their history.
It’s why romantics wax lyrical about Diego Maradona’s wild spell as Argentina’s coach, as he tried to somehow fit as many attacking stars as possible into his starting eleven but never enjoyed success.
It can be condensed into eight words.
Come for the entertainment, stay for the trophies.
And it’s why we’re going to win the league.