Monday, 30 November 2009

A Matter of Balance

Christian Smith's suspension leaves Dean Saunders with no option but to wrestle with an issue which is coming to define our season: the balance between defence and attack.

He knows that in Smith and Andy Fleming, a pairing who have been fixtures in the centre of midfield for a while now, he has a duo who offer admirable protection to our defence but are less effective creatively.

He might be tempted to take a chance and select a more inventive player, but that nagging doubt which always afflicts managers is there in the back of his head: can he afford to? Defeats get managers sacked, and whereas it's easy enough for us armchair experts to urge approaching games with abandon (after all, it works for us on Football Manager 2010!) it's not so easy to let go when your head's on the block.

But will Saunders grasp the nettle now? Lacking Smith for three games, two of which are at home, offers him a chance to be more progressive. Of course he has a wide range of central midfielders to choose from, having collected them as obsessively as a ten year old schoolboy amasses Match Attax cards (and believe me, that particular line of acquisition is just as expensive!) As their names suggest, Tsiaklis and Taboubi represent the more exotic option, while Fairhurst would be a safe pair of hands. An option I don't expect to see Saunders take would in many ways be the most intriguing though, and would certainly go down well with many Wrexham fans; does he dare to unleash Mark Jones in a central role?

Saturday, 28 November 2009

Swindon Podcast

The Swindon podcast is now up at featuring Dean Saunders, Wes Baynes, Gareth Taylor and Swindon skipper Gordon Greer.

Friday, 27 November 2009

Will Gareth Taylor Suffer From Robbie Keane Syndrome?

The cup tie tomorrow will, no doubt, see Dean Saunders fall back on his most experienced and reliable performers, and there can be no doubt that Gareth Taylor falls into that category.

Yet the Kidderminster game posed an interesting question. Look back at last Sunday: Robbie Keane is a fine player and has been a regular for Spurs, but things haven't properly gelled up front for them despite their abundance of attacking options. Last Sunday Keane was rested and suddenly they clicked, Peter Crouch getting two and Jermaine Defoe hit five! Selecting a football team is about finding a blend, not picking your best players.

Central to Saunders' plans, Taylor has delivered and is not just our top scorer, he's our only scorer. Strong, willing and the one playerwe've got who you'd fancy to take a chance on the rare occasion one presents itself.

Yet Tuesday's game posed a vexing question; are we better when he isn't playing?

It seems a ludicrous question on the face of it; after all, without his goals we'd probably be in the bottom four.It's horrendous how reliant on one player's goals we are.

Yet the Kidderminster game, which Taylor missed with a knee injury, was an eye-opener. Okay, neither of the strikers who replaced Taylor have scored this season, a worrying state of affairs when you're virtually in December.

However, it was most fluent attacking performance for some time. Admittedly neither Marc Williams nor Adrian Cieslewicz were particularly clinical in front of goal, but their enthusiasm caused all sorts of problems and their movement meant suddenly we started playing football!

Saunders knows he has an issue of balance to resolve in his team; Christian Smith and Andy Fleming are both having good seasons, but neither of them have really offered much creativity. We look very solid with them protecting the back four, but we don't pass the ball through midfield quickly or penetratively. Until Tuesday. With Williams dropping off and Cieslewicz looking for balls to chase, suddenly we looked creative, rather than desperately hoofing the ball to Taylor.

So what happens tomorrow? Taylor will start, and I'm not saying that's wrong, as he's been crucial for us this season. But who makes way, and will we be hankering back to Tuesday as the game wears on?

Tuesday, 24 November 2009

The Pressure Can Swallow You Up.......

I was recently reading a quote from Chris Hargreaves who was in the Torquay squad that achieved the dream of regaining league status last year.

He said "You'r suddenly thinking that if you don't do well in the next few games, people will write you off and your careers over. If you aren't winning at half time there are likely to be boos and that doesn't help. That's a big fear to hang over your head and while it's a big driving force to make sure you do well, it can swallow you up and very good players drift out of the game".

After the reaction against Hayes & Yeading as we go into a run of three home games that was thought provoking for me and an insight into a players psyche. Before the fans start booing the players and the manager, and I don't deny anyone who has paid their money the right to do so, but perhaps we should consider that by getting rid of our frustrations are we actually making the situation worse?


Sunday, 22 November 2009

Alan Green and Russell Brand-Spot The Difference!

How come Jonathan Ross and Russell Brand are hung out to dry by a BBC concerned by perceived damage to their lofty reputation, when Alan Green is apparently their blue-eyed boy?

I'm not objecting to the grim work he does, or his rampant egomania (I love this reference to him as "Alan Green's Favourite Football Commemtator! EVERYTHING is about him in his broadcasts!) I'm objecting to the fact that, morally, he's worse than the afore-mentioned duo.

Proof? Well, consider this (oh, and don't worry, there will be a vague mention of Wrexham at the end of this, I swear!) What Ross and Brand did was undoubtedly ill-advised and disrespectful (and, come to mention it, skilfully exploited by Andrew Sachs, who who relaunched a moribund career off the carefully cultivated publicity and got a part in Coronation Street!) Surely advocating violence is a worse offence? Yet Green, always desperately looking to assert his machismo (that's his ego's default position), does so consistently.

Read the above link through and you'll see reference to how he has said that participants in a Mexican Wave "should be shot!" I'm sure he thinks that's funny. Sadly, on the way to Histon yesterday, I was struggling to see the funny side of his take on the Thierry Henry incident. He castigated Richard Dunne, saying he was disgusted with the centre back for speaking to Henry after the final whistle! Instead, he said he "should have punched him in the face. I would have."

Let's remember, this is the considered view of an experienced commentator, a full three days after the dust had settled. Just so you're clear what the BBC's official line is on the incident, by the way, Mike Ingham, their Chief Football Correspondant, then weighed in to say he totally endorsed "everything Alan said", and went on to hysterically demand that when the FIFA Fair Play flags come out with the French team in the World Cup, they should be burned on the pitch. Dear God!

So the official BBC line appears to be that handball is worse than violence. It puts the hysteria over Henry into context. It's a classic example of an issue being taken up and blown out of proportion by the wider media. I've found very few people who are knowledgable about football who think this reaction is warranted-everyone I asked in the pressbox at Histon, for example, thought the issue should be dropped as the notion of a replay over such an incident was a joke. It seems to be people with a passing interest in the game, and celebrity reporters who want to jump on a bandwagon.

I met Alan Green once. It was as I was waiting for my press pass before the 1997 F.A. Cup quarter final at Chesterfield, and he turned up in the queue behind me. Disturbed that no-one turned round to acknowedge his arrival, he started talking ostentatiously loudly to get everone's attention. Then the girl who was sorting us out asked him for his name and went off to get his pass. Once she'd gone he started laughing incredulously at the fact that she didn't know who he was, before relating an equally hilarious tale of the other time in his glorious career that one of the little people had made the same faux pas! He's a lovely man, as you can see here.

Of course, his posturing was over by the time she came back in earshot. If she'd heard him mocking her, I like to think she'd have hit him. I would have.

Histon Podcast

The Histon podcast is now up at featuring Dean Saunders, Frank Sinclair, Mike Williams, Marc Williams and Gareth Taylor.

Friday, 20 November 2009

No Replays Thank You!

The World and its wife wants france to replay their game with Ireland-even Thierry Henry (clearly under advice from his PR team!) agrees! Well, before jumping on the bandwagon, look at this:

That was from earlier in this campaign, when the Irish were losing with twenty minutes left to Georgia, but were given a lifeline by that imaginary penalty and went on to win 2-1. The referee ignored the linesman, who was rightly flagging for offside in the build-up, and, in case you were wondering, gave the penalty for offside when, at the end of the replay, the ball brushed a defender's chin with his hands by his sides!

The crux of the matter, for me, is that the Irish F.A.'s chief executive, in his appeal to replay the France game, claimed "the integrity has been questioned." Yet oddly, he wasn't rushing to offer the Georgians a replay on that occasion! Hypocrisy? Never!

I remember Craig Faulconbridge scoring a goal which the ref didn't give despite the fact that the ball hit the support inside the net and bounced out, saw another Wrexham goal disallowed because the ref thought a steward's high-vis jacket was the linesman's flag (I think that was Faulconbridge too, poor chap!) and once we were knocked out of the League when a Neil Roberts header which would have put us through, wasn't given despite it going well over the line.

That's why I'm not up for video evidence. Why should certain teams qualify for a different level of justice than us because they have a higher profile? Our games are videoed, but there's absolutely no chance of such action being taken over a controversial incident involving us. (If there was, there'd be more than Lamine Sakho getting punished after this, I suspect! Particularly, keep your eye on the foreground around 1.56!)

Let me put a scenario to you. We get to the Fourth Round of the F.A. Cup (I never said it wasn't a far-fetched scenario!) and draw Wigan away. In the previous round, they sprung a surprise by knocking Manchester United out with the aid of a video replay decision in their favour, yet if we, in the same competition, had been involved in an identical incident, in Wigan's situation, we wouldn't have had the same form of justice meted out to us; we'd just be out of the cup. So teams get different levels of justice in the same competition, which surely can't be right. And, we'd have lost out on a huge pay day at Old Trafford. I'm getting so angry at this imaginary loss. We could have rebuilt the side with that cash! The integrity of football has been questioned!

Thursday, 19 November 2009

The Wrath of Dean

I've been waiting all season for a chance to use this picture!
Dean Saunders' interview with the BBC this week neatly encapsulated what I've said before about the tense relationship between the Wrexham boss and the corporation.
I can understand his feelings, on a personal level, as no one likes being criticised for how they do their job. However, it comes with the territory when your job's in the public eye

Sunday, 15 November 2009

Carey Shouldn't Carry The Can

Saturday’s performance was rank, no two ways about it. I was asked afterwards if I’d put it in my worst ten Wrexham performances. I’d put it in my top one. It was embarrassing.

However, one of the things which upset me most about last Saturday’s fiasco was that Brian Carey was left carrying the can. It wasn’t Carey’s team, but he had to come out and face the music afterwards, and had to address the question of where Dean Saunders was when, quite frankly, it wasn’t his question to answer.

What Saunders decides to do when an under strength Wales have a hastily-arranged friendly, and what the board decide he ought to do in those circumstances, is up to them. It’s not down to Carey.

Carey’s time as manager had to end when it did, and the decision to appoint him has been cast into further relief lately with the sacking of Darren Ferguson, the man passed over for the job. That’s all irrelevant right now though. The past is the past. What is relevant is that Carey, an outstanding servant of the club and a thoroughly genuine and decent man who feels Wrexham’s suffering very deeply, was thrust into a ridiculous situation last Saturday.

It made me think of a farcical state of affairs which, bizarrely, is commonplace in one of Europe’s top leagues. Incredibly, and uniquely in Italy as far as I’m aware, managers remain under contract to their clubs after they’re sacked, until they get a new job. Therefore, if their successor is sacked before they find a new employer, they are contractually obliged to stand in as caretaker at the club that dismissed them!

Carey was in the same daft position. The bottom line is that it wasn’t his side which played so utterly abysmally against Hayes and Yeading. Or should I say it wasn’t his team which made Hayes and Yeading, who were in the Conference South last season and had won just three out of seventeen games previous to last weekend, look like a team of world-beaters. But he was left to carry the can.

I’m not going to be a slavish apologist for Carey; I can’t pretend I agreed with every decision he made. Particularly, I couldn’t work out why, with one substitution already made, he opted to change his left back at half time when nothing was happening creatively, meaning either Adrian Cieslewicz or Marc Williams wouldn’t be coming on later to turn the game.

However, his hands were tied to an extent. The bench he was given featured a goalkeeper for only the fourth time this season, so it was an outfield option down. This was a particularly surprising decision bearing in mind that we were fielding a player who, a week earlier, was unfit with a hamstring injury. Silvio Spann lasted just over half an hour and his options were further reduced.

So yes, it was awful. Yes, Carey made calls I didn’t agree with. But at least he was there to make them.

Friday, 13 November 2009

Things are definitely on the up!

Since the poor performance against Salisbury at the beginning of October we have gone 6 games unbeaten winning 4 and drawing 2 against the 2nd and 3rd side in the league on their grounds. This has to signify things are definitely on the up!
Two FA Cup bananas overcome albeit on both occasions with late goals and possibly the best 90 minutes all round performance against high flying Kettering. This has to signify things are definitely on the up!!
Four clean sheets in those six games and we have only failed to score in one of them. The manager has at last admitted something that has been glaringly obvious that we need another striker to help out Gareth Taylor but added to that Matty Wolfenden and Sam Russell are almost back to full fitness with Wolfy knocking in goals for the reserves. This has to signify things are definitely on the up!!!
Any one need any more reasons why we should all get down to The Racecourse and get behind the lads?

Oh and one final point good luck to our old mate Jeff "I was f***ing knackered" Louis in yet another move - this time to Rushden. He must have now had more clubs than an afternoon four ball between them!!

Things are definitely on the up!!!!


Monday, 9 November 2009

Efficency Over Beauty

I can't begin to tell you how uplifted I was at Kettering by our performance, or indeed how deflated I was for a spell in the second half last Saturday when I suspected it was all a dream!

Had I imagined the flowing footballl we had produced against one of the division's best sides, who were topping the form table going into the match?

It started to feel that way for a bit in the second half. I could understand why we found it hard to break Lowestoft down in the first forty-five minutes. They set themselves up to spoil, and we were faced with breaking down a stubborn side which left one man up while the rest were strewn as a series of speedbumps in our path. That's hard to play against, and I felt we'd create enough chances to get a breakthrough if we persevered.

The second half made me worry though. Lowestoft surprisingly came out to play-Ady Gallagher, their co-manager, said afterwards that he'd not wanted them to be so cautious at the outset and had sent them out to make amends after the break.

They were certainly eager, and deserve plaudits for the effort they put in. However, they really ought to have been put to the sword in those circumstances. Pushing on, they naturally left more gaps at the back, more space to run into behind them. I felt we should have been able to rip into them, but we didn't.

So I admit that, while commentating, I started feeling a little concerned. Thankfully we got the breakthrough and avoided the five hour trek to the furthest eastern outpost of the British Isles. But we needed an 89th minute fluke to do it. Still, talking to Neil Taylor after the game put things into perspective. He rightly pointed out that we needed to be patient, and in the end that approach had borne dividends.

And at least we’re getting a stroke of luck these days-how many years has it been that we’ve been on the receiving end of such misfortunes? A string of unconvincing wins will do me just fine.

Video Killed the Altrincham Star

I bemoaned last week that football can't be a level playing field at all levels, but something I've heard about subsequently has made me think again.

Altrincham player James Smith has been banned for three games by the F.A. for using his elbow on Mansfield's Jake Speight in an off-the-ball incident. None of the officials saw the incident so how, I hear you ask, could there be a case for him to answer? The explanation is simple: YouTube!

Yes YouTube, the agent's friend! Until now, it seemed its only use was in helping to flog mediocre footballers on to unsuspecting, rash clubs with more money than sense. A carefully placed, well-edited video can make any mediocre striker look like Pele! Expunge your dodgy keeper's errors with some creative use of Windows Movie Maker and you'll get half a million for your Lev Yashin save-alike!

Smith was caught when video of the incident was posted on the ubiquitious video-hosting site. The incident happens around the thirty second mark, and it's clear he did it. So fair enough, but the fact that Graham Heathcote, Altrincham's manager, has complained that this will lead to mobile toting fans bringing rough justice to players up and down the land. So what if they do? If it helps catch players out when they think, in the apparent safety of the Conference, their misdeeds will be obscured, then good! And anyway, that was the official match video on there, not a fan's video! It all smacks of the sort of sour grapes we usually get from Alex Fergsuon!

There's one question raised which makes me wonder though; if the official videos can be used like this, why doesn't this happen more often? Was it the fact that it was made public that forced the F.A. into action? If so, that isn't a great precedent.

On the other hand, if this leads to more scrutiny on the decisions made at our level, some of those dreadful Conference refs we've had to suffer lately will be having some sleepless nights!

Saturday, 7 November 2009

Thursday, 5 November 2009

Battering Kettering

Did you see that? I must admit that, in commentary, I found myself falling back onto a sense of incredulity that the Wrexham side which has looked so uncreative could suddenly burst into life so fruitfully.

Never mind the fact that we were denied at the close; if we keep playing like that, we'll win plenty of games this season.

That's the point though; if we can keep doing it. Let's hope we can build on a performance of actual quality and keep replicating it.
There was certainly plenty to work on. That lack of creativity I alluded to earlier was absent: Lamine Sakho and Curtis Obeng offered genuine threats on either flank, ably backed up by the full backs, and with the centre of midfield under our control.

Something which particularly pleased me was that we looked good against a side which played 4-3-3, a system I'd say we haven't looked all that clever against this season. We used the width I mentioned earlier to exploit the lack of width in the system, with the two Kettering wide men basically strikers, and finally necessitated a switch to 4-4-2.

Let's hope we can now replicate this in a couple of home games which, on the face of it, look very winnable. Lowestoft and Hayes will, I would imagine, not offer us such space behind their defence or down its sides as they won't come at us like Kettering tried to.

So can we crack a team open when they park the bus? We all know the season so far has been characterised by a failure to do so, but did the Kettering game show us that we are about to turn a corner going forward? I sincerely hope so!

The Numbers Game

Somehow the man from the Non Leageu Paper managed to award Ebbsfleet keeper Lance Cronin nine points out of ten.

Why? What did he do?

I checked my notes on the game and found my initial impression was correct-he was hardly inundated with on-target shots from Wrexham! He did win a couple of important fifty-fifties on the edge of his box, but the only save he had to make was deep in injury time when he denied Gareth Taylor from twelve yards.

It was, indeed, a good stop, although it's hard to give him too much credit for it as his horrible error led to the chance in the first place; he ran to the corner flag to take a free kick but thumped it against one of his defenders, the ball ricocheting into the box!

There was one other save he had to make, of course. Lamine Sakho's goal was driven across him from the edge of the box, and although he got a good touch on the ball he couldn't take enough pace off it to prevent the goal. At half time a few local reporters suggested he had made an excellent save and had been unlucky; as an ex-keeper myself I saw it rather differently. If I'd got so much onto a shot and it had still got through me I would have been furious with myself, and I assure you I wasn't a professional!

I'm not the only one present at the match who thought that if a player deserved a nine, it was Chris Maxwell, who made three excellent (and better) saves to earn a clean sheet and three points. He only got a seven.

I'm not saying this to attack any particular reporter, publication or player, I hasten to add. Quite the opposite; anyone who sticks their head over the parapet and gives their opinion on a public event ought to be respected for doing so, and it's not as if I have a monopoly on being correct about football! My concern is that sometimes fans who weren't at the game can be mislead badly by the media.

I think we're pretty lucky at Wrexham. The local papers offer genuinely considered reports, certainly far better than some I see in other publications, and the Non League Paper offers an excellent overview of Conference matters. You can get a very odd impression of what went on when following a game from afar though.

The points out of ten system has been around for a while, and is taken extremely seriously in Italy, where it has developed into something approaching an art form. In Britain it's far more slapdash. I've often seen reporters ask someone from the Wrexham contingent to give marks out of ten for our team. Ive been asked myself. Incredible; how difficult is it to watch a game and only look at one side!

The problem is that our impressions of what happened at a match can be governed by someone pulling facts and figures out of mid-air. We're lucky to have an analytical press when it comes to match reporting, and should always scrutinise the source of information on a game before assuming it's correct.

Wednesday, 4 November 2009

Wrexham Calendar