Rooney’s Big Gamble

Here’s my column from last week’s Leader. It forms part of the paper’s comprehensive pre-match coverage every Friday, featuring interviews, an in-depth look at the opposition and lots of statistical analysis. All content in the column (c) www.leaderlive.co.uk.

So John Rooney got that move of a lifetime. He might get a sudden, inexplicable urge to find a new agent soon, too.

Guiseley earned plenty of respect when they came to The Racecourse a fortnight ago; they look like an organised side which will pull away from the bottom four. Still, going there feels like a retrograde step. I hope Rooney’s agent has thought through the implications of committing to a side in a relegation scrap. Ending up in the National League North would hardly be career progression for the Player of the Month in the division above. It’s also no way to catch the eye of a bigger club.

Neither, rather oddly, is playing at a club with low stands. I’m not being facetious: if Rooney hopes to attract a big move, media coverage is important, and a low camera angle just doesn’t do you justice.

Rooney ought to know this better than most: his profile was boosted when magnificent free kick against Guiseley went viral. It’s currently the third most viewed clip on Wrexham’s YouTube channel, having also gained massive traction on BT Sport’s social media feeds.


His name also helps to grab the attention too: I can’t deny that I deliberately omitted his first name when uploading the goal in the hope that stray Manchester United fans might take a look!

Clearly BT Sport decided to promote it, to some extent, because of his surname. After all, Ntumba Massanka arguably scored a better goal in the first half of the same game and we sent that footage to BT Sport too, but they showed no interest in it.

Obviously, the video didn’t seal his move to Guiseley. However, going viral can remind people that you’re out there. There are numerous tales of managers being taken in by well edited videos proffered by agents, and surely one of last season’s high profile departures was hurried along by another video the club uploaded.

Dom Vose’s phenomenal goal against Gateshead currently has over half a million views. Again, the title helped – calling it our greatest goal in 151 years certainly didn’t hurt! By mid-season he was gone, Scunthorpe having taken him up two divisions.


I had immediate reservations. Vose was terrifically gifted but essentially ornamental when we didn’t have the ball. Basic scouting would tell you this, but his subsequent career at Scunthorpe suggests they limited their research to drooling over Vose’s sumptuous YouTube back catalogue: since his move a year ago he has managed 14 minutes on the pitch for The Iron and been loaned out for the season.

Guiseley’s camera position is low from necessity, and situated a fair distance from the half way line. The footage of Paul Rutherford’s winner there at the start of the season looked decent because he happened to be close to the gantry when he hit it. Anywhere else on the pitch and it wouldn’t have looked so special on screen.


Guiseley is a cracking club, and I hope Rooney helps to steer them clear of danger. But he has moved from a club whose media team are able to offer him exposure to one which has had four attendances in excess of a thousand all season, just at the point in his career when he ought to be looking to capitalise on being in his prime. I hope his agent knows what he’s doing.

PREVIEW: Wrexham AFC v Aldershot Town

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Here’s my column from last week’s Leader. It forms part of the paper’s comprehensive pre-match coverage every Friday, featuring interviews, an in-depth look at the opposition and lots of statistical analysis. All content in the column (c) www.leaderlive.co.uk.

We go into tomorrow’s game looking to run up a sixth consecutive home win for the first time in over a year. The last time we enjoyed such a run at The Racecourse was at the start of last season. We won our last two home games of the 2014-15 season under caretaker manager Carl Darlington, and followed that up by winning our first five under Mills.

We should seek that sixth win with some confidence as we have an excellent home record against Aldershot to defend. The Shots have visited The Racecourse twenty times and have never won. Indeed, they’ve only returned with a draw on four occasions. Our record at The Recreation Ground isn’t great, but we’ve at least won four times there.

They’ve come to North Wales three times in The National League, and lost on each occasion. Last August Wes York, James Grey and Dom Vose scored in a 3-0 win, and the season before Mark Carrington, Andy Bishop and Louis Moult hit the net in a 3-1 victory.


The closest Aldershot have come to getting a point at The Racecourse at this level was on their first visit, in January 2014. Joe Clarke gave us the lead but it was 1-1 in the 87th minute when Jay Harris took a punt and saw his long range shot catch the Shots’ keeper unawares.

In total we’ve won our last four home games against Aldershot. In October 1989, Gary Worthington and Ollie Kearns each gave us the lead, but Aldershot equalised twice to earn a 2-2 draw, the final goal of the match being scored twenty minutes from the end by a youthful Steve Claridge.

Our biggest margin of victory over Aldershot is 4-0, a scoreline we’ve managed on three occasions. Each of those wins featured a hat trick: in October 1964 Martyn King got three; almost exactly a year later Sammy McMillan repeated the feat; and in March 1975 Dave Smallman got to keep the match ball. Having scored the winner in a 2-1 win at The Recreation Ground earlier that season, Smallman is top of the list of Wrexham scorers in this fixture.

It’s a double milestone day for Chris Dunn tomorrow, as he makes his 175th career league appearance, which is also his 200th game in all competitions.

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An Open Letter to Wrexham County Borough Council

This letter was published on February 15th 2017 in The Leader

I’d always assumed that people run for public office because they are driven by a desire to protect what is precious about their community. Your actions over the last few years have made me doubt that assumption.

I hope you will prove me wrong in the coming months by pursuing a resolution to the mess which you created when you allowed Wrexham Village to build on the ground around The Racecourse.

The decision to grant planning permission in 2009 was inexcusable. You ignored the legal advice obtained by Wrexham Supporters Trust, failing to tie Wrexham Village to a binding Section 106 agreement which would guarantee Wrexham AFC a share of the profit made from the sale of its land. Instead, you were satisfied by a non-binding agreement which offered no protection to the club. The promise was made that “all profits will go back into the club.” Not a penny has gone into the club from the development.

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Were you star-struck by the presence of Dean Saunders at the application meeting? Or did you simply decide that allowing property developers from over the border to profit from the project was preferable to ensuring the third oldest football club in the world got what it was morally entitled to in its time of crisis? I suppose we’ll never know; however, I do know that now is the time for you to put it right.

Wrexham’s identity is inextricably linked to brewing, mining, markets and football. Each of those four branches of our historic identity have withered in recent years. You have an obligation to protect what remains of them.

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A town’s identity is indivisible with its heritage. I assume that you see the logic of my argument as your Council Plan sets out the aim to “conserve and regenerate key buildings to raise the overall quality and feel of the infrastructure and public realm within the County Borough”. The campaigners to protect Grove Park School might raise their eyebrows when they read that sentence.

Wrexham fans will too. The level of protection offered by the council to The Racecourse over recent years would be laughable if it wasn’t so tragically pathetic. It was the fans who held candlelit vigils through the night in the face of the threat of demolition; the fans who objected to the Wrexham Village development; the fans who are now, through the Dismal Jimmy fanzine, pointing out the raw deal you have allowed to be given the club. The people of Wrexham have had to band together to protect an historic site because the council would not. Sadly, that is a familiar story.

Threatened with bulldozers, hemmed in by developments which were waved through by your planning department, The Racecourse still clings on. Is it easy to sleep at night, knowing that you’ve not lifted a finger to help? This isn’t any old stadium after all: it is the oldest international football stadium in the world. Its protection should be sacrosanct if you genuinely wish to “conserve..key buildings” in your town.

Mind you, in failing to respect the heritage of the town, you are at least maintaining the town council’s historic disdain for our history. After all, it took nearly fifty years for the council to provide a memorial to the Gresford mining disaster, a jaw-dropping act of ignorance in total contrast to similar memorials elsewhere. When it was opened, the surviving relatives of the victims were kept behind a security rope while the great and the good of the council hob-nobbed with Prince Charles and Princess Diana, of course.

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The development is now up for sale for £13 million. Now is the time to demand that the promise to pass the profits to the football club are honoured, to show that you might have been taken for a ride, but you aren’t going to lie down and accept it.

A further £5million would buy the empty plot on Crispin Lane which McDonald’s have expressed an interest in. A development there, waved through by your planning committee, would massively end the possibility of ever replacing the derelict Kop with a suitable stand. Sadly, your track record suggests you will neither force the developers to honour their word nor protect the stadium from further incursions.

Thus far, requests that you pursue Wrexham Village for the money they made from the development have been flat-batted as you hide behind the wording of your planning permission. You have also failed to answer four direct questions about the development which Wrexham.com put to you last August, and have refused Dismal Jimmy’s Freedom of Information request to provide a copy of the legal advice you say you received, which was contradictory to the WST’s, and led you to accept a non-binding agreement from the property developers.

The time for hiding has ended.

You represent the people of Wrexham. However, I have to say the football club is doing a much better job of it than you are. A fan-owned club, it works tirelessly to repair decades of damage done by previous owners to its relationship with the town. Parliament recently used its outstanding work for disabled fans as an example Premier League clubs should follow; the fans have funded the installation of a tombstone for a First World War veteran; the concerts the club organise are among the borough’s major cultural events. I could go on.

Isn’t it time you did the decent thing and lent a helping hand? To protect the heritage of the town, to respect the efforts of its people, to help give us a venue to be proud of?

Do the right thing. Make Wrexham proud.

Mark Griffiths,

Wrexham

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That’s Illogical, Captain

Here’s my column from last week’s Leader. It forms part of the paper’s comprehensive pre-match coverage every Friday, featuring interviews, an in-depth look at the opposition and lots of statistical analysis. All content in the column (c) www.leaderlive.co.uk.

What on earth is going on? After weeks of misery, a month ago I was fretting about being pulled into a relegation dogfight. Yet now – whisper it – we’re not that far off the play-offs!

I still can’t take the idea of a tilt at the play-offs seriously. How can we be promotion contenders when we’d recruited so badly in the Summer and limped along until Dean Keates performed some drastic surgery in the transfer window?

Yet I can’t deny the facts. We’re only seven points off the play-offs. Admittedly, we’ve played more games than anyone else, but I’d rather have points under my belt than games in hand. There’s a long way to go this season, and enough games left to render the inequality in matches played irrelevant. Tomorrow’s opponents, Dover, are the team we’re chasing in fifth place. They might be just four points ahead of us by the evening, which is really hard to grasp.

Perhaps the statistic that sums up our topsy-turvy season relates to our home form. We have more home points than anyone else in the division, although admittedly we’ve played more home games than anyone else. Yet despite those facts, only one side in the top half of the table – Tranmere Rovers – have actually scored fewer home goals than us, and we’ve played three more home games than they have. It makes no sense, but then what has made sense this season?

In previewing the Southport game I suggested it was the start of a key sequence of five home matches, and we needed to make them count. Well, we won them all: you can’t ask for more than that! With just two away games squeezed in amongst those home games, those results have propelled us up the table, but now we’ll get a serious test of our credentials. Dover away is not the same as North Ferriby at home, and our impressive revival will receive a proper test tomorrow. Our away form has been miserable this season, but this remodelled side has played just once on the road, and ought to have won at Chester. Tomorrow’s game is a step into the unknown.

Whatever the rest of the season holds, I’m certain of one thing: no manager in our division has had such a remarkable effect on his club as Keates. To inherit such a mess from his predecessor and manage to turn things around so swiftly, with a small number of judicious signings and a clear eye when it comes to clearing out the dead wood, is remarkable. To do it in his first managerial position is almost beyond belief.

Surely it’s too much to expect his side, which is still at the early stages of its renovation, to maintain its fine form in the back yard of stronger opponents? Yet I must admit that the results Keates’ diligence have yielded excite me. And what if we win? Despite my misgivings, I have to admit that if we pulled off a victory at The Crabble, I might just start to believe the miracle could happen!

 

PREVIEW: Dover Athletic V Wrexham AFC

Here’s my column from last week’s Leader. It forms part of the paper’s comprehensive pre-match coverage every Friday, featuring interviews, an in-depth look at the opposition and lots of statistical analysis. All content in the column (c) www.leaderlive.co.uk.

Let’s hope we can make the long journey south worthwhile by making a dent in our awful record against Dover Athletic. We’ve won two points out of fifteen against The Whites and have two defeats to show for our visits to the Crabble.

Our first match there, in January 2015, saw Kevin Wilkin’s side subside to a 2-0 defeat on a windswept winter’s night. Things started going wrong before kick off when Jay Harris withdrew from the starting eleven after feeling ill, and we compounded matters by missing a string of presentable chances.

At the other end, things Dover were in the mood to punish us. After 35 minutes we were two goals down and we never threatened to haul ourselves back into the match.

We travelled to the further corner of Kent again in October 2015 and the match turned out to be rather revealing as we were given an introduction to the tactical tinkering of Gary Mills.  In his first fifteen matches he’d played a 4-3-3 formation, but it was all change at The Crabble as he switched to three at the back, dropped top scorer Dom Vose and gave club captain Lee Fowler and Ross White their first starts of the season.

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We conceded the opening goal again, just after the half hour, this time we hit back swiftly as Connor Jennings equalised eight minutes later. However, we fell behind early in the second half, leading to another reshuffle by Mills.

In the quarter hour after going behind we made three substitutions, withdrawing both Fowler and White and reverting to a flat back four. His alterations were to no avail as there were no further goals, and Mills would continue to switch tactics dramatically for the rest of his time in the Racecourse hot seat.

This would be the first of a run of five games in which his starting formation would be drastically different each time, and he never really settled on a consistent first eleven again.

Our matches with Dover tend to be tight, low-scoring affairs. There have only been 8 goals in our 5 matches and those two away defeats are the only time either side has scored more than once.

Curtis Tilt plays his 150th career league match tomorrow, although the fact that it’s also his 30th league game of the season feels just as significant!

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PREVIEW Wrexham AFC v Guiseley

Here’s my column from last week’s Leader. It forms part of the paper’s comprehensive pre-match coverage every Friday, featuring interviews, an in-depth look at the opposition and lots of statistical analysis. All content in the column (c) www.leaderlive.co.uk.

Our three matches with Guiseley have been packed with goals – there have been at least four every time we’ve met!

The head to head record currently stands at won one, drawn one, lost one, and the only previous clash at The Racecourse was the one which ended with the teams level.


Not that it was a dull stalemate though: far from it! The tone was set early on when the visitors took a third minute lead following some sloppy defending. It looked like Wrexham had overcome this early scare when two first half goals from Dom Vose saw us go in ahead at the break, but Guiseley put in a fine second half performance and were leading 3-2 with nine minutes left.

An equaliser looked unlikely but Gavin Rothery picked up a red card in the 88th minute and Connor Jennings swooped to steal a point in the second minute of added time.


Our only defeat to Guiseley was a 3-1 away loss last season.

Our one win was that memorable 3-2 victory in August.
With Paul Rutherford’s ninety-fourth minute winner at Guiseley during the first week of the season to add to Jennings’ strike, this doesn’t look like a fixture you should leave early, as both times we’ve avoided defeat we’ve got a decisive goal in added time.

There are lots of individual milestones to be celebrated by Wrexham players tomorrow. Mark Carrington makes his 250th career league appearance, while John Rooney is fifty games behind him. Robbie Evans plays his 125th career match, and Martin Riley makes his fiftieth league appearance for us.

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Wrexham AFC’s Lucky Commentator

Here’s my column from last week’s Leader. It forms part of the paper’s comprehensive pre-match coverage every Friday, featuring interviews, an in-depth look at the opposition and lots of statistical analysis. All content in the column (c) www.leaderlive.co.uk.

I’ve never really believed in luck, but the last few weeks are making me wonder. The evidence is clear: I’m Wrexham’s lucky commentator this year!

I started to notice my special powers at Southport. You see, when we commentate on matches, it’s normal for two commentators to share half of each period. Usually I’ll take the first twenty two and a half minutes of each half, out of a sense of duty to my co-commentators: when I started out I was often manoeuvred into going first by a more experienced colleague who knew that starting the match was the most tricky shift as you had to immediately identify the opposing players and any unexpected shifts in formation while describing the action. Determined not to do that to my colleagues, I therefore take the least attractive shift for myself, rather naively.

Anyway, by half time at Southport nothing seemed untoward. I’d taken the first shift, during which Jordan White scored, but Southport scored twice when my colleague Ollie was on the mic. So far, so mundane.

By full time, however, I felt I’d detected a pattern. We pulled one back while I was commentating; in fact John Rooney’s penalty was the last kick of my broadcasting stint. I then handed responsibility over to Ollie expecting to see us kick on and win the match. But we lost. When I was commentating it was Southport 0 Wrexham 2. During Ollie’s shift, it was Southport 3 Wrexham 0.

At the time I merely used this information to mock him. If you knew Ollie you’d understand that it’s the only thing to do with him, really. However, as I stood on the platform of Southport station waiting for the train home, I started to reflect on the pattern which was beginning to emerge.

(Actually, that’s not wholly true – most of the time I spent there was consumed by pondering why I was standing on the platform of Southport station waiting for the train home at 630 on a freezing New Year’s Day when I could have stayed at home and been watching a Celebrity Bake-Off spin-off.)

I’d been commentating when Kai Edwards, with pretty much his last kick in a Wrexham shirt, got the last minute winner against Southport in our previous match. That’s the Kai Edwards who was never comfortable getting forwards, hitting it with his weaker foot. It began to dawn on me: am I a lucky commentator?

The way events unfolded over the subsequent matches suggest I am. Admittedly, I was commentating when Woking scored past us, but I also described both of our goals. I was on the mic when Izale McLeod scored the only goal against North Ferriby United, and when John Rooney put the ball in against Chester.

I admit, I also was the man in possession when Chester equalised, but still, my record since mid-December is Wrexham 7 Opponents 2. The score when I’m not commentating over that period of time is Wrexham 0 Opponents 5.

Furthermore, I had only commentated on one goal that Wrexham had conceded in open play in the last seven matches, and nine of the last ten we’d scored before last Saturday.

I wasn’t able to attend the match with Borehamwood, but what happened simply proves that I’m a lucky charm. All three goals were scored during the periods of the match when I wouldn’t be commentating, but who knows what would have transpired if I’d actually been at The Racecourse. An Anthony Barry hat trick in the first ten minutes, I reckon!

Insanity Clause

Every Wrexham player has an extension clause in his contract. EVERY WREXHAM PLAYER HAS AN EXTENSION CLAUSE IN HIS CONTRACT! Gary Mills is the gift that keeps on giving, isn’t he?

Dean Keates deserves a lot of credit for improving the team he inherited. He deserves a great deal more credit when you consider he’s still a greenhorn manager, making vast improvements on the work of a vastly experienced predecessor. But when you consider the toxic legacy Mills left behind him, it really is remarkable to consider the impact he’s had.

Keates is constantly encountering obstacles strewn in his path by the previous manager; the extension clause fiasco is just the latest, barely believable example. Why on earth you would create such hostages to fortune beggars belief.

Trying to interpret it logically, I assume the thinking was that players could be tempted to sign for us by being offered the security of a second season. By doing this, of course, Mills was actually committing to the controversial two year contracts which were such a hot potato at the start of the season.  There’s nothing wrong with the idea of offering an incentive for a player to perform, but to offer those terms to everyone? It opened up the possibility of a number of players earning a contract extension, which of course would include the extra two months’ wages saved by each one year contract. In rough terms, six players triggering an extension means one less salary to play with next Summer. Such a scenario would mean having to retain a sizeable chunk of the squad we had at the start of the season, with less means than we had then to improve the quality of the rest of the playing roster. It was a remarkable act of faith in the squad he put together this summer; a squad which, by any impartial measure, was the worst in our history. Top judgement, Gary.

Also, there’s plenty to suggest that players were offered much higher wages than they merited in the Summer, so triggered the extensions would saddle us with honoring those bloated deals for another twelve months. If half the stories going round about players’ salaries are true, Mills was reckless, but even disregarding that, I’d have thought the sheer fact that the budget was the same as the year before should tell you that inflated wages were being paid: the deterioration in the quality of the squad over the course of those twelve months, for the same outlay, is stark.

There’s no doubt where the blame lies here, either. There’s no point in looking to blame the board, because they would be failing to do their duty if they didn’t back their manager. Football is an odd business: the coach, in effect, is a middle-manager, but he dictates the terms rather than those above him, and pays the price if his judgement is flawed. That’s how it should be though; when chairmen start thinking they’re managers, clubs really go downhill fast.

Obviously, Keates still has a great deal of work ahead of him before he can be free of Mills’ legacy. I feared that a miserable second half of the season, caused by Mills’ poor recruitment last Summer, would have a knock-on effect as crowds dwindled well below the cut-off figure, leaving Keates with a horribly diminished budget for next season. It looks like this threat has been massively reduced by two factors: the superb loyalty of the Wrexham fans, who have consistently numbered 3,500 since the turn of the year; and the improvement Keates has brought about. It’ll be nice to reach the point where we can finally see how he can perform without being handicapped by the errors of others.

The Indispensable Rooney

Here’s my column from last week’s Leader. It forms part of the paper’s comprehensive pre-match coverage every Friday, featuring interviews, an in-depth look at the opposition and lots of statistical analysis. All content in the column (c) www.leaderlive.co.uk.

It seems that being a footballer with the surname Rooney is enough in itself to attract criticism. Well, I think it’s about time for a little Rooney Love, because our Rooney is doing rather well for us, thank you very much.

Assuming he doesn’t suffer a first injury of the season, John Rooney will make his 200th career appearance next weekend, and this season must have been the most tumultuous of his career, even allowing for the fact that his varied experiences range from the National League to the MLS, alongside Thierry Henry at New York Red Bulls.

You can often get the measure of a player by the way he responds to pressure, and situations don’t come much more pressurised than running the gauntlet of the Chester fans who once idolised him. Rooney’s heroics from a left-sided midfield position in the final games of last season, scoring 5 goals in 6 matches, kept Chester clear of the drop and, as their manager Jon McCarthy acknowledges, earned him the job on a permanent basis.

He stepped up to the plate last season on the big occasion, scoring a superb free kick past us, and last week he repaid the abuse he was getting from his former acolytes by putting us ahead and then earning a yellow card for celebrating like a maniac! Here is a man who is not frightened of the big occasion, I suspect.

Indeed, he put in his best performance for us last Saturday, but it was merely a continuation of the form he’s been showing since the transfer window opened. Dean Keates’ introduction of experienced, intelligent players has helped Rooney immeasurably. The strain has been removed from his shoulders, he has players with enough nous to see what he is doing and either reward his movement or make runs which he can pick out.

There are plenty of reasons for Rooney’s previous inconsistency. He’s been shifted around from one position to another, an inevitable consequence of Gary Mills’ constant tactical churn, and then Dean Keates’ necessary reshuffling of an inadequate squad as he sought to breathe life into it before the window opened.

Once it did, and Keates was able to make a series of judicious recruitments, things have looked more settled, both tactically and in terms of the quality on the pitch. Rooney no longer finds himself playing in a range of positions between defence and attack, and has settled into playing a crucial role on the side of the midfield diamond.

The Chester media team last week told me they were impressed by the clear sense that Rooney had been given a clear role in the side, having felt he tended to wander around with a lack of positional clarity when he was playing over the border. The compliment was astute, and reflects well on both player and manager.

Rooney may have had an erratic campaign, but even when he wasn’t hitting the heights he has been getting results more than any other player. He is our top scorer and his six assists are twice as much as our next best creator. Michael Proctor is the last player to have scored a higher proportion of Wrexham’s goals in a season, nine years ago.

Rooney’s eight goals also represent a natural progression in his career. His last two seasons were the most prolific of his career, with eleven and ten goals respectively. Thus far they are the only times he’s got to double figures in a campaign, but he ought to match the feat this season, and it’s encouraging to see him develop a level of consistency in this aspect of his game.

Let’s not forget that, despite his breadth of experience, he only turned 26 last December (on my Dad’s birthday, which shows an admirable commitment to paying respect to our longest-standing fans!) Rooney is still developing, and should be approaching his peak years. A goal scoring, creative midfielder is gold dust at any level, and it would seem that Rooney is maturing into exactly that. When Dean Keates looks to piece together his squad for next season, he’ll surely be at the heart of his plans, which is not something I necessarily would have thought a couple of months ago. Both men deserve a lot of credit for that.

Rooney scored the only goal at Borehamwood earlier this season in what would turn out to be Gary Mills’ last victory as Wrexham manager. He could therefore become our highest scorer in this fixture tomorrow, as we look to build on an uncannily regular pattern of results against The Wood.

We’ve played them three times, and each game has ended in a 1-0 victory. Last season Connor Jennings got the sole goal in both matches, striking from the penalty spot last March to give us a second half winner as we finally broke down the visitors’ stubborn defence. Perhaps his brother James might fancy maintaining the family tradition by hitting the winner to open his Wrexham account?

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