Monday, 25 August 2008

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 After all, their aging but potent talisman, Colin Little, had gone into last Saturday's game carrying a knock and was withdrawn early in the second half having been totally ineffective.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!

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