PREVIEW: Barrow AFC 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.

A final day trip to Barrow takes us to a venue where we’ve enjoyed a fair amount of success.

We’ve won nine times and lost eighteen at Holker Street, drawing fifteen, our biggest win there coming in December 1926 when Billy Rogers and Ted Regan each got two and Harold Lovatt scored the other in a 5-0 win.

Our worst result came in our first match there, on New Year’s Eve 1921, when we crashed to a 5-2 loss.

We’ve enjoyed success at Holker Street in recent seasons, ending a long spell of matches there without a win. We’ve won two of the last three matches we’ve played there, and each time the only goal of the game came deep into the last ten minutes. In February 2013 Kevin Thornton struck with four minutes remaining, while two seasons earlier Andy Mangan scored from the spot with seven minutes left on the clock.

Before those successes we’d not won at Barrow since January 1965, when Sammy McMillan and Keith Webber scored the goals in a 2-0 win.

Wrexham’s visit to Barrow on the opening day of the following season saw history made, but not in a manner which benefitted us!

That season was the first in which the Football League allowed substitutions, although the regulations were a far cry from the multiple tactical changes managers are allowed to make today. One substitute was permitted per team, and only to replace injured players, although it wasn’t easy to tell whether a manager was cynically telling a player to fake an injury to allow a change!

Whatever the circumstances, Barrow’s Bobby Knox came off the bench at Holker Street and made history as the first substitute to score in British football as the home team won 4-2.

Knox’s fortunes and those of The Robins continued to diverge: Knox would come off the bench again, later in the season, as a replacement for his injured goalkeeper, and became the first substitute to save a penalty. Meanwhile, Wrexham failed to recover from their opening day disappointment and finished bottom of the Football League for the first time in their history, but were re-elected for the following season.

We travel to Barrow knowing that we’ve done well in recent seasons on the last day of the season, as we’ve lost just once in the last ten years in the final match.

We triumphed 2-1 at Telford last season in what felt more like a farewell game for a generation of Wrexham players than anything else. Luke Waterfall and Dean Keates each scored in their final games for the club, and in total twelve of the squad that day, including nine starters, would never play for us again.

Even our sole final day loss came in odd circumstances as we selected a reserve team for a trip to Field Mill to face title-chasing Mansfield Town because we were looking to protect our squad before the play-offs. Even then we only lost 1-0 through a highly controversial penalty conceded by Glen Little.

Blaine Hudson makes his 150th career appearance tomorrow.

PREVIEW: AFC Telford United v Wrexham FC

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.

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It seems strange to face Telford on the last day of the season as they are our most festive foes. Every league game we’ve ever played against them has been on either Boxing Day or New Year’s Day!

Admittedly, there’s good reason for that as despite the fact that this doesn’t quite feel like a derby, they’ve been our nearest neighbours in each of the previous two Conference campaigns we’ve been in the same division as them.

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The last time we went to the New Buck’s Head one of our players managed a feat which will surely come up as a pub quiz question one day: which Wrexham player scored the first goal anywhere in the world in 2013? The answer is Danny Wright and the circumstances around his becoming statistically the most deadly striker on the planet are peculiar.

The game took place on New Year’s Day, of course, and most of the rest of Europe was on their winter break. There were no earlier kick-offs anywhere else in the world and our game started at noon, before any other professional match in the UK, so there was a window of opportunity for a scorer in the first half to achieve that unusual milestone.

Wright obliged, of course, running down the left channel in the twenty fourth minute and opening the scoring with a shot from a tight angle which lacked venom but was fortunately met with the first goalkeeping error of the year as the ball rolled gently inside the near post!

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Telford made us work for the result though, and it wasn’t until five minutes before the end of the game that Adrian Cieslewicz wrapped up a 2-0 win with the only headed goal of the twenty one he managed in his Wrexham career.

Our only other trip to Telford came the season before and it ended with exactly the same outcome. Joe Clarke scored an early goal to settle our nerves but once more Telford were stubborn opposition, roared on by an impressive crowd of 4,591.

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Jake Speight would play the decisive role in the second half though, putting in a typically feisty display and hardly endearing himself to the home fans with his tackling but then seeming to feed off their ire. His strike halfway through the second period secured the points.

Not only do we have a perfect record at Telford, but we also have good recent form on the last day of the season. We’ve lost just one of our last nine final matches, winning six, and there were extenuating circumstances surrounding that lone defeat as well.

It came two years ago at Mansfield as Andy Morrell selected a second string side, with Glen Little making his only start of the season and Mark Creighton thrown on for the first time since his injury seven months earlier. Taking all that into consideration, losing 1-0 to a disputed penalty against a side which won the title as a result was no mean feat!

PREVIEW: Wrexham FC v Dartford FC

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.

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We’ve a score to settle with Dartford tomorrow. While our away record against them is good, with an opening day victory under our belts this season and a five goal thrashing doled out at Princes Park in the last campaign, our home record against The Darts is rather grim. Both times they’ve ventured to North Wales they’ve been considered to be underdogs, but on each occasion they’ve departed by far the happier side.


In September 2012 we went into our clash expecting to impose ourselves on a newly-promoted Dartford side but suffered an early setback when Danny Harris scored in the fourth minute. To their credit, the visitors didn’t sit on their lead but pushed on looking for more and we were able to capitalise on the exciting, open nature of the game and equalise through Danny Wright.

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Wright’s goal turned the game in our favour and when Andy Bishop scored his first Wrexham goal just before the break it looked like we were going to push on and claim a comfortable victory. We posed a constant threat going forward, no doubt in part because an early injury to Stephen Wright meant Glen Little was making one of his rare extended cameo performances.

However, we failed to take our chances and were punished when Lee Noble scored in the final minute to earn a 2-2 draw.


Last season things went even worse for us as we collapsed to defeat against The Darts at The Racecourse. Again Dartford got an early opening goal when Andy Pugh opened the scoring after ten minutes, but once more we equalised, this time through Joe Clarke in the twenty first minute, and looked to have regained control of the match.

However, as in the previous season’s clash we failed to kick on, and in injury time at the end of the first half Elliot Bradbrook scored what would turn out to be the winning goal.

Clarke has enjoyed playing against Dartford, it would seem, and the two goals he has managed in this fixture puts him equal top of our list of scorers against The Darts, along with Danny Wright, Brett Ormerod and Wes York, who marked his debut by scoring both the goals when we beat them 2-1 at Princes Park on the first day of the season.

It’s a mark of how much better we’ve fared in Kent than in Wrexham against Dartford that we’ve managed just three goals against them at The Racecourse, but eight at Princes Park.

Defences don’t seem to enjoy this fixture as in five matches both sides are yet to keep a clean sheet. Wrexham have used four goalkeepers in those games – Joslain Mayebi, Chris Maxwell, Andy Coughlin and Daniel Bachmann – but none of them have managed a shut-out!

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A repeat of the last time we played on December 20th would do very nicely tomorrow. In 2008 we beat Eastbourne Borough 5-0 on that date, with Marc Williams scoring a hat trick and Neil Taylor curling in a beauty.

Chasing the Dream

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It was on platform one of Carmarthen station at 8:01 am that I left to watch my last Wrexham game at the Racecourse for who knows when, the idea of going months without going is an inconceivable thought. A place I’ve based my life around for the last four years will suddenly be no more as the nearest I’ll have to the Racecourse will be Cheltenham Town’s Whaddon Road as I move away for University.

The reason I mention Carmarthen station is because it isn’t my normal beginning to a game day, for the last few years I’ve been rudely awakened as early as 9 o’clock (I know, preposterous) so I can catch the bus to Wrexham, an hour later I’m in a weird town full of shoppers and chewing gum smothered floors. But today I waved goodbye to my long distance other half for a period of time apart unfathomable to the majority of others. The five hour journey through South Wales and the West of England is familiar to me, done once before in December for football purposes, I could miss a day of College, but we had Oxford in the Cup and I couldn’t miss that!

Back to North Wales, it seems a million miles away from when I first began coming to the Racecourse on a regular basis, a 2-0 win over Grimsby Town on a freezing cold January in 2011. Morrell and Harris’ goals trapped me, I just wanted to come back for more, maybe my second match, a 7-2 defeat to Gateshead and a small riot on the Kop would have put a lot of new fans off, but I loved it (not the rioting though). In total I saw five games in the 2010/2011 season, maybe I loved it so much as it helped me forget how my other club, Portsmouth were doing, failing miserably in the Championship, two seasons and two back-to-back relegations meant League 2 football for the 2008 FA Cup winners.

Perhaps my favourite memory of the first few games was meeting my future football hero. I’ve spoken to people whose idols have been George Best or Kenny Dalglish, but for me my footballing idol is and always will be Glen Little. I remember turning around when sat next to the tunnel in the Yale Stand and being greeted by Glen’s beak and Wimbledon tones. I was stunned. A good 15 minute chat before a steward, obviously not recognising who this God is, interrupted. He must not have known that at 17, Little scored the winning goal in the 1996 Irish Cup Final. But over the next three seasons I developed by little footballing crush on Glen and the squad as a whole, the whole town did.

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I’d been caught up, over the next year I watched Wrexham gain 98 points and finish second in the league before those damn Hatters beat us in the play-offs once again. We’ll never get closer than that unless we win the league. Well…..the next season was by far the most exciting. Topping the league for a while before winning the FA Trophy and reaching the play-off final, what a joy! But then the worst 10 minutes of all of our lives came and I never want to talk about it ever again.

All of this happening as a fan, my dream to be a Sports Journalist never crossed my mind when it came to watching Wrexham, until I saw a tweet from Wrexham Player. A new feature set to take the World by storm, ‘Players vs Cats vs Fans’. Having taken part in the much over-looked feature, I was introduced to the team, albeit very briefly. A month later I find the WSA blog and ask to be a part of it, but I got so much more than that when I was asked to join the team. We have lift off, after so many hours outside the players entrance stalking Glen and his pals, I’m in. Nobody has ever been so excited to go to a Tuesday night fixture with Tamworth in the pouring rain. Not only did I have the chance to commentate and witness interviews as they happen, but I walked out of the very entrance I’d stalked for years.

Over the next 8 months I took part in some fantastic projects, the biggest being Derby Day Live which was a great success. The 150th Anniversary celebrations have been terrific and I’m very proud to be a part of it. The cherry on the top of the cake has been writing for the programme, being an avid arorak (dubbed a programme geek, cheers Carl and Gemma)  when it comes to the ‘Match-day magazine’ as some clubs insist on naming it, to write for one is the dream inside the dream. I remember once going to Crewe Alexandra’s Gresty Road where I found a programme stall. I purchased a few Pompey ones, and in Portsmouth v Carlisle United I found my tweet inside it, I was bouncing around the room for hours! So the chance to have my own feature is an unbelievable honour.

Before leaving for University in September I’d like to thank Mark for introducing me to the team as well as the team itself Carl, Alex, Jamie, Andy, Richard and Gemma. Also Terry from the programme. I can’t wait to return to the club and will miss every second I’m not there

COYR

Leader Preview: Forest Green Rovers v Wrexham FC

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.

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So a troubled season comes to an end, and at least we’ve a terrific recent record on the last day of the season, so perhaps we can at least hope for a rousing send-off to a wretched campaign.

Admittedly, we lost last year at Mansfield, but even then the circumstances make the achievement seem quite impressive. Andy Morrell selected a second string side, with Glen Little making his only start of the season and Mark Creighton thrown on for the first time since his injury seven months earlier. Taking all that into consideration, losing 1-0 to a disputed penalty against a side needing a win to clinch the title was no mean feat!

Apart from that occasion we’ve tended to finish our league season with a bang in recent years. In fact, that loss was the first one we’d suffered on the last day of the season in eight years, since a 1-0 home loss to Huddersfield. We’d won six of the seven final day encounters before that trip to Field Mill as well, so we’d got used to finishing the season on a good note!

In recent years there have been some dramatic and significant victories, such as the 3-1 win over Boston which sent them to the Conference and earned us a temporary reprieve in 2007.

In 1989 we needed a win over Rochdale to put us in the play-offs and it was looking good when Ollie Kearns gave us an early lead which we held at half time. Rochdale equalised after the break though, and it looked like we would be thwarted with four minutes left when a fortuitously deflected Jon Bowden goal clinched victory.

There were also a couple of memorable promotion parties. In 2003 an army of Wrexham fans swamped Bury and were rewarded with a fine display as Denis Smith’s side clobbered the home side. Carlos Edwards and Darren Ferguson scored either side of an own goal and the 3-0 score flattered the home side.

Ten years earlier we’d enjoyed a similar occasion. Again we were already up, and we celebrated with an entertaining 4-2 win over Colchester, with Steve Watkin contributing a couple of goals.

Sometimes we’ve played party poopers, such as in 2000 when a spectacular strike by Mark McGregor earned a 1-0 win over Gillingham which prevented them going up, or in 1992 when a crowd in excess of 21,000 turned up at Turf Moor to celebrate Burnley’s promotion. They led at half time, but goals from Jon Paskin and Gareth Owen earned a 2-1 win.

In 1998 it was our turn to be thwarted, although we did the business on the pitch that day. We travelled to Southend needing to win and for other results to go our way to get into the League One play-offs, and despite going behind early on we fulfilled our side of the bargain. Peter Ward grabbed two, his second goal memorably rifling into the roof of the net to seal the win, and Karl Connolly also struck to earn a 3-1 win, but events elsewhere meant it was all in vain.

The Small Elephant in the Room

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It has fallen to me to wield the sword of truth, and then turn it on myself. I am willing to sacrifice my massive popularity with Wrexham fans for the greater cause. That greater cause being giving Kevin Wilkin the best of starts by unburdening him from a very difficult decision. He is going to have to make some unpopular decisions, and it helps if at least a few people support him in them.

Why can a big physical, part time side beat the mighty Wrexham? Why doesn’t our full time training regime count at the end of games? Why doesn’t our superior skill level count?

Kevin Wilkin stated after the Salisbury game that we need to make the pitch small when out of possession and big when we don’t. He said our ‘game management’ needs to be better. To do these things we need a vital ingredient we’re missing and that is energy. Without it spaces appear, and without out it we don’t get enough of the ball to play football.

If we looked at our record of results on Tuesday nights, after playing the previous Saturday I bet we’d find our record was poor. Perhaps the most recent tragic example was playing well against a very strong Kidderminster side and gaining a creditable draw on a Saturday, and then folding at Braintree on the Tuesday. You can’t trade skill for energy (at least not for a full 90 minutes).

That brings me to the sword. Dean Keates no longer provides sufficient energy to warrant a starting place. Not only does his lack of recovery speed leave us open to counterattacks, when he plays at the back of the midfield, but it limits our ball retention in a 4-4-2. When he plays further forward his threat diminishes as the game progresses, leaving poorer and poorer service to the front men.

Jay Harris, who I believe is back to his best is Mr Energy in the middle. To fully utilise this boundless strength, it can’t be channelled into covering for other players. When Glen Little was in his pomp he played delightful cameos for us against tiring defences, with tiring midfields chasing him. I think you can see where I’m going with that thought.

I thought Keates’s greatest match was at Wembley in the Trophy final. I looked at him when he came onto the pitch and thought ‘He isn’t going to let us lose today, he simply will not accept defeat’. I think that will is still there, but his powers to drive that will are fading.

Wilkin is the Strong Silent Type Wrexham FC Need

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So Kevin Wilkin it is then!

I’d love to make out I had some inside knowledge, but I must say that the board played their cards impressively close to their chests throughout this process. My attempts to put two and two together and assume Micky Mellon was the man after he left Barnsley yesterday merely taught me that speculation is never a wise idea!

Wilkin’s credentials are interesting, and Wrexham’s fans have been besotted with the idea of a manager who knows the non-league scene well for some time. Now we’ve made such an appointment for the first time it’ll be interesting to see how he pans out. I might be a little simplistic, but I don’t particularly buy into that theory; I still reckon that football is football, and players will succeed because they’re good and motivated, not through their provenance. Wilkin, you suspect, will look to players who have experience at this level and, if he listened to Barry Horne’s comments on the squad this week, avoid experienced ex-Football League pros.

Bringing players down from the higher levels was a policy which goes back a lot further than Andy Morrell. Dean Saunders leaned on that approach and before him both Brian Little and Brian Carey brought in high profile players. There’s usually a trade-off involved in such deals; theoretically you can land a player who is better than Conference standard, but they’re only usually willing to make the step down because they can’t find a Football League club to take them. Often that’s because there’s something wrong: Patrick Suffo’s undoubted talent was offset by his troublesome knee injury; Jay Harris was coming back from a ban and perhaps some clubs were a little wary to commit; Frank Sinclair was older than Cliff Richard

Such transfers carry an intrinsic gamble but that doesn’t mean it’s necessarily a flawed policy. After all, for every Christian Gyan there’s a Dean Keates; for every Lamine Sakho there’s a Neil Ashton; for every Matty Wolfenden there’s a Glen Little. As I said before, the mixture of quality and motivation is what really matters. If Wilkin goes in the opposite direction the fundamental nature of the squad will change and we’ll get to see if youth equals hunger and quality. He certainly seems to have got that equation right so far this season.

From what I know of Wilkin he’ll offer a similar style of management to Andy Morrell. He doesn’t strike me as the type to rant and rave; in fact his post-match interview after Nuneaton beat us 2-0 earlier this season was perhaps the most softly-spoken interview I’ve ever seen. That match suggested that what Wilkin can offer is a willingness to adapt to situations as the game demands. Morrell was often criticised for a lack of flexibility, which any regular reader of this blog will know I consider to be nonsense. Like most managers, Morrell didn’t tear up the planned formation readily but instead would look to alter the emphasis of his side’s approach. Wilkin did this most successfully during that match. We dominated possession in the first half but failed to capitalise; after the break Nuneaton played a more direct game, forced us back by getting behind us and turned the game around completely. Here’s how I described them at the time:

The direct balls worked because their two strikers were big and mobile [but] Nuneaton certainly weren’t a long ball team. They are a side who can mix it up and were tactically adroit enough to change their emphasis and turn the game around.

If I can describe next season’s Wrexham side in those terms, I’ll be more than happy!

Leader Preview: Wrexham FC v Gresley

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.

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We’ve never played Gresley before, but if things go well for him their name could feature prominently when one of our players looks back on his career.

Billy Barr revealed last Saturday that Andy Morrell will be starting tomorrow, which would mean he’s named himself in the first eleven for the first time in seven months, when he lined up at Wembley for the play-off final against Newport County.

The last time he actually completed the full ninety minutes was exactly a year and a week ago, and like tomorrow’s game it was in the first round of the FA Trophy. Morrell certainly enjoyed his extended pitch time as he scored a hat trick in a 5-0 win over Rushall Olympic which started off our run to victory at Wembley.

Should Morrell match that feat he’d be very close to becoming just the eighth player in the club’s history to score 100 goals. His brilliant volley against Forest Green Rovers last Saturday puts him on 95 goals so he’s just five short of matching Tommy Bamford, Arfon Griffiths, Karl Connolly, Graham Whittle, Gary Bennett, Ron Hewitt and Tommy Bannan.

Morrell currently stands in tenth place in the list of Wrexham’s all time scorers. Albert Kinsey finished his Wrexham career on 99 goals but a goal tomorrow would lift Morrell level with Billy Ashcroft in ninth place on 96.

Top twenty scorers in Wrexham's history.
Top twenty scorers in Wrexham’s history.

Morrell has played in 262 games for Wrexham, so he can’t become the fastest player to score a ton for Wrexham. Bamford managed the feat after just 117 matches, and Bennett and Bannan had also already passed the milestone by this point in their careers. However, Morrell has 46 games to get the five goals he needs to reach a hundred goals before Whittle and become the fourth fastest player to a century. The main obstacle to achieving that would seem to be whether he wants to play for long enough to do it.

A strike tomorrow would also add to his remarkable scoring record in cup competitions. He has 29 goals for Wrexham in cup ties from just 33 starts and 10 substitute appearances, and a goal against Gresley would mean he becomes the fifth player to hit 30 for Wrexham in cup matches after Connolly, Bamford, Bennett and Dixie McNeil.

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Two of Wrexham’s great goalscorers: Graham Whittle and Dixie McNeil

That win over Rushall improved our erratic record in the first round of the FA Trophy. We’ve played at this stage five times, winning three.

Funnily enough we’ve been drawn at home each time, and kicked things off well in our first season in non-league football by beating Mansfield Town 2-1 thanks to goals in the first eleven minutes from Jon Brown and Ashley Westwood.

We were also successful in 2010 when goals by Jay Harris and David Brown helped a lightly rotated side to a 2-0 win over Kidderminster, but experimentation with our line-ups has cost us dear. Two seasons ago a second string side lost Hinkley to 2-1 despite Glen Little’s first goal for us, and we also lost four seasons ago, drawing 0-0 against Altrincham and losing the replay 1-0.

Leader Preview: Hyde (h)

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.

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We’ve a hundred per cent record against Hyde, although our two wins at The Racecourse came a century and a quarter apart!

In only our second season of league football we faced Hyde United in January 1891 in the Combination League. While that club eventually folded, tomorrow’s opponents Hyde are their direct successors, so when we welcomed them to North Wales September last season we closed a particularly long-lived circle.

Our first match saw us record an impressive 4-2 win, thanks to goals from players whose names are shrouded in the mists of time. Arthur Lea, William Turner and Jack Roberts got three of them, and the forename of the fourth scorer, F. Holmes, has not even been passed down through the record books!

Nobody’s going to forget Glen Little in a hurry though, and he played a decisive role when the sides met last season. Despite Hyde having suffered a tricky start to the season, they were the better side at The Racecourse and we were fortunate to escape without punishment when Joslain Mayebi reacted angrily to a challenge on him, as the referee said the ball was dead when he retaliated and didn’t give a penalty.

With twelve minutes left the game was goalless but Little, who had sparked Wrexham to life on his arrival from the bench, then opened the scoring after Danny Wright had won a penalty, and Jay Harris added a flattering second.

One area of the team’s performance which will be exercising the minds of the coaching team is the difficulty we’re having keeping clean sheets. Obviously we haven’t managed to shut the opposition out yet this season, but that’s no reason to panic. After all, last season we hadn’t kept a clean sheet at this point either, but we then managed four in a row, and let in just three goals in our next nine matches.

However, at the moment we haven’t kept a clean sheet in nine games, our last shut out coming against Cambridge last April. That’s our longest run without a clean sheet since the first season we spent in the Conference. Back in 2009 we went eleven games without being able to withstand the opposition’s strikers. It was a run which started with an FA Trophy quarter final replay defeat at Ebbsfleet and contained just one win.

Young Bradley Reid had a day to remember last Saturday, of course, when he rattled in our second goal to register his first goal for the club. In doing so he wrote himself into the record books for the second time. He was already in the top twenty youngest players in the club’s history, standing at nineteenth in that particular list, and he’s now on the youngest scorers list, in eleventh place.
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If he’d scored on his debut against Solihull Moors last December, by the way, he’d have overtaken Craig Morgan to become the youngest scorer in Wrexham’s long history!

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Stephen Wright makes his three hundredth career appearance tomorrow. It’s a sad indication of the amount of playing time injuries have taken out of his career that he hasn’t made many more, of course.

A tale of screamers, elation, despair…. and Aggborough Pies!

Betwashing-machine_lrg[1]ter late than never I suppose! My review of the 2012/13 season comes a bit later than Mark Griffiths’ but I personally blame A-levels! A tremendous season in terms of emotion and action for Wrexham, but also the most heartbreaking since that game at Hereford back in 2008 where Wrexham condemned to the league they very nearly escaped at the third attempt at Wembley. I’ll be taking a look back at the highs, the lows and the downright obscure that myself, Mark and Carl all experienced from the commentary box!

Highs
Well, obviously there is one high that stands out more than most! Unfortunately, it’s not Glen Little’s spectacular attempt at the Welsh National Anthem! Wrexham’s first ever trip to Wembley was well deserved.

The reds dispatched Rushall Olympic, Solihull Moors, Sutton United and Southport before setting up a semi final tie with Blue Square North outfit Gainsborough Trinity.

SCREAMER ALERT! Danny Wright’s spectacular goal with his “swinger” in the second leg confirmed Wrexham’s place in the FA Trophy final after a 3-1 first leg win at the Racecourse and despite losing 2-1 on the day.

So to Wembley where we faced Grimsby Town as we looked to become the first ever Welsh side to win the competition. Hundreds of Wrexham fans had to physically dig their way out to get to Wembley due to the sever snow we had, myself included! Not a chance I was missing this occasion and I’m sure every other Wrexham fan had the same mindset.

After trailing to an Andy Cook goal (Grimsby’s only attempt in the game I’m pretty sure) Wrexham levelled form the penalty spot. Kevin “the kitten” Thornton became the forst Wrexham player to score at Wembley. Cue the 15,000 Wrexodus ascend into bedlam. Amazing scenes.

After Johnny Hunt dispatched the winning penalty, the Wrexham contingent went berserk. Tim Edwards (Twitter Correspondent) couldn’t help but jump on me while I was still commentating!

Away from Wembley, the return of Mark Creighton gave a lift to the whole club. After a nasty knee injury at the beginning of the season away to Ebbsfleet, The Beast returned in his emergency striker role in a 1-0 defeat to Mansfield on the final day of the season.

The 6-1 mauling of Nuneaton Town was the joint biggest score of the season along with the 5-0 thrashing of Rushall Olympic in the FA Trophy. SCREAMER ALERT! Adrian Cieslewicz’s stunner from 25 yards perhaps didn’t get the credit it deserved in a season that contained a flurry of howitzers and was overshadowed by one in particular.

Jay Harris’ goal of the season doesn’t need analysing. Just watch it and admire. He picked up the Steve Edwards Goal of the Season award, an award dedicated to the well renowned Wrexham commentator who sadly passed away this season. A colleague, a friend and an inspiration to a young commentator like myself, but it also ended the fantastic commentating partnership that was established between himself and Mark Griffiths.

Aggbrorugh Pies! Next season I urge you to go to Wrexham v Kidderminster away purely for the Aggborough pies! They are the stuff of legend. I didn’t quite realise how special they were until trying one and they are by far the best thing I have ever eaten at a football match.

Lows
Again, the obvious. The second Wembley trip of the season could not have been more contrasting to the first. The first all Welsh play off against Newport was the chance for Wrexham to gain Football League status after 5 years away. It wasn’t to be, and in the London sun, Wrexham’s warriors collapsed with 5 minutes to play. A 2-0 defeat coupled with the engine of Keates and Harris driving to exhaustion resulted in despair for the Wrexodus.

The initial injury of Crieghton against Ebbslfeet which was a huge loss. In all fairness, Chris Westwood upped his game this season and was a rock at the back but he himself suffered an injury which ruled him out of the play offs.

The injury of Danny Wright against Braintree. Little did we all know that in that innocuous challenge, as soon as he put his hand on the deck, the injury that he suffered against Brighton the season before would resurface, and he would never play for Wrexham again. A huge loss through the play offs, and despite hammering Kidderminster, we certainly could have done with his goals against Newport. He has a good scoring record against the Exiles and it could have made the difference.

The shortness of Andy Bishop’s spell. 2 goals in 4 goals was an impressive return from the man on loan from Bury, it’s just a shame we couldn’t have kept him longer as his performances were fantastic and brought something new to the strikeforce.

The downright obscure
Getting the tube to Wembley was interesting. My brother and I, along with our dad’s friend who we came down with were the only Wrexham fans on a tube full of Grimsby fans! Stares were thrown our way I assure you! It was the Grimsby fan who spoke up first that effectively jinxed his team, “You’ve come a long way to lose haven’t you?” How wrong he would be. Making Chris Maxwell walk out of an interview was a personal moment of obscurity. It came in the interview at Wembley after we had won the FA Trophy. “You’ve won a trophy with your local club, you might as well stay now?” I asked the goalkeeper. A smile and a shake of the head along with the utterance “Right I’m off” was enough to confirm he wasn’t too impressed!

Andy Morrell entering the post match press conference at Wembley with a can of Fosters (other lagers are available) and making no excuse for it! Clearly in high spirits, and a moment I won’t forget.

Club secretary Geraint Parry hands a package to Chris Westwood in the office before the play off first leg game against Kidderminster. 5 minutes later, Chris enters back into the office and states “Geraint, this isn’t for me. It’s a part for a washing machine!” Brilliant. I don’t even think it was addressed to Westwood but Geraint handed him over the package!

So a season that will long live in the memory for the right and the wrong reasons. We now look to next year as Morrell looks to rebuild the squad that has begun to dissipate. Will we go one better next year? We all certainly hope so!

 

End of Term Report Part Four

The defence stood up to scrutiny last season, but how did the engine room fare?

Midfielders

Dean Keates

deankeates7Once again, the skipper ran through the pain barrier for the club and he remains a totemic figure in the centre of the pitch. At the heart of everything, he sets the passing tempo and leads from the front, playing with a fire which complements Jay Harris’ combatie style. This was summed up in the FA Trophy Final, when he ran thr game.

His importance was also illustrated when we returned to Wembley and Keates had to try and put in another performance despite the series of pain-killing injections he’d been receiving through the last month of the season. It was a game too far for him, and as he faded from the game, our hopes faded with him. Keeping for next season, and keeping him fit, will be uppermost in Andy Morrell’s plans. 7/10

Jay Harris

jay-harris-02-43207-336386_478x359[1]Like Keates, you know what you get with Harris, and also like Keates we paid at Wembley for the fact that he was tiring by the season finale. He scored a screamer against Barrow, smashed in a crucial winner at Hereford and was as spiky as ever in the heart of midfield. Getting him to commit to a new contract was a major achievement by Morrell. 7/10

Joe Clarke

joe_clarke_5Undoubtedly the revelation of the season. Nobody arguing when Clarke was only offered a six-month contract this time last year as in his first season he’d looked like a distinctly vanilla midfielder, steady but not spectacular. He lacked opportunities at the start of the campaign, playing second fiddle to Johnny Hunt, but once he got a chance he grabbed it with both hands.

Clarke’s confidence seemed to soar and all of a sudden he was a different man. Having previously looked most comfortable when playing it safe in front of the back four, he blossomed into a formidable all-round midfielder. Soldi defensively and tidy on the ball, his passing range seemed to develop and his energy and physical presence helped us to win the ball high up the pitch. Decisively, his surging forward runs began to pose a real threat and his remarkable goal at Alfreton was a highlight of the season. 8/10

Kevin Thornton

kevin_thornton_1If he can stay fit, Thornton looks like being a terrific acquisition. A talented midfielder, his impressive scoring and assist ratio showed that he didn’t flatter to deceive but actually delivered. But injuries are the issue which must concern everyone at the club: we had to wait a long time before we got a chance to see what he could do in the first team and he broke down before the climax to the season: if he’d been available to ease the burden on Dean Keates in the play-off final things might have turned out differently.

Still, he made history as the first Wrexham player to score at Wembley and his continued presence at Wrexham is an incentive to recruit the type of intelligent ball-playing players he naturally combines well with. 7/10

Glen Little

glen-little-goal-02-43207-355350_478x359[1]A tricky campaign to evaluate for a genuine cult hero. Wrexham were undoubtedly the better for having him around, mainly for his impact off the bench but also as resident court jester and changing room character. However, he could only manage one start in the whole campaign, in the meaningless match at Mansfield.

Still, he did make some trademark appearances as a sub, most crucially at home to Hyde and Mansfield, and his impact wasn’t limited to creative play as he could also help us hold onto a lead with his superior ball retention, as he showed at Hereford. Despite his lack of pitch time, he’s established himself as a club legend. 6/10

Jay Colbeck

image-9-for-wrexham-fc-v-lincoln-city-gallery-171030557[1]A similar season to last time for Colbeck: he looks like a real talent, but with such a strong midfield to choose from Andy Morrell had the luxury of easing Colbeck in slowly once more.

Neat on the ball, deceptively strong and dangerous in and around the box, he once again showed a promising ability to pop up with goals and is clearly a good finisher. Next season looks like being an important one for him as he tries to make a more substantial impact on the first team. 6/10

Robbie Evans

robbie_evansEvans was rewarded for his fine form in the youth team with a run in the end of season friendlies and impressed massively.

The has been a buzz around him for a while and he showed why with a series of composed performances, showing he is equally at ease in a holding role or pushing further forward. Admittedly the match at Mansfield showed that there is still development to come, but he has shown a precocious confidence and needs to be handled with care. 7/10

Tomorrow: The strikers

Morrell’s Balancing Act Between Quality and Strength in Depth

>Good Tolley
Jamie Tolley: the unlikely saviour of the 2012-13 season!

Ever since we dropped into the Conference this part of the year has seemed particularly fraught and crucial. Talk of a retained list seems irrelevant: the issue isn’t who we want to keep, but who we can manage to hang onto.

Danny Wright has departed already, and the likes of Martin Riley and Dean Keates are surely crucial to the spine of next season’s side. There’ll be feverish activity, no doubt, to ensure they’re signed up as soon as possible, especially after the storm which has broken over Wright’s move.

No doubt Andy Morrell won’t want to shake his squad up too much, but there is one issue which must be exercising his mind. We struggled through the final stages of the season, forced to select a shadow side for the last four matches of the season, digging deep to get past Kidderminster, and then running into a game too far at Wembley.

With Keates and Jay Harris clearly struggling, Chris Westwood and Mark Creighton both gambles if they started, Rob Ogleby not looking right since coming back from injury and Danny Wright, Kevin Thornton, Danny Alfei, Nick Rushton and Joslain Mayebi all out, the best we could have hoped for was to put up a good fight really.

Morrell will ask himself why we were in that position and whether anything could have been done about it. With hindsight there was always a danger that we’d run out of steam: the foundations of our success also lay behind our eventual narrow failure to go up.

The experiences spine which runs through the team has been absolutely crucial to our continued success. Just look at the impressive seasons the likes of Keates, Westwood, Brett Ormerod and Stephen Wright have had. However, combined with a fairly thin squad and an exhausting home pitch, there was always a danger that we’d run out of steam later on in the campaign. It was the Faustian pact the management had to make in the hope of succeeding.

We’ve lacked the resources to rotate the squad. No doubt Morrell would have loved a couple more viable options at his disposal to allow him to rest some of his more senior players. Instead, he had to keep selecting them, which stored up problems for later.

Keates started all but four of the fifty-one matches we played before he was subbed at Woking, and all those games were missed through suspension. Furthermore, when Westwood broke down against Mansfield it was his twenty-sixth consecutive start.

Admittedly, Morrell tended to favour a settled midfield and defence; maybe he wouldn’t have rotated anyway. Also, when you’re going for the title it’s difficult to judge when you should leave a player out. But Morrell often didn’t have any alternative: that run of starts for Westwood started on the night Danny Devine played his last game for us. His departure left us an option light at the back.

So when the management team look at reshaping the team, they might consider adding an extra body or two, even if it means drafting in players who are not necessarily going to be key men. To put this argument in context, if Jamie Tolley had signed his six month contract at the start of the season, giving us a player to rotate at the start of the campaign, might Keates and Harris have had fresher legs come Wembley?

There’s a possible scenario which might help Morrell, Barr and Oakes out immensely as they plan for next season though: the fruition of the youth team. Rushton made a breakthrough this season, having benefitted from a couple of seasons in the League of Wales. If Steve Tomassen and Anthony Stephens return from their loan spells ready for Conference use our squad will have been padded out nicely. Similarly, the end of the season saw Leon Clowes, Rob Evans, Jay Colbeck and Bradley Reid suggest they might be ready to be used more regularly, I’d lump Rob Ogleby in with that group too, a young player who shows real signs of promise and now needs to step up to the plate and show we can rely on him as a regular starter.

Their development could lift the remaining gloom which naturally gathers at the end of a season which fell just short of glory. It’s a sense of post-Wembley emptiness symbolised by a sad sight I glimpsed last week: Glen Little sitting in Starbucks on his own. Danny Wright has gone, but we’ll get over it.

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