I suggested at the start of the season that the lifting of transfer window restrictions on Wrexham would be incredibly important as the season wore on. Last Saturday illustrated my point to perfection.
When both Aaron Hayden and Jordan Tunnicliffe succumbed to injuries in the first ten minutes of our FA Cup tie with Sheffield United, hearts naturally sunk. How would we cope with the loss of two players of their calibre?
Part of the solution, of course, lies in the talent of Max Cleworth, a class act waiting in the wings for another opportunity to shine. We’d lost two key men though, and had to find something else.
Admittedly, Phil Parkinson snared Eoghan O’Connell on deadline day, but in some ways sneaking him in under the wire was incidental. Previously our managers have had their hands tied apart from, and sometimes during, transfer windows. Remember Dean Keates hurriedly signing Dior Angus and Tyler French on deadline day, only to have Adi Yussuf walk out on us and leave his squad short-handed?
There are no such worries now, and no scenario which compels us to thrust the unfortunate French into duty as we had to last season when Hayden broke down. He was a fine young prospect, but his rash challenge to concede a last-gasp penalty at Boreham Wood didn’t just cost us two points: it was probably the moment when the title slipped from our grasp.
Without the pressure of a deadline looming, Parkinson’s response was measured. O’Connell feels like the sort of signing we’d be lining up for the Summer, but we opted to push the button early as a consequence of the dramatic circumstances of the opening ten minutes of the Sheffield United match.
He’s a high quality centre back who has played over a hundred games in League One, and half as much again in League Two. That’s the profile of player we’re looking for as we build a side intended to make an assault on the Football League.
That quality is obvious to the eye, too. His debut showcased his qualities: he’s a robust, physical centre back who reads the game well and is able to reduce the space between him and his man efficiently to cut off their options.
His ability on the ball also shone out as something Parkinson would be looking for, as he was comfortable carrying the ball into midfield and made some incisive forward passes.
He admitted after the game that he took a little time to settle into the new defensive unit, probably not helped by the fact that three regulars were absent in Hayden, Tunnicliffe and Anthony Forde, who would be playing outside him as right wing-back.
However, he settled quickly, and his coping mechanism was spectacular to say the least! A couple of times early on he found himself slightly out of position and had to act decisively to ensure the situation remained in hand. His method of doing this was to crunch in with a couple of fearsome, all-in tackles which, thankfully for all concerned, he timed perfectly! You don’t want to pop along to an away game, stand on the side of the pitch, and have a misjudged, shattering lunge propel an opponent’s big toe into your Bovril, do you?
Taking away the strain of the windows didn’t just allow us to compete on an even basis. It also allowed us to make the most of both the budget at our disposal and the transfer market nous of Parkinson. I still think it’ll be the decisive difference between last season’s heroic title charge and what happens this season.