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


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!

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