Sunday, 30 December 2007

Desperate Times

You realise you're in dire straits when throwing a defender up front feels like a step forwards!
When Steve Evans went into attack against Rochdale we did make the ball stick a bit more up front; there were flicks an alert striker could latch onto (let me know if you find one!)
It was good in a way to see someone up front who might actually win some of the long stuff we've resorted to pumping up the pitch for the last couple of years, and there might be mileage in the tactic, but it's merely a sticking plaster rather than a solution to the problem of our total lack of creativity. I'd like to see how Proctor and Roberts would fare with a bit of decent service.
A couple of weeks ago I speculated about whether the type of raw, aggressive target man we had in Jim Steel in the Eighties was extinct. I don't think they are, on reflection, and I'd love to see Brian Little find one. There was speculation in the summer that we were after John Murphy, who went to Chester. He'd do the job, I reckon, but then anyone who can discomfort centre backs and keep the ball in the other side's box a bit more would be a big step in the right direction.
He doesn't have to be six foot three, although I think that would help! We only have to remember Andy Morrell to realise that a striker can get under defenders' skin to great effect without being huge. While we naturally remember his goalscoring exploits in the 2002-3 season most clearly; don't forget that he established himself in the side as a willing lieutenant for apparently more potent finishers.
When Lee Trundle was tearing it up during his spectacular opening spell as a Wrexham player, it was Morrell's enthusiastic running which distracted the defenders and helped to make him look good, while Lee Jones was quick to credit Morrell after his record-equalling five goal salvo against Cambridge United.
In term of style the closest we have to Morrell is Marc Williams, but I'm not sure I want to see him over-used this season. That's no comment on his ability as I suspect he has the potential to be a very good player for us. However, I feel he's at the stage of his career where he'd be best served by getting carefully-regulated exposure to senior football rather than being lobbed in at the deep end and charged with saving our bacon. We have no right to demand so much from him when more experienced players have failed to do the job, and putting pressure on him after every goalless game, replacing him in desperation if he can't swiftly come up with the goods, or subjecting him to the fans' frustrations could damage his development.
No, we need the new Jim Steel, and we need him now!

Big Spender

Brian Little would be entitled to ask his defenders what U.E.F.A. coaching courses call "The Carpenters Question", namely "why do butterflies suddenly appear every time the ball's near?"
While there are clearly problems all over the pitch, there's a pressing need to address defensive matters: no team leaks goals regularly and gets results. Our defence is made up of players who have achieved plenty at this level of the game; not only do we have a current international, a member of the Wales squad from last season and the current player with the most appearances for us to choose from, but we also have the captain of a side that got into the play-offs last May. Clearly the issue is a matter of confidence, not experience or ability.
So how can this be sorted? New blood's the obvious answer, but there are possible solutions in the existing squad which might make a difference.
The most attractive one's off the agenda for a while, sadly. Danny Williams plays with authority and heart, and though I prefer him in the centre of the pitch under normal circumstances, there are anything but normal circumstances! Surely he'd make a difference at the back with a bit of no-nonsense defending, but that's not going to happen any time soon.
I'm loathe to see Mike Williams or Gareth Evans throw in with the instruction to save our season, as I think that would be asking too much of either youngster, but another neglected defender at our disposal might be able to make an impact.
Remember that the back four which held firm at the end of last season and dug up out of trouble was Spender, Pejic, Evans and Valentine. Simon Spender has only featured under Brian Little as a late substitute in his first game in charge, and he deserves the chance to show what he can do. After all, you'll never complain about a lack of fight from the full back, and spirit seems to be the attribute we need at the back these days.
Spender's tenacious, enthusiastic and able to get up and down the line too. I accept he has his limitations, but who doesn't in League Two? More importantly, he has not been part of the huge loss of confidence we've suffered of late. When the first team squad is struggling with a collective fear of failure, what better point to throw in a player who is champing at the bit to get back on the pitch and show what he can do?
Mike Carvill's another player who might be given more of a whirl too. He certainly isn't tainted by failure, having had little chance to impress this season. Where his best position is in this circumstance is a problem; when we're unable to get proper service to the strikers another little attacking player is in danger of being by-passed. However, he clearly has the scrap in him to compete, plus pace and a neat turn of foot. At the very least it's worth having him on the bench, from where he made a couple of decent little vignettes at the start of the season.
Likewise, when Conall Murtagh is fit he is worth giving a go to. The midfield has hardly covered itself with glory this season, and while his premature exposure to Nigel Reo-Coker against Aston Villa and subsequent injury have left him looking like The Racecourse's forgotten man, anyone who saw his contribution to the victory at Port Vale, not just in terms of his performance, but also the coolest debut penalty you could hope to see, will have had their appetities whetted.
Oops, did I say “ The Racecourse's forgotten man”? Don't even get me started on Levi Mackin!

Thursday, 27 December 2007

Sums it up!

As Brian Little was talking to the press after the game about his exasperation a single word was written on the whiteboard behind him: "Help."

Monday, 24 December 2007

A week's a long time in football

I had to write the programme notes on rochdale early so the printers could have their hols and the world looks a bit different now! i wrote it after the bury game when things were looking up and i was feeling bullish about us ramming keith hill's words down his throat. Somehow i don't feel so confident about it now!

Sunday, 23 December 2007

The Grimmest Looking Tunnel In Football!

It'll be nice when it's finished!



It's a very welcoming club, Rotherham. Everyone very friendly (well they should be when we're in town-I'll bet they were rubbing their hands together with glee as we arrived!)

The ground's a bit odd though! It was always basic, but since we've last been there there's a snazzy new stand-at least that's how it seems at first. It's not finished though, and apparently never will be! Halfway through finishing it they decided to move to a new ground down the road, so they've stopped building it! Half the seats are in place, and in use, but that's it. And we thought the old Mold Road Stand was an eyesore!

Brian Little After The Rotherham Game


Saturday, 22 December 2007

Saturday, 8 December 2007

You have to swim into the smallest club shop I've ever seen!

The away end

Brian speaks to the nation

Oh, and i did get to have those Eels!

The long game

Three steps forward, one step back. Looking at football in microcosm is a mug's game though. Did we really think that everything would be solved so easily? recovery is not a quick process in any branch of life, and to expect a new manager, no matter how wily, to manage such a feat is naive. Look at last season's great escape act: paul ince, or more probably ray matthiap with ince's help, steered macclesfield away from danger despite their being in an apparently impossible spot when they took over. But it wasn't plain sailing. They pulled away from danger remarkably quickly, got themselves into a position where they could strike for mid.table but didn't build on it. In fact it's easily forgotten in light of our last day showdown with boston but they could have gone dnwn that day too. Our battle for survival won't be won in a trice, but we've shown enough under little to suggest it will be won. I hope he manager the debt sooner than ince did though; i don't fancy going to lincoln for another last day date with destiny!

Oh dear

Well that wasn't meant to happen! we were very poor in the first half-brian little said that was his fault as he picked the wrong side. The strikers were isolated and it felt a bit like altrincham last season as we were outplayed on a poor pitch by a direct team. The second half was better once we'd switched to 442 and the two late goals were cruel, especially as the third one dumped up back into the bottom two. But we can't before to have too many first halves like that or the new manager bubble will have well and truly burst.

But...

They've also got the second worst attack and the second worst good attack in the division. And guess who's worse than them in both categories ! We should travel looking for a win but our own miserable form until the karl fortune suggests our confidence should be cautious. Mind you , he we can get a win today It'll give the table a different complection and a boost to the improvement asian little has wrought with the dean's confidence. This is perhaps the first time Wrexham have gone into a hand under little as favourites ; if we can live up to that billing , something we've struggled to do over the last few years , It'll be another of those little baby steps towards recovery.

The Facts....

I said before that Dagenham are in poor form. Well here's the proof : they haven't won in the league since october 2nd, have won just one point from their last nine games, have the worst goal difference in League Two, have the second worst scoring record and home scoring record in the division.

The epic journey continues

Wow ! Spent the first eight minutes from birmingham to euston squashed in the communication doors between carriages as the clothes show crowd went to birmingham international. It was like being in the belly of a whale. The way he twisted about so violently i'd say he's a whale in need of a good haemhorroid treatment too ! Got a seat now though, thankfully. I can't take all this excitement -How's a Wrexham fan supposed to backincuis himself to big crowds ?

Dagenham knees up

Don't know what to expect today. Dagenham's form's awful - it must be, the're below us! Hope they keep it up! The key thing is I've located a pie and mash shop by the ground so i'll be able to sample some authentic pre match jellied eels!

Opposites day

What a strange experience! I'm on the train to Dagenham but it's not your usual saturday morning train experience! You usually find there trains to be full of blokes off to the footy, with all the noisy blokeishness that entails. However, the clothes show's on in birmingham and the train is absolutely packed with women. It'd be a nice change of race were it not for the fact that the train only has two carriages, and was full by the time we left shrewrbury! Fifty people were left on the platfor at telford, including a guy in a wheelchair. What a class act the train operators are! I'm glad i got on at Wrexham before the train filled up.-I've got a table! Pulling into wolverhampton-this should be fun!

Dagenham part one. Eels!

video

Tuesday, 4 December 2007

Away support

Decent turnout and They're still coming in.

No aiston!

Aiston out with a virus! Garrett in!

Bury by moonlight

Being brave

I was interested after writing about our defensive priorities to see Brian Little hadn't intended to retreat so much. It tallied with what i thought and shows how crucial it is that the side are brave in games. Bravery's not just about sticking your head in where it hurts, it's about keeping the ball when you're under pressure. That post of moral bravery will see up through if we can find it.

Monday, 3 December 2007

You're Joking Ref!

Being paranoid, I can't help wondering whether obstacles are deliberately put in our way. I've been making a big effort of late to fight my desire to believe conspiracy theories about how the Football League has it in for us, but their latest comedy decision's making me suspicious all over again!

We play Bury tomorrow and who's the referee? Scott Mathieson. That would be the Scott Mathieson who, last March, was in charge the last time we played Bury. You might think that fact alone is a good enough reason not to appoint him-familiarity breeds contempt and all that. Factor in the fact that he sent two of our players off in that match as well, and I think you have a pretty clearcut case not to give him this match. Cheers Football League.

Saturday, 1 December 2007

More Progress

The goalless draw at Rochdale was another step in the right direction, I think. I don't think I've ever seen a side set up with wide midfielders in front of the wing backs before, and Brian Little's 5-4-1 formation ended up doing exactly what you might expect: it conceded a lot of ground to Rochdale, but defended solidly without really looking all that dangerous at the other end.

But the upshot was a third league game unbeaten, our best run of the season for what it's worth, and a very dogged defensive performance with both Richard Hope and Steve Evans putting in their best games of the season.

Crucially, the new manager bubble is still intact. That belief amongst the players that under Little they can flourish still exists, and if we can get through the Bury and Dagenham games in the same state we should look a lot healthier than we did a week ago.

Little hit the nail on the head after the game in identifying a lack of attacking threat. He'd wanted the side to be more progressive than it had been, getting at Rochdale down the flanks, but it hadn't really happened. It'll be interesting to see if the performance at Bury will address this-I suspect that, with three away games coming in quick succession and not much time to tweak things at Colliers Park, we'll stick to the same shape as it worked quite well at Spotland.

The lack of creativity is something that has been an issue for a year, and I'm glad Little is aware of it. Clearly we will have to resolve this if we are to pull away from the danger zone. The key thing is that if he can continue to boost the side's confidence and make us solid at the back, hopefully we'll start to believe in ourselves more at the other end of the pitch.

Wednesday, 28 November 2007

A sense of perspective

In the midst of all our off the field troubles I told myself that if only those turbulent times could be over I'd not mind what Wrexham threw at me. If only my worries about the club could be limited to football matters I'd not mind how bleak things were on the pitch as at least it wouldn't be as bad as waking up each morning fearing the club could be wound up today.

Just goes to show you should be careful what you wish for! That's one pact with the devil too far I think!

Exclusive

Rumours that Brian Barwick has approached Nev Dickens for permission to speak to Brian Carey are, I believe, erroneous.

Monday, 26 November 2007

In The Cold Light Of Day

As the dust settles on yesterday's derby I wonder if Brian Little will re-evaluate his squad now he's seen them in action away from the training pitch.

3-5-2 how he felt he'd get the best out of them from what he'd seen at Colliers Park but the way we clawed cotrol of the game away from a good Chester side once we switched to 4-4-2 much have given him pause for thought.

The Little revilution might become something of an evolution.

Sunday, 25 November 2007

Wrexham 2 Chester City 2

Click on the title to hear the podcast of the Chester derby, featuring Brian Little, Michael Proctor, Wes Baynes and Neil Taylor.

Little's First Report Card



We were all bound to try to judge Brian Little following his first game in charge. I think it's fair to say he passed scrutiny. The drastic changes he made to the side showed that he isn't one to toe a conservative line, and that sort of approach can backfire horribly. Remember last Wednesday? Steve McClaren was bold in his selection for the match against Croatia, and look where it got him. However, Little was more astute, his rejig of the side born of a measured boldness rather than being the hopeful actions of a desperate man. While McClaren's England careered towards oblivion, we took a first baby step towards survival today, I think.

There are still flaws, and we faded worryingly out of the game for a quarter of an hour after our initial bluster wore out at the start of the second half. However, Little got the team working for him, and the reformed line-up looked a lot better than we have done for some time.

It was a more high tempo style than we've been used to, although maybe we shouldn't rush to judgement on that front until we've seen Little's side perform in a game which doesn't also happen to be a derby.

If that is the road we're going down, though, it might just address what many feel is one of the main reasons for our demise. We tried to continue playing patient football through midfield last season after Darren Ferguson had gone, and the loss of a playmaker hit us hard, although I admit I didn't notice it so much at the time as Ferguson's talents had waned with time.

Watching us pound hopeful long balls to short strikers this season has illustrated how much we'd missed a midfield creator though, and today we addressed the issue in two interesting ways.

Firstly, we carried the ball through the centre of the field rather than pinging it long, with Sam Aiston most impressive. He's technically good, and holds the ball well. Sometimes he looked like he was running into a cul-de-sac, but he only started to lose the ball in the closing stages when he was naturally tiring.

Secondly, we found a playmaker of sorts in the most surprising of places. Brian Little showed a great eye for a player in putting Neil Roberts in midfield. It was a remarkable thing to do, and it worked beautifully. Not only did Roberts fight with typical commitment, but some of his passing was exemplary, not least his assist for Proctor's first goal. He's no Darren Ferguson, but then I suspect Ferguson might well have been swamped in the pace of that match.

So Little's redeployment of Neil Roberts worked a treat. So did the promotion of Wes Baynes, who had an excellent debut, and his recall of players like Proctor, Taylor and Pejic, who had all fallen out of favour under Carey, but all made big contributions. With his sole signing Aiston also doing well, Little got most things right with his selections.

He was sharp tactically too. In that spell I mentioned earlier when Chester got a grip of midfield he responded by switching from 3-5-2 to 4-4-2. The result? We regained out equilibrium, equalised and nearly won it.

However, perhaps the greatest impact Little might have made was in the players heads. When did we last fighting back from going behind twice in a game? The players have been used to things going wrong this season, and their usual response has been capitulation. Not so today. To fight back from a thunderbolt after making a good start, then to fight back from a goal in the 50th minute of the first half, the worst time to concede according to the pundits, was not what we've been doing over the last year or so.

Of course these are early days for Little, but it was a debut which will bring hope against a decent Chester side. Three away games now follow, all winnable, which might just go a long way to shaping our season. If we can play like we did today in all three, we should be in more optimistic mood by the time we return to The Racecourse.

Friday, 23 November 2007

Is Sam The Man?



A manager's early actions are often put under disproportionate scrutiny, as we try to jump to early conclusions, so naturally his first signing is an interesting one.

Sam Aiston has a good pedigree; Shrewsbury's fans are posting tributes to his efforts on the Red Passion messageboards and I recall him being considered a class act during his loan spells at Chester. Little knows him and must feel he has something to contribute.

On the other hand, he has a history of being prone to injury, is surplus to requirements at Northampton and has been on loan in the Conference this season. How match fit he is is another question we'll probably see answered on Sunday, although media reports that he hasn't played for The Cobblers this season are exaggerated; he has come on as sub twice for them in the last week.

My gut feeling is that if Little knows him he's not gambling. Let's hope so.

What Next?

It's hard to know what to expect on Sunday.

It's a new beginning, a fresh start, a chance for a new boss to bring the side to life. I hope! Our squad is surely good enough to be up at the right end of the table, and if Little can make the sort of impact you hope a new manager can make, we should be able to see immediate and dramatic results.

I've never seen a side look so demoralised. Can you really point out a player who is doing himself justice at the moment, apart from teenagers like Done and Taylor who are naturally going to be a bit erratic anyway?

If Little can reignite the players' self-belief, we could see a dramatic improvement. Let's hope he can.

Sunday, 18 November 2007

Saturday, 17 November 2007

There's Nothing To Fear!

I took advantage of Wrexham having no game today to go and spy on Chester. I must admit that I approached the ground with a sense of trepidation, as I feared I would see a side which was much better than us. I did, but it was MK Dons.

Chester lost for the third game in a row, so we go into next week's match as the form team!

To be fair to Chester, if I must, you could see why they've had a good start to the season. They're a well organised side who all know their roles in a rigid 4-4-2. However, they were outclassed by an MK Dons side who are the best side I've seen in League Two this season by some distance. Chester will be hoping for a play-off spot at the end of the season, I suspect, rather than sustaining a push for the top three.

City started well, mind. At the start of the game they played the game at the high tempo which suits them and put the Dons under a lot of pressure. They looked to get the ball out early to the wide men, and Kevin Ellison and Richie Partridge are both players who will cause problems at this level. However, today they didn't show much of that pedigree, especially the ineffective Partridge.

Bobby Williamson said before the game that they lost at Bradford City last Saturday because they ran out of ideas, and they spent a lot of time in training last week working on that. Unfortunately for him, they ran out of ideas after just fifteen minutes today! As the pace of their good start petered out they began to be outmanoevred by a side who passed and moved impressively. City's midfield were full of industry but they lacked creativity, and suddenly they were chasing shadows as the game was being played on the visitors' terms.

They did manage to rouse themselves at the start of the second half, with the two wide men swapping flanks, a move which certainly suited Ellison, who began to cut inside and show some threat. They were already a goal down by then though-they'd been lucky to go in without having conceded more-and when they missed a couple of chances after the break you felt they would pay the price. They did. MK Dons scored on the break and despite missing a penalty-a lame effort by substitute Simon Yeo-they never threatened to get back into it.

Keeper Jon Danby looked shaky too, and his kicking under pressure was suspect.

So what to make of it? I often go to see teams before they play us, and until recently I'd have looked at today's performance and thought we had a good chance. The problem is, the way we've been playing lately, I can't feel the same way.

So let's put it this way: if Brian Little can make a difference, Chester aren't anything remarkable, and we can win it. If he can't, their much bigger midfield will eventually overwhelm ours, and in the second half we'll lose the game, like we did against Shrewsbury. And Hereford. And Rotherham. And Barnet.

Little Big Man

The last time Brian Little was in charge of a match at The Racecourse he walked away a 5-1 winner. You can’t argue with that, and someone who can put results on the table’s exactly what we need. Having existed for a few years now on the thought that when things turn our way we should pick up, it’s time for some hard-nosed realism.

I’ve got a good feeling about Little’s appointment. He has a genuine pedigree in the higher divisions as well as experience in the lower reaches, and is known to be an organiser. Of course, I could be wrong. Sometimes apparently perfect marriages still fall apart. Jose Mourinho and Chelsea. Graeme Souness and Liverpool. Even Chanelle and Ziggy! However, on paper the board have delivered exactly what they promised; an experienced hand at the rudder, and the postponement of Saturday’s game means he has a week at Collier’s Park to put his imprimature on the squad and possibly bring in some fresh blood.

Little inherits a decent squad from Brian Carey, which should give him plenty to work with. Carey had a decent eye for a player, I feel. Michael Proctor, Anthony Williams and Jeff Whitley contributed hugely to our survival last season, Richard Hope and Eifion Williams have good pedigrees in the lower leagues, and there was even logic behind the arrival of well-touted failures like John Ruddy and Cherno Samba, who clearly had ability but failed to live up to their billing.

It hasn’t been a lack of quality which has been our downfall this season, but a spectacular drain of the squad’s confidence due to the cumulative effect of finding new and exotic ways to lose matches week in, week out.

That’s where Little will hopefully make an immediate impact. The bounce teams experience when a new manager is appointed is a well-worn cliché in football, and like all clichés there’s a basis of truth to it. Under Little the squad can look to make a fresh start and the opportunity for a new man to re-evaluate the players could provide a kickstart. Carey was an inside appointment so his opinions had already been formed on the players he inherited; it might be good for them to have a new man to impress.

I realised that I wanted Little to get the job last Friday. Plenty of names had been circulating, and I had a hunch that Little was the man we would go for. However, on Friday my mobile went crazy and sent old texts to all and sundry. As a result, my Dad thought John Aldridge had been appointed and replied to that effect. When I read his text, assuming he’d heard something I hadn’t, my heart sunk and I realised how much I thought Little was the man for the job. No offence to John Aldridge as it could have been worse; at least he’s not Mark Wright!

So Little arrives with a reputation to live up to and a terrific burden, holding as he does our Football League future in his hands. He sounds like the right man for the job, but now we need to see that he is. We need him to be good; hoping he’ll succeed just isn’t an option.

Tuesday, 13 November 2007

Ooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooops

I learned at the weekend that people in glass houses shouldn't throw stones.

One of my favourite moments last season was in a game between Darlington and Bury. A Darlo player crosses the ball into the goalmouth and, in trying to hook the ball over his shoulder to safety, a defender slams it into his own face so hard it bounces into the net. It was an instant blooper DVD classic, but we set the bar a notch higher on Saturday!

The moment Richard Hope and Anthony Williams ran into each other I knew we'd get onto “Match of the Day” that night! Seven intervening hours having anaesthetised the impact of the incident somewhat, I could only smile as Gary Lineker and Alan Shearer mocked us.

However, the next night the BBC did some research and dug out Silvio Spann's howler too! Spann's slip as he took a corner, spooning the ball into the away end, surely set a new standard; we'd provided two classic foul-ups in one match! Danny Baker must rue leaving the gaffe compilation DVD market too soon! Didn't he know we were about to give the genre a much needed shot in the arm?

Nothing's new in football though. My favourite howler was a Darren Wright own goal at Crewe, where he bent the ball past a stranded Mike Salmon into the top corner. That is until we signed the true master of disaster: goalkeeper Vince O'Keefe.

His greatest moment came at Mansfield. We had a free kick on the edge of our own area, a situation which you'd think even O'Keefe could negotiate safely. However, as Phil Hardy tapped the ball to him, O'Keefe decided to look away, the ball went through his legs and a striker walked the ball into the empty net!

That one made it onto the comedy DVDs. A less celebrated but more bizarre incident occurred in a home game against Hereford. A Wrexham attack broke down and the ball was booted up the pitch. There were no outfield players in Wrexham's half as the ball trickled towards O'Keefe, who waited for it on the edge of the area. Again, an innocuous situation, but with O'Keefe danger was always just around the corner! Presumably bored of waiting for the ball to arrive, or misguidedly thinking he was helping the game to flow, he stepped out of the box, picked the ball up, and stepped back into the area! Fantastically, he was filled with indignation when the referee had the temerity to blow for handball!

There were many other classics in his repertoire. I recall him punching a cross into his own net with terrific gusto at Wigan, and scoring a superb own goal against Cambridge: United packed the near post for a corner but overhit the flag-kick. However, O'Keefe caught the ball to his chest, staggered and slowly fell backwards into his own net, all the time clutching it ball tightly as if it were a baby!

At least we haven't hit those depths. Yet.

Saturday, 10 November 2007

Deja Vu

I'm just looking down on the pitch-Kevin Russell warming the strikers up, Andy Dibble preparing Darren Ferguson's keepers. It's us in a parallel universe!

Thursday, 8 November 2007

The Admirable Carey

This might sound a bit odd. I found Brian Carey’s press conference after the Wycombe game moving.


What struck me was the dignity of the man. Try to put yourself in his shoes. He has just been removed from his position. How would you feel rolling in to do your job in the morning if you had just been demoted?


Furthermore, this was a very public matter. Everyone with an interest in football knows what has happened, and you will have to face questions about it afterwards. The manner in which he faced these questions impressed me.


As he perched himself on the edge of his desk to answer questions, starting off with a witty comment which put a tense press corps at ease, I was struck by two key facets of his personality.


The first one was his dignity. I’ve used that word before to describe the man; it springs into my mind when discussing him. He has never, even in the most trying times, let his demeanour slip. He’s clearly been churning inside sometimes, but that never changed his behaviour.


The second is a remarkable lack of ego. Life in general and football in particular is heavily peopled with preening peacocks, desperate to brag about the tiniest achievement, always looking to bow their own trumpet. Their appearance to others, their standing amongst their peers, their desire to scramble ahead of the rest, is everything.


It’s a rare pleasure to find a man who doesn’t conform to these standards, but as a relaxed Carey explained his position I realised that he is one of those people. He has said from the outset that his first priority is Wrexham Football Club, and his behaviour over the last few days has shown exactly that. Would you accept a demotion for the good of your employer?


The other thing to come out of this situation as the dust settles is a surprising one. It seems the board might have pulled off a very clever piece of management! In finding an original solution to the problems on the pitch they might manage to hold onto two men whose talents are clearly crucial to the future of the club, albeit in a different capacity.


Rich, my co-commentator, has long suggested that Carey has the potential to be a fine manager in the future, but that he was appointed too soon. If the board’s approach works we might be able to benefit from his maturation.


Of course, Carey was right to point out on Wednesday that nothing is sorted yet. We don’t know who is coming in, and he might decide to bring in his own backroom staff. What will the board would do if their chosen man says he’ll only do the job if the previous manager is not around, looking over his shoulder? I hope it doesn’t come to that, because I suspect it just won’t be a problem. The lack of ego that Carey has shown proves that he’s a big enough man to put service to the club first.

The Admirable Carey



This might sound a bit odd. I found Brian Carey’s press conference after the Wycombe game moving.

What struck me was the dignity of the man. Try to put yourself in his shoes. He has just been removed from his position. How would you feel rolling in to do your job in the morning if you had just been demoted?

Furthermore, this was a very public matter. Everyone with an interest in football knows what has happened, and you will have to face questions about it afterwards. The manner in which he faced these questions impressed me.

As he perched himself on the edge of his desk to answer questions, starting off with a witty comment which put a tense press corps at ease, I was struck by two key facets of his personality.

The first one was his dignity. I’ve used that word before to describe the man; it springs into my mind when discussing him. He has never, even in the most trying times, let his demeanour slip. He’s clearly been churning inside sometimes, but that never changed his behaviour.

The second is a remarkable lack of ego. Life in general and football in particular is heavily peopled with preening peacocks, desperate to brag about the tiniest achievement, always looking to bow their own trumpet. Their appearance to others, their standing amongst their peers, their desire to scramble ahead of the rest, is everything.

It’s a rare pleasure to find a man who doesn’t conform to these standards, but as a relaxed Carey explained his position I realised that he is one of those people. He has said from the outset that his first priority is Wrexham Football Club, and his behaviour over the last few days has shown exactly that. Would you accept a demotion for the good of your employer?

The other thing to come out of this situation as the dust settles is a surprising one. It seems the board might have pulled off a very clever piece of management! In finding an original solution to the problems on the pitch they might manage to hold onto two men whose talents are clearly crucial to the future of the club, albeit in a different capacity.

Rich, my co-commentator, has long suggested that Carey has the potential to be a fine manager in the future, but that he was appointed too soon. If the board’s approach works we might be able to benefit from his maturation.

Of course, Carey was right to point out on Wednesday that nothing is sorted yet. We don’t know who is coming in, and he might decide to bring in his own backroom staff. What will the board would do if their chosen man says he’ll only do the job if the previous manager is not around, looking over his shoulder? I hope it doesn’t come to that, because I suspect it just won’t be a problem. The lack of ego that Carey has shown proves that he’s a big enough man to put service to the club first.

Progress of Sorts!

Yesterday was definitely a step in the right direction. For once everything that could go wrong didn't go wrong! Okay, considering the way our season has been going the missed penalty did have a certain inevitability about it, but Anthony Williams' two iojury time saves broke a pattern. For us to batter a side and not concede the winner when they manage their only real effort on goal in injury time's a real step forward! Maybe the cruel god of irony has finally left us alone!

Tuesday, 6 November 2007

Sadly Inevitable

It’s a shame that Brian Carey’s tenure came to a premature end, but the events of the last few weeks made it inevitable.

Carey is a man who has made a huge contribution to Wrexham Football Club, and his demeanour as player, coach and manager has deservedly won him a lot of friends. Sadly the amount of goodwill and respect he has earned could not outweigh the facts.

The notable milestones in Carey's reign are negatives. He suffered the worst start of any Wrexham manager, having to wait until his tenth match before registering a win, and also saw his side suffer the second longest run without victory and equal the second longest run of games without a goal in the club's one hundred and thirty-five year history.

All those landmarks were established last season though, and after managing to survive relegation to the Conference by the skin of our teeth last season, we were seized by optimism in the Summer. A pre-season under Carey, with the chance for him to build and prepare his own squad, was seen as an opportunity to go forwards. Unfortunately it hasn't turned out like that.

Matters have hardly been helped by the fact that Carey's fate has been debated publicly like that of no other Wrexham manager before him. Neville Dickens' remarks before the Barnet game were unhelpful in the extreme, but Carey has alsoput pressure on himself. He labelled three home games as must-win, but lost two of them, one by a disastrous 4-0 margin. If you make such public pronouncements then don’t get results the vultures are bound to start circling.

Furthermore, he took a huge gamble on the Barnet game which backfired spectacularly. The side featured a swathe of green defenders as we went into a huge match, prompting one of my colleagues in the press corps to describe the team sheet as a suicide note. As the inexperienced defence crumbled it seemed an accurate description.

The fact is that the Barnet debacle fitted into an alarming pattern. Of our last seven home games we've lost four to mediocre opposition which was able to capitalise on our toothlessness in the second half. Factor in a good thumping by Chesterfield and you have a problem. Few managers survive a run of seven losses in the last eight home games. In total we've only scored in two of our nine home games this season, conceding seventeen.

We should remember that Carey saved us from the jaws of disaster last season. Up until he plumped for a settled side and a solid 4-4-2 and got that run going, things had looked bleak as he seemed to be casting around for a solution, switching personnel and systems, looking for an answer. Sadly we have seen a similar pattern emerge this season.

Of course, Carey should not bear the blame alone. The players have not bailed him out when he needed them. Ask a regular fan who has been our best player so far this season and you're likely to see a lot of head-scratching. No one has been consistently good, and that's a huge part of the problem which Carey can't be held accountable for.

Yet surprisingly the board might ultimately have handled the situation well. It would be a huge shame if Carey was lost to the club, completing a cull of the club's senior figures. At the start of 2007 we could call upon the experience of Denis Smith, Kevin Russell, Darren Ferguson and Carey. The rash decision to remove Smith precipitated a brain drain which has cost us dear. If Carey is willing to remain and work under a new manager, it will be a measure of the man’s commitment to the club, and a rare feather in the cap of a board who have managed to remove a manager without losing his expertise.

Is Carey Gone?

Heaven knows what's going on! Can he realistically continue as an assistant after being manager? This is all very confusing!

Supposedly we'll be appointing Brian Little, Brian Flynn, John Aldridge and Matt Busby as boss on Thursday.

Monday, 5 November 2007

Keep It On The Floor!

There have been plenty of lows over the last year, but the second half of the Shrewsbury match was hard work. Watching us pump long balls at strikers who are not known for their aerial ability was dispiriting.

It was especially pointless once Neil Roberts had been taken off as at least he was causing their centre-backs some discomfort, although he has been forced to fight that fight all season; I am unshakable in my belief that Roberts will cause problems for League Two defences if he is given service to his feet or chest. However, he has been fighting for high balls all season, and although he wins his fair share, he's just not that sort of striker.

Reality Check

I'm generally seen as someone who tries to look on the positive side of things when it comes to Wrexham. It has become something of a running joke to my family that no matter how disappointing the result my analysis will come back to the notion that we were unlucky, robbed or somehow emerged the moral victors. For the first time in my life I can't see it that way any more.

On paper we look like a half decent side, but sadly the points aren't decided on paper; they're decided on the pitch. There's a patent lack of confidence and the results have collapsed. Just look at the facts. We can't buy a point at the moment. No one has lost more games than us in the entire country. No one has scored fewer home goals than s in the entire country. No one in the Football League has fewer points than us. It's getting hard to keep a brave face.

Thursday, 1 November 2007

How to manage

I'm not sure beimg able to rant like Heather Mills is a sign of a good manager, but the common cry from Wrexham for someone to get stuck into the team's an interesting one. The question to ask's how would you react to a good rollocking at work? Would being screamed at double your productivity or demotivate you? If you work in an office would you really bust a gut if the boss abused you, or just feel a bit less guilty about the time you spend surfing the net when he's not looking? Likewise, if you work in a fast food joint a carpetting is surely more likely to make you spit in the burgers isn't it? I'm not saying motivation doesn't exist, or that it can be achieved only by the carrot, not the stick. However, both Arsene Wenger and Rafa Benitez seem to have won plenty without resorting to the hairdryer, though Wenger's occasional explosions are said to be spectacularly effective!

As if supporting Wrexham wasn't bad enough...

Most depressing fact of the year: John Arne Riise pays nearly twice my salary in tax EVERY MONTH!

Wednesday, 31 October 2007

What About Mackin?



So we're to have another central midfielder for Sunday apparently. Danny Williams and Mark Jones are injured, Andy Fleming, Matt Crowell and Conall Murtagh are not match fit so we need reinforcements.

Fair enough, but what about Levi Mackin? He had a good run in the team at the start of the season and looked good until he was swamped during the Aston Villa fiasco. And now, apparently, he's persona non grata. Bet he feels great.

Sunday, 28 October 2007

A Chance For A Get-together?

I wonder if the Peterborough game will give Brian Carey and Darren Ferguson a chance to reknew acquaintances, or will we be under new management?

Racecourse Anxiety Syndrome

There's a big obstacle which Wrexham must overcome before they can stage a recovery this season: home advantage.

I don't care what anyone tries to tell you; I'm convinced that playing at home has become an issue to the players, and until it gets sorted we'll be struggling.

You can tell by what is said after matches. Naturally, players' post-match comments often reflect what has been discussed in the changing room after the game, and an edginess about playing in front of the Racecourse crowd has been a recurring theme. Even more so, Brian Carey has often made reference to the importance of pleasing the home fans, and although he has gone out of his way to argue that it isn't a problem within the squad, I suspect he may protest too much.

The ironic thing is that, considering how poor our home form has been this season, I feel the Racecourse faithful have been pretty easy-going about it all. I accept this is not an opinion shared by all, and you get different impressions of the crowd depending on where you are in the ground, but I'd have thought that generally speaking a side which has been on a losing streak at home like ours would get a rougher ride.

I think the three reasons why the fans have been fairly easy-going are simple. Firstly, they appreciate the effort the side put in to surviving last season, and can see that any failings this season are not down to a lack of commitment. Secondly, Brian Carey has, through his years of honest service to the club, earned the fans' respect. No true Wrexham fan would boo his side lightly, which leads us to the final reason why there has been no real rough ride for the players; we're down to the hard core of our support.

Of course there have been cases of abuse towards the players, and that's never a nice thing to deal with, but by the same token it's also inevitable that when a few thousand people get together in the safety of a crowd, some will act unreasonably. It hasn't mushroomed into anything more widespread though. That's epitomised by the fact that a brief spate of booing as the farcical second Barnet goal went in had abated by the final whistle into a low level disgruntled mumbling.

Furthermore, the attendance's have sustained a surprisingly healthy level despite our troubles. When I think back to the mid-eighties, when a mid-table Fourth Division side scraped league crowds around the one and a half thousand mark, the turn-outs have been pretty robust.

I understand the players' nervousness that the crowd could turn; of course they could. Yet the problem is that this nervousness seems to be transmitting itself into their game, which can only perpetuate the problem. Look at how we had to cling on at the end against a clearly inferior ten man Lincoln as we froze in sight of a precious three points. There's a fear of failure which leads to players not taking chances, and when a player consciously plays within himself he starts making bad decisions.

So what's the solution? Well, the wonderful thing about football is that happiness is always just a good ninety minutes away. A lucky early break, or a day when a few players click or the opposition press the self-destruct button is all that is needed to make our travails at The Racecourse fade magically away.

However, hoping for something to turn up is nowhere near as satisfactory an approach as doing something about a problem, so here's a concrete suggestion. Let's try to forget what's happened in the past and make a double effort to get behind the side. If they come out to a terrific racket which sustains itself throughout the game next weekend then the players might just get the lift they need.

Monster Mash



Sunday's game will have more bearing on Wrexham Football Club's fate than any derby since, well, since we played them last season actually.

That bald fact illustrates quite neatly how we've lurched from one crisis to another so constantly in recent years that, like those twins in Big Brother, it's hard to tell where one ends and another begins. What worries me is that defeat on Sunday could pitch us into the deepest trough so far, a fact I've divined from reading the signs in my own home!

Last Saturday I missed my first league game in over a year as I fed my lad's addiction to monster trucks by taking him to see them in the Millennium Stadium. The cynics among you might suggest watching awkward giants lumbering calamitously around the pitch should be familiar to me. Shame on you!

I've done my parental duty, ensuring that while Ben's teachers tell him of the Tudors I've taught him about Jim Steel, as they've told him of the growth of the Victorian Empire I've filled his head with the conquests of Arfon Griffiths' side.

Therefore he was thrilled as we wandered on the pitch prior to the show and I pointed out the spot where Juan Ugarte flicked in the opening goal in our LDV Vans triumph. Trouble is, he started watching Wrexham the season after that, so to him that victory's an abstract historic event, set far in the past, just as Ugarte's merely an historic name. Sadly his perspective is becoming every Wrexham fan's.

His introduction to watching live football has been a season of mediocrity followed by an horrendous flirtation with The Conference which never seems to end. Maybe this is a good thing, as his character is built up by constant disappointment. He has certainly learned an important lesson in life; don't get your hopes up unnecessarily! However, our poor performances are having an inevitable result.

Naturally his faith in Wrexham is waning. He has a season ticket and goes to all the home games, but he's not totally sure whether he wants to go to the game on Sunday, even though the alternative is his worst nightmare; being dragged around clothes shops by his Mum!

It's understandable that a child might get frustrated at never seeing his team win; there are plenty of adults who are feeling the same way. It just goes to show how important it is that we turn things around, and quickly. I'm amazed by how well our attendances have held up considering our poor form, but it can't last forever.

The fact that Sunday's game is a derby match will mean we get a decent turn-out again, but a poor result and I dread to think how many fans will turn out next Wednesday for a mid-week game in winter when there are Champions League games to watch on television instead. We might be approaching the point where the dam bursts. Even a nine-year-old can see it coming.

Tuesday, 16 October 2007

What's To Be Done With Done?



Whither Matty Done?

I heard a phone-in on Talksport the other day which asked fans who was the first player on their teamsheet. It provoked the usual response as Liverpool and Manchester United fans called in from Kent to put forward the likes of Gerrard, Rooney and Ronaldo. However, it got me thinking; whose name would I put on the teamsheet first for Wrexham if I was the boss? One of the names that sprang to mind was Matty Done, but I'm afraid that current circumstances hardly favour the gifted winger.

To be fair, Done's impressive progress does tend to lead people to forget that he's still very young. Brian Carey and Denis Smith before him have wisely opted to nurture him gently, looking to avoid the dangers of over-exposure to the week-in week-out rigours of taking on lower league clogging full backs. However, the current 3-5-2 formation would appear to pose a more serious threat in his hopes of immediate first team involvement.

It's not as if an out-and-out winger like Done is incapable of filling this role. After all, when Denis Smith started playing it he had two very similar players on the flanks in the two Edwardses, Carlos and Paul, and converting to a wing-back hardly hampered Carlos' career did it?

Unlike Smith, though, Carey has already got two players who are well-suited to the role of wing-back in Neil Taylor and Simon Spender, and the side looks balanced with them on either flank. The experiment of playing Michael Carvill in that role illustrated the dangers inherent in playing an attacking player down the flank on his own.

And that's the point. Unlike 4-4-2 there's only one wide position available on the left. Unlike 4-3-3 there isn't the option of popping Done to the left of a front three. So where does he fit in?

Injury or loss of form amongst his rivals for the position hardly look likely to help his cause, as Ryan Valentine and Mike Williams are as natural as Taylor in that role. So where does he go from here? Is he to permanently be a substitute, only to be used when we need to throw him on to chase a game?

A switch up front is a possibility, but when he came on in attack against Lincoln he was clearly finding his feet: we won't get the best out of him there.

So what do we do? We've had problems finding the right place to play Mark Jones if we're going to get the best out of him; let's hope that doesn't happen with the next bright young thing to come off the Collier's Park conveyor belt.

The Rub of the Green

I don’t believe in luck. I think it’s invented by people who lack control of their lives and want to have something to cling onto.

There’s lots of superstition in football, and it has always amused me. Remember Alan Cork saying he wouldn’t shave until Sheffield United were knocked out of the F.A. Cup and then finding himself becoming gradually more hirsute as they surprisingly got to the semi-finals?

By the big day his grizzled beard made him look like Robinson Crusoe, and if they’d got to the final he would have resembled Shrek the Sheep, that poor cloud of a creature they found in a cave in New Zealand last year that hadn’t had a shear taken to it in its life!

What about ex-Chelsea striker Adrian Mutu, who believes he will always avoid bad luck on the pitch as “curses can't touch me because I wear my underwear inside out”?

Or Argentine goalkeeper Sergio Goycochea, famous for his heroic performance in the 1990 World Cup semi-final penalty shoot-out? He put his impressive penalty-saving record down to the fact that he urinated on the pitch before facing a spot kick!

Many Brazilian footballers take superstition a step further even than that: they believe it’s lucky to leave their new boots in a locker overnight with their old ones because they thing the older pair will teach the new ones all they know!

As you might guess from my disparaging tone I don't subscribe to such notions. I've never believed that there's such a thing as luck in football. You get slices of fortune because you are good. People used to say that Liverpool got too many penalties in the 1980s, but they spent more time in the opposing side's box than anyone else so they were bound to!

Likewise, I don't see why luck should even itself out throughout the season. Why should it? Each game is discrete, so why should a match next month be influenced by what happened last week?

Yet I'm starting to doubt. Is it just coincidence that ridiculous slices of bad fortune keep happening to Wrexham? We seem to get a new bolt out of the blue every couple of games at the moment. We've often been poor in the last couple of years, and that would explain a lot of our misfortune, but what about last Saturday? For two away games in a row we'd played well, we were completely in control with ten minutes left, then had our third ludicrous red card of the season against lucky Macclesfield, going on to concede two in injury time, the winner being a mishit cross!

It's tricky for someone who doesn't believe in luck to confront the notion that we might just be the unluckiest side around at the moment, so I’ve decided to stick to my principles and declare that there’s no such thing as luck! The fact that we haven’t had our just desserts in recent weeks, months, years even, is just an unfortunate pattern, and basic probability suggests that this pattern will soon change.

Before long our decent play will get a fair reward. Before long the misfortunes that have occurred to us will stop, and we’ll benefit from some good fortune. There’s no such thing as luck, and our season will pick up soon. Touch wood.

Wednesday, 10 October 2007

Incredible!

What a difference three days makes!

It's hard to believe the side which beat Accrington so comfortably last Friday was basically the same one which collapsed the previous Tuesday. Admittedly, the personnel had been tinkered with, but the shape of the team remained the same. More importantly, the players who remained from the Chesterfield debacle were different men, if you see what I mean!

I must admit I worried when I saw the team sheet before the Lincoln game. I was surprised to see us playing with three similar centre-backs, strong in the tackle and the air but not the quickest. Likewise, I wasn't sure about Michael Carvill as a wing-back. I've been very impressed with him this season; he might develop into a very good player for us. However, he's not the biggest and he has very little experience of such a defensive role.

As it turned out, the system worked fine against Lincoln. The centre-backs looked comfortable and Carvill's tenacity and pace enabled him to cover back well. We'd been good value for our win, the only criticism being that we hadn't taken our chances to beat Lincoln comprehensively. I left The Racecourse thinking I was wrong; the following game made me feel I was right all along.

The way Chesterfield took us apart, exploiting all the weaknesses I'd hoped were just in my mind, made you realise just how poor Lincoln were. Their lively strikers gave our back three all sorts of problems, and up against a German Under-19 international Carvill found himself exposed.

Subtle alterations to the side changed its balance completely last Friday though. We looked more balanced on the flanks through the inclusion of a more defensive right wing-back in Simon Spender, who played with the determination of a man aggrieved to have been harshly left out in the first place. In the centre of defence Shaun Pejic's pace was once more invaluable, and has more experience of playing in a back three than anyone else in the squad by virtue of his time under Denis Smith.

Further up the field things looked more coherent. Of course the form of Neil Roberts is crucial, as his ability to hold the ball up knits the side together going forward. On Friday he was outstanding, giving probably his best performance since returning to The Racecourse. Further back the energy of Chris Llewellyn in a more withdrawn role, popping up time and again behind their right wing-back, was a delight, and Mark Jones continues to return to something approaching his best form. I can't help feeling that if success awaits any side at this level that can harness the ability of a player like Jones.

And so we travel to Macclesfield full of optimism. Bearing in mind that we first tried a 3-5-2 formation this season against them and were totally dominant, we should be confident that once more we can impose ourselves upon them. The problem is, of course, that a team that can improve so dramatically might deteriorate just as quickly!

Tuesday, 2 October 2007

Accrington Agony

They say returning to the site of a trauma can be therapeutic. On Friday I'll find out!

Wrexham's world changed when we visited Accrington last season. Before that match we were looking forward to a promotion challenge, unbeaten in seven and playing with confidence. We didn't look like we'd let many in and were getting goals from all over the pitch. That all stopped at Stanley.

The real cause of our decline probably occurred the Saturday before, when Neil Roberts was injured early on against Swindon. The importance of losing him wasn't immediately apparent as we went on to beat Dennis Wise's side that day, putting an abrupt halt to their perfect start to the season. The loss of Roberts was masked by an effervescent performance from Jon Newby, but we all know now that it was a one-off!

We took a large following to Accrington, assuming the heroes of the season's cutest tale would just roll over and die before us. Accrington Stanley, who are they? We were about to find out!
Once we arrived it felt like a different world. The ground's in the middle of a pretty rum-looking estate, more “Supernanny” than “Location, Location, Location.” Bare-chested lads lounged on their bikes eyeing us languidly as we arrived in the car park.

I say car park, but I'm being generous. Basic? Let's just say I've never been nettled in a club car park before! As we left I noticed a sign, scrawled on a scrap of paper which was lying in the grass, saying the gates would be locked thirty minutes after the game ended. This was a problem for me as I stay behind to interview the players so I sought clarification from a bloke leaning against the gate smoking, which I took as a sign of authority. He said to ignore it as they don't lock the gate any more. The reason? During the last game the locals cut the padlock off the gate with some bolt cutters so they could see what they could plunder from the cars!

Inside the ground I was swiftly apprehended by a Norwegian groundhopper, here to maintain his membership of the ninety-two club by visiting the newly promoted club. He grilled me on the unwieldy name of the ground. I tried to explain that I wasn't from Accrington to no avail, showed him the name on the ticket and in the programme but still couldn't shake him!

Eventually I managed to extricate myself and made my way up to the press box in the back row of the stand. That'd be the sixth row, by the way! I found myself next to a local radio reporter who further got my back up by being the least professional person I've ever come across in the press.

He crossed the impartiality line and left it far in the distance, but wasn't as bad as when we lost 3-1 to them on New Year's Day though (Oh yeah, they hammered us at home too!) On that occasion while I was commentating, so there was no chance of answering back, he greeted their late winning goal by shaking his fist in my face and shouting “We need this more than you!” He was long gone by the time I'd finished broadcasting but I look forward to making his acquaintance!

As we overtook them on the last day I suppose he was right, but it didn't feel like it from January to May! Not that I'm bitter, but the fact that better performances against Accrington home and away would nit just have given us more breathing space last season, but also would have sent them down's galling!

Throw in an early chance to clash with Lee McEvilly, our most divisive player of recent seasons, and the Football League's failure to punish their breaking the rules on the registration of players for the second time in close succession, which would have spared us a lot of last season's stress, and you've got plenty of reasons to bear a grudge.

It was a cathartic experience to relive that, but there's only one real cure for the pain; a win tonight!

Sunday, 30 September 2007

Surprise Surprise!

There were many pleasures to be gained from the win over Lincoln, but one of the most pleasant surprises was the performance of Michael Carville. Not that I didn't know he was a good player; he showed promise last season and has played well on the wing already this season.

What surprised me was he could do so well as a wing back. To say I was shocked before the match when I saw he was fulfilling the role is an understatement. In fact, I tried to work out a different syste which we must be playing, as I couldn't believe he'd be used there (My theory as based on the unsuccessful use of Garrett as a right-sided midfielder last season, and an assumption he'd be used as a wing back, which was something of a disappointment!)

However, Carville made me take my reservations back. I was worried his small stature would be a problem, but it was never exploited-he battled for everything, made some aggressive tackles and was typically feisty, while going forward he kept offering us a pacy outlet on the break.

Whether he'd be equally successful against a better side we might discover on Tuesday; if that goes well we might see if we can get away with playing him there in an away game on Friday too!

Friday, 28 September 2007

Garrett's Back!

Brilliant news! Garrett is still inexperienced, but he's a battler and mobile, two qualities we need in the centre of the park. His arrival gives Spann more time to acclimatise and takes a bit of strain off Danny Williams too. The sooner we can return to the solidity of the end of last season the better, and if rebuilding that side's what it takes, fine-as long as Jeff Whitley doesn't come anywhere near us again! Just don't stick Garrett on the right again Brian!

Who's first on your teamsheet?

I heard a phone-in last Wednesday on Talksport asking fans who was the first name on the teamsheet for their side. We get the usual replies-Terry for Chelsea, Fabregas for Arsenal. So I asked myself, who'd be my first choice, and the answered worried me. I haven't got one!

To not have one indispensible player suggests we've got a problem. No-one to rely on when the going gets tough? No-one whose form is so sound you couldn't contemplate the team without him? Great.

Until lately I'd have gone for Danny Williams, and I'm still a fan of his, but his bad back has an effect on him, I think, and he hasn't been quite so influential lately. Likewise Mark Jones, if in form, and Juan Ugarte, if fit and at his peak, would be dead certs. But they're not and we don't have what the Americans call a go-to guy. I think at the moment it'd be a toss-up between Matty DOne and Michael Proctor, but I'm not firm on this.

Thursday, 27 September 2007

Racecourse Anxiety Syndrome

I'm getting worried by the noises coming out of the changing room about playing at The Racecourse. Too many people are saying they're desperate for the fans to be behind them, and I don't think they mean that in a critical sense. The line coming from the players is that they feel the fans have every right to be disappointed with the performances on the pitch and are anxious to give them something to cheer about.

The key word is anxious. It seems there's a genuine fear of upsetting the crowd, and judging by how many times we've heard such sentiments, it appears to be an all-pervading idea amongst the squad. Well, anxiety never leads to good performance, so it's an idea that needs to be purged from the club.

When you're in trouble, home form can haul you out, and the fans are, to my ears, not too harsh on the players. We need to make the most of home advantage and get the players to embrace playing at The Racecourse, not fear it.

There has been a lot of mockery in the press lately over Sammy Lee's decision to employ a hypnotist to prepare his players for the mental demands of the Premiership. The reports have been typically stupid, full of cliched talk of dubious characters with twirly moustaches making players think they're chickens. Seems to me that a person capable of getting through to the players that playing for our fans is not something to fear would be a big bonus.

I don't believe in early season 6-pointers but....

Saturday's an enormous game-Lincoln are the only side around with form so bad it can rival ours! They've lost four in a row and reading their fan sites it sounds like they're not looking too clever. We've GOT to beat them before we start to get cut adrift at the bottom of the table!

Tuesday, 25 September 2007

Robbo's still a key player

Dropping the captain is always a bold move, and often an indication of crisis.
Neil Roberts has not been on top of his game so far this season, and as we are finding goals hard to come by and Michael Proctor has been looking sharp, you could see where something was going to give.

I've been surprised by the enthusiasm of so many fans for him to lose his place though. Roberts has been apportioned an unreasonable share of the blame for our miserable start to the season, and the clamour in some quarters for him to pay the price has been unfair.

Yes, Roberts has not been himself this season. He hasn't been looking threatening in the box, but perhaps more crucially he hasn't held the ball up as well as usual, and that's his strong suit. I would have made the same decision as Carey, but to make him shoulder the blame is ridiculous.

There are plenty of reasons why we're struggling. A team functions well when all its constituent parts are working, and that plainly hasn't been the case this season. It's like when a player comes back from a lay-off and immediately succumbs to another injury. Because one part of the body has been weak, tries to compensate and, in acting unnaturally, creates a weakness somewhere else.

Likewise, while the attack has been taking plenty of flak for failing to score, the problem is much more deep-rooted than that. Has the service been good enough to allow them to flourish? While Roberts has not held the ball up as well as usual, is he totally to blame? We've been launching long balls at his head all season, which hardly plays to his strengths. If we wanted to play like that we ought to have brought in a six foot three target man.

Roberts might have lost his place for now, but he remains key to Wrexham's hopes this season. He remains a model professional and a leader at the club. For a measure of the man, look at how he has responded to being dropped. Rather than sulk, he went out and played in his old manner for the reserves on Monday against a strong Preston side. That's how you want to see a player respond.

Roberts has Wrexham in his heart; don't forget that he stayed in a hotel the night before the Boston game to ensure he was rested rather than brave the lung capacity of his newborn baby! In a time when fans have an unprecedented interest in what players get up to off the pitch, such commitment should not be forgotten.

Furthermore, he was responsible for one of the most crucial moments of last season, even though other, more eye-catching events have distracted us. With four games left we took on already-doomed Torquay knowing only three points would be enough to keep us on track to avoid joining them, but the performance was rather limp as the pressure got to the side. On came Roberts after an hour, returning from a three-week absence through injury, and with ten minutes left and a stalemate looking inevitable, he scored the only goal of the match. It wasn't a pretty goal, it was a testimony to his overwhelming desire to get his club out of the hole, as he forced his way onto a near post cross and got enough on it to squeeze it home.

That's just the sort of indomitable spirit we need to haul us off the bottom of the table. Roberts might not be firing on all cylinders just yet, but don't write him off.

Saturday, 22 September 2007

Keeping It Simple

Everyone's debateing what's gone wrong this season; well let's get to the point.

We haven't kept a clean sheet all season, and if we don't score at Stockport today we will equal the second longest run of games without a goal in our history.

Not scoring+letting goals in=bottom of the table.

Simple!

Thursday, 20 September 2007

Heresy

Here's a thought. Would we be more dangerous going forward if we'd kept McEvilly?

Comedy Ref's No Joke!

Criticising the referee after your team lose is the easy way out, but I was always one to take the path of least resistance, so here goes!

At the end of the commentary on Tuesday's match I described Darren Drysdale's performance as the worst I'd seen at The Racecourse in thirty years of supporting Wrexham. It was the sort of rash thing you say on the spur of the moment without thinking it through. However, having sat down in the cold light of day and weighed it all up, it turns out I was right!

Errors of judgement are natural, but when everybody groans at the identity of the referee before the match and he then goes and performs like that you really have to wonder!

Let me make one thing perfectly clear; I am not accusing Darren Drysdale of cheating, or even of a conscious bias against us. However, when he has constantly been given grief every time he takes one of our matches, he might well build up an unconscious aversion to us. The fact that our complaints against him have tended to be justified makes no difference.

Mister Drysdale has been in charge of our games twice before. In August 2005 he sent Simon Spender off as we lost 1-0 at home to Carlisle, and United scored the winner from the subsequent free kick, but that was nothing compared to his earlier masterpiece!

In March 2005 we led 2-1 at Swindon before Mister Drysdale took a hand, giving a daft free kick from which the home team equalised with less than fifteen minutes left, then awarding an equally laughable penalty to allow Sam Parkin to complete a hat trick and condemn us to a cruel defeat.

That's three of our games he has reffed. We've lost them all and in at least two of them his decisions have been the decisive factor! They do say that if you don't notice the ref he's had a good game; I wish someone would tell Drysdale!

In Italy clubs were able to refuse to have particular referees officiate their matches. This is obviously open to corruption as referees try to please the big clubs rather than be blackballed from their matches. However, I wish the Football League might consider keeping Drysdale away from us, for the good of all concerned.

Still look on the bright side. Tomorrow's referee is Colin Webster, and we've done rather better under him. We've won five of the nine games we've played under him, including the 5-3 win at Oldham in the LDV Vans Trophy Northern Final, on our way to winning the cup. He also took a 2-1 derby win at Tranmere in 2003 and away wins at Macclesfield and Hull on the way to promotion the previous season. Furthermore, he's never felt the urge to send one of our players off! Let's hope he keeps it up!

Thursday, 13 September 2007

Trouble Up Front

It's probably a bit naïve to be yearning for a goal-sniffer up front; after all, just about every team wants one. However, I can't help thinking that with a little more predatory behaviour in the box we'd have got off to a flyer this season!

That's not meant as a criticism of the current front two. Neil Roberts always worls hard while Michael Proctor has already been hitting the net as well as showing the qualities which have already made him a cult hero at The Racecourse.

The thing is, I see both Proctor and Roberts as the sort of strikers a fox-in-the-box would love to feed off, but how do you accommodate these two and a goal poacher in the same side? I sound like I'm just calling for Brian Carey to pack his side with eleven strikers on the basis that we're then bound to score lots of goals, as a five-year-old or Kevin Keegan might reason. 4-3-3 could be the answer, although I have reservations about that system.

So do we have a goal sniffer? Eifion Williams could be the man; his strike rate suggests he's the most likely goalscorer Carey currently has available to him.

His next league goal will be his seventy-fifth, more than anyone else in Carey's squad by some distance and although he missed a great chance aganst Hereford, at least he got into the sort of position consistent goalscorers get into.

Of course, it wasn't by accident that I said Williams is the most likely goalscorer available to Carey currently. It's not really healthy to speculate on the effect Juan Ugarte could make on League Two defences. After all, we've been asking that question for over a year now, so it's best to give him every chance to get fit and sharp again. However, seeing the ball rolling time and time again across the face of goal this season I couldn't help yearning for the Basque to be lurking in the six-yard box. Roberts and Proctor are both good strikers, but they're not that type of striker.

There is another option, though. Jamie Reed is a player who has consistently scored goals at reserve level, and I wouldn't mind seeing him given a go at some point. Being on loan at Aberyswyth should help his confidence. Already he's scored a hat trick in a 5-1 win against T.N.S. and followed it up wit a brilliant goal on his home debut.

I never felt convinced by Andy Morrell when he first broke into the team; his endeavour and enthusiasm were undoubted, but he looked to lack a bit of class to me. However, he had scored consistently in the reserves and the Welsh Premier Cup, and eventually that innate ability to stick the ball in the net showed through in the Football League, with spectacular results. I reckon Reed could well be on the same sort of career path.

Friday, 7 September 2007

Give Bri a Break!

The Hereford match was depressing but still, I can't believe there are people calling for Brian Carey to pay the price!
I suppose it shows that in football you're only as good as your last game but still, sacking the boss after your first home defeat of the season is hardly a rational response. Sure, it was a poor performance, but if Eifion Williams had taken that great chance Michael Carvill created for him then we'd have been level and pushing for a winner with twenty minutes left against a side who only had two shots on goal in the entire game. Football turns on incidents like that, which is why a man who oversaw our greatest escape just four months ago shouldn't be judged in the short term.
Perhaps it would be appropriate to mention that at this point in our finest ever season we were worse off than we are now! In 1977 we also had a new young manager, fresh from sterling service for us on the pitch, but after four games had three points and were still looking for our first win!
However, the board resisted the temptation to sack Arfon Griffiths and the result was a Third Division championship, a Welsh Cup win and runs to the quarter finals of both the F.A. and League Cups.
Likewise, in 1992 we had just four points after four games and had lost our two away games 4-0 and 4-1, while by this point in 2002 we had already lost 5-2 at home to Rochdale! Both seasons ended in promotion; evidence that rushing to judgement at this early point in the season is a foolish act.
I haven't agreed with all Carey's decisions, but that's hardly unusual. Show me a fan who agrees with everything their manager does and I'll show you a mindless sycophant! Football is a game of opinions; if we weren't able to argue at the pub or in work over the ins and outs of the game then it wouldn't be worth watching!
The decision to rotate the squad for the Aston Villa game was a misjudgement in my eyes, and perhaps we paid the price last Saturday. I don't think there's anything wrong with the idea of prioritising the league, but resting the spine of the side meant the team crumbled after an excellent opening half hour and morale was damaged.
However, we must remember that managers have to make big decisions. No manager in the history of the game has ever got them all right, but by the same token, fans have to bite the bullet and admit that sometimes we disagree with the gaffer and are proven wrong! For example, I remember the stick Brian Flynn received for signing Gary Bennett, but no-one could argue that it was a mistake now!
Carey showed excellent judgement in giving Levi Mackin a run in the side this season, and proved a few of us wrong. I didn't notice anything but praise for his summer signings at the time either. So shall we give him a chance to get the season going properly before drawing hasty conclusions? Sack in haste, repent at leisure.

Friday, 31 August 2007

Rotation Frustration

Brian Carey and Steve Weaver got a lot of experience last season of lifting their team up from the floor after a crushing blow. Considering the nature of Tuesday's defeat to Aston Villa they'll have to use those skills again before tomorrow's game.
There's no disgrace in losing to a Premiership side. After all, the result obscures the fact that for the first half hour we were the better side, and in the opening five minutes of the second half, when the score was still 1-0, we forced Stuart Taylor into two good saves. If either of those shots had gone in it would have been game on!
However, once Villa got their second you knew the game was over, and that was when the damage was done.
The nature of the line-ups made a big impact on what happened next. Often a side will take its foot off the pedal once it's in the comfort zone against a lower division side, but the eleven Martin O'Neill picked was never going to do that. He'd made six changes from the team that beat Fulham last Saturday, but that wasn't a reserve side he put out.
Instead, he'd packed his side with players hungry to impress and get a chance of a run in the first team, so rather than relax they pushed on, looking to impress the boss. Look at Shaun Maloney, who's been talking of moving on to get more time on the pitch this week, and has sent a message to his boss in the form of three goals, or Marlon Harewood, an expensive Summer signing who'd only made one brief substitute appearance before Tuesday, and kept going until he'd got his first goal late on. The result of such hunger was a margin of victory of five goals.
Of course, the fact that Wrexham prioritised the Hereford match also had an effect. Would the midfield have been able to withstand the impressive muscular athleticism of Nigel Reo-Coker and Isaiah Osbourne better with Danny Williams in their midst? Would the presence of Neil Roberts have given support to the admirable Michael Proctor? Would Matty Done have exposed stand-in right-back Craig Gardner with his explosive pace? We'll never know, although to be fair some of them were carrying knocks.
The key thing is how we kick on from here, a sentiment which has been alarmingly common amongst Wrexham fans over the last year. Carey and Weaver have succeeded in getting the side to react positively to knock-backs since they took charge. The low point of last season was surely that cruel home defeat to Notts County through an injury time own goal by Simon Spender, but we bounced back to win our next three games, two of them away to sides that reached the play-offs. That's how inspirational Carey and Weaver can be and they've got a much stronger squad now. We need to see that they've worked their magic again this week!

Monday, 27 August 2007

Goal Poacher Needed!

It's probably a bit naïve to be yearning for a goal-sniffer up front; after all, just about every team wants one. However, I can't help thinking that with a little more predatory behaviour in the box we'd have got off to a flyer this season!
That's not meant as a criticism of the current front two though. Neil Roberts has been as robust as ever up front, battling off all-comers and striving manfully to bring others into play, while Michael Proctor has already been hitting the net as well as showing all his usual qualities. Proctor is already a cult hero at The Racecourse, and quite rightly. His enthusiasm is endearing, but he also shows flashes of the quality which established him as a Premiership player with Sunderland, most obviously in the superb service he provided Matty Done with last Saturday.
The thing is, I see both Proctor ad Roberts as the sort of strikers a fox-in-the-box would love to feed off. They're both intelligent and creative, possessing the vision to spot movement and the touch to feed runners something they can run onto without checking their stride. The fact that they've scored all our goals this season is great, but if somehow we could get someone feeding off them we'd be laughing.
I admit I'm sounding rather naïve now. How do you accommodate these two and a goal poacher in the same side? I sound like I'm just calling for Brian Carey to pack his side with eleven strikers on the basis that we're bound to score lots of goals then, like a five-year-old or Kevin Keegan might reason. However, I was one of the few people who found the 4-3-3 experiment against Liverpool to be promising. I admit the way we chased shadows in the first half of that match wasn't too hopeful, and coloured most people's views of the system, but I'd like to point out that it was the same system which enabled us to win the second half 2-0 against a Liverpool side which was green but still packed with talent.
Of course the main beneficiary of that style of play was Eifion Williams, and I'd like to see what he makes of playing in a more central role. He looks sharp to me, and his strike rate suggests he's the most likely goalscorer Carey currently has available to him.
His next league goal will be his seventy-fifth, having scored more goals than anyone else in Carey's squad by some distance, as the next men in the list are Roberts, Llewellyn and Proctor on forty-eight, forty-four and forty-one goals respectively.
Williams' strike rate is better than the other three as well, so there's logic in playing the percentages and putting him in the middle.
Of course, it wasn't by accident that I said Williams is the most likely goalscorer available to Carey currently. It's not really healthy to speculate on the effect Juan Ugarte could make on League Two defences. After all, we've been asking that question for over a year now, so it's best to give him every chance to get fit again. However, when I saw the ball rolling time and time again across the face of goal at Darlington, Port Vale and Bradford I couldn't help yearning for the Basque to be making a typical run into the six-yard box. Roberts and Proctor are both fine strikers, but they're not that type of striker.
Even against Morecambe we missed chances in a tremendous first half performance. The fact that we hung on for a win rather deflected attention from the fact that we should have been three or four up at half time with the game already over.
There is another option, though. Jamie Reed is a player who has consistently scored goals at reserve level, and I wouldn't mind seeing him given a go at some point. He has looked lively when he's come on as a sub and missed a couple of six-yard box chances to win the game at Darlington last season. He might not have hit the net, but at least he was making the runs into those sorts of areas, and I'd like to bet he'd start putting them in give an extended run. Admittedly he's on loan toAberyswyth at the moment, but he's sing that opportunity to show that no matter where he goes he scores goals; did you notice that last weekend he scored a hat trick in a 5-1 win at T.N.S.? No mean feat! I never felt convinced by Andy Morrell when he first broke into the team; his endeavour and enthusiasm were undoubted, but he looked to lack a bit of class to me. However, he had scored consistently in the reserves and the Welsh Premier Cup, and eventually that innate ability to stick the ball in the net showed through in the Football League, with spectacular results. I reckon Red could well be on the same sort of career path.

Wednesday, 22 August 2007

Mister Spanntastic

Sven-Goran Erikson freely admits that he had not seen a number of his many Summer signings play in the flesh, video evidence proving enough to convince him to part with some hard-earned Thai cash. Good job he hasn't seen footage of Silvio Spann then, or we'd have been drawn into the quickest bidding war of all time.

If you want a bit of instant gratification, just type "Spann Trinidad" into youtube and sit back (I've tried pasting the links in but blogger won't have it-sorry!). It'll treat you to the most stupendous strike you could imagine-and the guy who hit it's coming to play for Wrexham!

It's a free kick from so far back you almost expect to see his keeper step up and tap it to him, but he launches it with terrific power, it seems to pick up extra pace half way towards goal, soaring sweetly to thud into the top right corner, beating an acrobatically futile leap from El Salvador's keeper to the screaming delight of the Latin American commentator, who howls “Siiiii Siiiii Siiiiilviiiiiooooooo!”

And it's not a flash in the pan either! Look at the other results from your search and you'll a free kick he took two days later against the U.S.A. from a similar range. It's equally outrageous; it starts off looking like it's going to go about five yards wide of the left post, then swerves so extravagantly that it ends up curling a yard wide of the other side of the goal. The keeper's desperate scrambling from side-to-side is a sight to behold!

And further evidence is offered of his dead ball skills by a video of the Trinidad team taking on Soccer AM's crossbar challenge. Each member of the team has to have a go at hitting the bar from the halfway line, hardly an easy task as Wrexham showed when they did it! No-one managed it and Mike Ingham nearly smashed a window in Holt! Guess which Trinidadian did it?
Of course anyone who thinks a player's bound to be good just because he has hit a couple of remarkable free kicks is an idiot, although I'd also argue that anyone who sees his team buy a player who can do that and doesn't allow themselves to feel a frisson of excitement is a poor excuse for a football fan!

Still, judging a player on selected highlights is a mug's game. Anyone looks good if you cut out the bad bits. The famous example of this is Savo Milosevic, bought by Aston Villa on the strength of a highlights reel edited together by his agent. Of course, we all remember Milosevic as a striker who was capable of scoring spectacular strikes-just the thing to make a manager's jaw drop when he sees them. However, we will also remember that for every net buster there were twenty shots that went flying deep into the stand behind the goal, or more likely well over it and into the car park of the adjacent retail park!

Fortunately, Brian Carey isn't so daft. Spann was first sighted on a scouting mission to see Trinidad play a friendly at Q.P.R. and has been tracked ever since. Other promising signs include the fact that Roy Keane saw enough in him to offer him a trial with Premiership Sunderland, and the fact that he hasn't come from our usual Trinidadian source.

I'm not saying that using the same agent to bring in our previous Trinidadians was a mistake, although it could sound like it in theory. If we hadn't got good value from them one might suggest that in operating as a gateway for a succession of Trinidadians to establish themselves in the Football League we were acting more in the interests of the players than ourselves, but the facts don't bear that out. Admittedly we had to wait for some of them to acclimatise, particularly Dennis Lawrence, but we got good performances from the likes of Lawrence, Edwards and Sam and none of them left in haste to climb the ladder.

Also, unlike the others Spann has already played outside his home country. The well-travelled midfielder has played in such diverse cultures as Croatia and Japan, so getting to grips with North Wales shouldn't be too tricky. Throw in the role he can play in helping facilitate the continuing progress of Josh Johnson and he looks like a very intelligent acquisition.

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