Sunday, 31 August 2008

Always Look on the Bright Side of Life

Funny game football. You spend three years depressed then pop down to Wiltshire and everything seems fine in the world. Bang and the hurt is gone! You might caution me to show a little more perspective, but since when was supporting a football team, especially Wrexham, about getting things into context?
Or am I wrong? Perhaps I should look at the bigger picture. We were all moping around about our poor away form last week, but haven't we lost just one of our last five away games? Didn't we score four in two of them? Aren't we in fifth place despite having four away games in our first six games? And despite coming up against some stiff opposition in those games: the pre-season title favourites (beaten 5-0), the pre-season second favourites (beaten 2-0), a side at the top of the table (beaten 4-1), a side which would go top if they beat us (1-1 away draw which we dominated). Perspective's not such a bad thing!
Perhaps the best thing though, is that we're actually watching a competitive Wrexham team. Forgive me for stating the blindingly obvious, but the last three years have been a bit tough haven't they? Watching Wrexham scratch around for enough points to survive was grim, but all of a sudden we are going into games thinking we can win them. Even if things don't pan out as we want them to at the end of the season, it's nice to have a campaign where we can actually enjoy the ride. At last we have hope (possibly that's linked in with the fact that we don't have Hope!)
Of course I cast envious glances at League Two, where history suggests we really ought to be. I feel particularly aggrieved when I look at the situation at the bottom of the table. With Luton, Bournemouth and Rotherham hobbled, there's no way anyone else will be going down, so it'll be a nice stress-free season for the genuine no-hopers in that division. For heaven's sake, even Chester won't be able to get themselves relegated!
Remember that season when we finished bottom of Division Four but stayed up because the league was being restructured? It gave Brian Flynn the chance to blood young lads with no great pressure, take the long view and plan for the future. And the result? The next season we beat Arsenal, the season after that we went up and were an established side in League One for most of the nineties. Happy days! If only Little could have been afforded that luxury.
Still, there's no point in focussing on what might have been. If my auntie had wheels she'd be a bus, as the Germans say (apparently!) Another handy way to build for the future is to drop down to a level where you can get promoted and create some forward momentum. Carlisle did it, Doncaster did, so let's see if we can emulate them.

Monday, 25 August 2008

Altrincham Podcast

The Altrincham podcast is now up at featuring Brian Little and Darran Kempson.

Little Raises The Bar

So what's going on with our away form? It's a bit early to be concerned, but the contrast is pretty graphic: a hundred percent record at home, but we've claimed just twenty-two percent of the points available away from home, and we'll do well to improve that percentage at Salisbury! After all, they're going well and appear to be a higher grade, more extreme version of what Altrincham were; organised and physical.

And full time of course. Last Monday was our first taste of action against a part time side this season, and while I don't want to fall into the trap of claiming they're easy games, when you lay down the facts you can see why we were looking for a win.

Having played much of their 4-0 defeat just two days ago with ten men, they were not only in poor form, but would surely flag considering the fact that Wrexham had enjoyed two extra days recuperation time and their small squad was stretched to the limit by suspension and injury. After all, their aging but potent talisman, Colin Little, had gone into last Saturday's game carrying a knock and was withdrawn early in the second half having been totally ineffective.

But they stifled us without looking too stretched.

That's why Brian Little seemed more annoyed after the game than I've ever seen him at a press conference, and when you think of what his side did last season, you begin to realise that's a pretty dramatic statement. It would take a bit to ruffle Little's sang froid in front of the press, although he's entertainingly animated on the touchline-when Kyle Critchell squandered a good position halfway through the second half at Altrincham Little was bouncing-I thought he was going to turn himself inside out!

Still, the air of exasperation as Little explained that the players had been told to do the same to Alty as they did to Oxford was new to me, as was his singling out of three players as being adequate, while the thers had fallen short of what he consideredto be acceptable.

I think this is an encouraging sign. In his first season Denis Smith inherited a similar situation to Little; we were on a downward spiral and looked in danger sinking without trace. Neither man was able to turn things around and we were indeed relegated both times, but the demeanour of these two experienced managers offers a contrast.

Smith was memorably erascible in his first season. Mention is often made of the post-match tirade he launched at Exeter the following season, but it was an isolted display which helped is to go up-we didn't lose another game all season, no doubt because the players were terrified of provoking a similar dose of the hairdryer again! However, it seems to be forgotten that in his first season in charge he was often like that!

He'd often berate reporters for their questions (almost always the ones from the BBC, some of whom would put themselves in the firing line in a remarkably gauche manner), would complain about their time-keeping on occasion or even question who some of his questioners were! I recall one awesome tirade after a loss at Swindon which certainly had to be tidied up before it was printed in the Leader! I had to put a bleep in the Supporters Association's podcast for the first time this week when a word slipped inadvertantly from a player's lips, but if I'd been producing the podcast that night there'd have been more bleep than speech!

But Smith relaxed once the season was over. Little's approach seems the exact opposite. Perhaps he had to accept the inevitabl last season, especially as the season wore on, and he was able to put our demise in context. This season he's less happy to accept inadequacy, to explain on his players behalf that although their efforts were not good enough they did do their best. the implication at Altrincham was that merely doing their best is no longer good enough for him. He has compiled what he thinks is a strong side and he expects them to succeed. If that's the case, it's exactly what I want to hear!

Tuesday, 19 August 2008

Fixture Delight!

There might not be a game on Saturday, but does this weekend marks a watershed in our season already? I'm not being daft; I know nothing is decided at this point of the season, and the drive back to Rushden reminded me to be cautious. You can't listen to a procession of twits on radio phone-ins handing the title to Chelsea and writing Manchester United off after one game without being reminded that nothing is won in August. However, I do think we're already reached a key juncture in our season.

I heard something bizarre the other week; the Conference fixtures are not compiled by computer, but by one person! Apart from the terrific waste of time and effort, the thing that struck me was how open to accusations of favouritism the Conference is. When I read our opening four fixtures, I wondered if we'd done anything to offend the fixtures man! Four genuine promotion contenders were lined up to test our credentials just as Brian Little was looking to bed down a brand new line-up; it looked like just the sort of test a club which, as Little admitted last season, was used to defeat, didn't need.

However, we're through them now and, on paper at least, have a few games which look rather more winnable. If we're to kick on and establish ourselves at the top end of the table this is where we'll do it, I feel. We've got to learn to bully the small teams, frankly. Getting into a winning habit is something we haven't experienced for a few years, but we'll get a chance to do exactly that now.

The most lop-sided element of our fixtures is our home programme, though. We have a tough run at home until mid-October; our first seven home games are all against sides who start the season looking to be part of the promotion race. After that things change dramatically. In fact, the visit of Cambridge in January is the only visit by one of the sides considered to be contenders at the start of the season.

Dai Davies said in The Leader's season preview that he felt home form would be the key to our success this season, and he's right. The geographic isolation which will make following the side something of an expedition also offers us an opportunity to establish The Racecourse as a fortress. Already a trip to North Wales seems to be a big deal for most of the other Conference sides. We're viewed as a big club, and a trip to an international venue, the second biggest in the history of the Conference after Carlilse's Brunton Park, is a big deal for them. It's our job to make coming here feel like an ordeal rather than a big day out! I enjoyed reading the Tony Adams' version of Arsenal's defeat to us in his autobiography, as it made Wrexham sound like some grim, isolated outpost in the back of beyond whose inhabitants strike fear into careless travellers who accidentally wander into their territory.

I don't know if he watches “The League of Gentlemen”, but his description of Wrexham made Royston Vesey, the macabre, grotesque outpost which proclaims “You'll Never Leave” on the signpost welcoming you into the town, sound pretty tame. And that's fine by me! If teams are scared of coming to North Wales, if they see us as unwelcoming types who'll send them home with their tails between their legs, if that helps us to ruthlessly take full points off a succession of opponents, then that's fine by me!

The Lowdown on Jeff Louis

A new Dragon Talk is now up at, featuring the inside story on Jeff Louis.

Monday, 18 August 2008

Is Mackin the Key Man?

There don't seem to be many people eager to advocate Levi Mackin's virtues, but the performance against Rushden made me wonder whether he isn't a very important part of the side. After all, Tom Kearney was a lot more effective than he was against York, when Christian Smith didn't cover the same amount of ground in support of him.

Perhaps Mackin, who was full of beans at Nene Park, is more importnat to the balance of the team than people give him credit for. I certainly hope he can take confidence from what happened on Sunday and make a good fist of this opportunity.

Tuesday, 12 August 2008

Poor Old Levi!

I know fans are divided over the merits of Levi mackin, but no matter which side of the fence you sit on over that particaular debate, surely you've got to feel sorry for the guy? Not for the first time, a chance to establish himself in the side has met with frustration.

Brian Little summed up his red card against Stevenage perfectly; it was probably the wrong decision, but Levi was rash to take that risk. Sliding in from behind is daft when you're on a yellow card already, especially considering it was the first day of the season when officials look to establish a disciplinary benchmark and the ref had already shown himself to be erratic, to put it kindly! However, he did seem to play the ball, and there doesn't seem to be much doubt that his intention was undoubtedly to do so.

However, the red card was shown, and Mackin suffers an abortive start to his season. Again.

This looked like his best chance of establishing himself as a regular in the side at last, as for four years he's been on the fringes without quite getting a foothald in the first eleven.

He had a run of seven late substitute appearances at the start of the 2005-6 season but never quite made the breakthrough into the starting line-up and faded away, despite establishing himself that season as an all-action captain of the reserves.

A similar scenario played itself out the following season, but last year it looked like a corner had been turned. He was a beneficiary of a strange team selection, but ironically his big chance was also thwarted in the same manner. Brian Carey rested most of his first team for a League Cup first round game at Port Vale and was rewarded with one of the few good performances of the season. We drew with our higher division opponents, winning on penalties, and even Richard Hope looked good! Perhaps the most notable performance came from Mackin, who bossed midfield and was rewarded with a run of starts in the team in which he showed off his key attributes of energy and tenacity to good effect and looked like he might finally be approaching that moment every pro encounters where he proves his worth or perishes.

Sadly, his cause wasn't helped by a second quixotic team selection. The reward for beating Vale was a home tie with Premiership Aston Villa, and the decision to once more rest key players was to have far-reaching, catastrophic consequences. We were hammered 5-0, the first of five consecutive defeats which, for me, triggered our dismal collapse to Conference. It was a silly, self-inflicted wound and it hurt Mackin badly.

He had established a robust partnership with Danny Williams, but Carey left the senior partner out, replacing him with Conall Murtagh. Now I rate Murtagh highly, but pairing two young lads in the centre of the park against a rampant Nigel Reo-Coker did neither of them any favours, not least because Murtagh had spent the afternoon in an exam and travelled to the game by train believing he would be a spectator! The damage to Mackin was catastrophic. His confidence looked battered and although he started the following Saturday he looked poor and was replaced with a quarter of the game left. Inevitably he lost his place in the side; after one more appearance on New Year's Day he was shipped off on loan to Droylesden.

Brian Little seems to be taken by Mackin though. Whether he gave him a few starts at the end of last season because he saw smoething in him or because he needed to establish whether he should be released we'll never know, but the manager was certainly pleased with how Mackin responded. And so, for the first time, he was in the starting line-up for the opening game of the season, but once more he was thwarted in his hopes of becoming a regular by suspension. Like Little, I've started to what Mackin can offer the side; I hope he can overcome this set-back, and start avoiding the accidents that seem to little his progress.

Sunday, 10 August 2008

Borough Better Than You Think

No Wrexham fan expects us to swan into the Conference and sweep everything before us-two years of awful football have taught us not to have grand aspirations! Ironically, the 5-0 beating of the pre-season title favourites last Saturday has only reinforced that sense of respect for the Blue Square Premier.

Stevenage might have defended poorly, but their approach play was superior to virtually anything we saw in League Two last season. Their commitment to keeping the ball on the floor was admirable, although it was costly when their defenders tried to pass from the back and were pressed by an ernergetic Wrexham side which had done its homework well.

Perhaps the only area in which Borough compared poorly to Football League sides was their finishing. Despite splashing out on some established Conference strikers, they were wasteful in front of goal. Opponents last season would have punished us given the number of opportunites Borough created.

Still, their ability to move the ball around was impressive. If that's the standard we'll face this season we'll see a lot more quality football at The Racecourse over the next nine months.

Saturday, 9 August 2008

Stevenage Podcast

The Stevenage podcast is now up at featuring Brian Little, Sam Aiston, Gavin Ward and Graham Westley.

Stevenage Vlog

Stevenage Vlog
Video sent by WrexhamFCTV

Rich and Mark reflect on an incredible opening day of the season

Wrexham Calendar