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.

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