Monday, 27 December 2010

Blackburn Following in Carey's Footsteps

I'm starting to get Chris Blackburn. I wasn't sure about him at first, but I've begun to see his value to the team, and hopefully he'll follow the pattern of previous players I've taken a while to warm to. If he does, he'll be in pretty illustrious company.

I've overcome my reservations to end up seeing a player as absolutely key before. I wasn't sold on Tony Humes at first, as he seemed a bit on the short side for a centre back to me, and was prone to giving away free kicks. I soon came to appreciate his talents, though, as he led us to promotion.

Funnily enough, the other time I've looked at a player in is way was also about a centre back, and I must admit that I'm surprised at myself with this one. However, I have to confess that I had my reservations about Brian Carey at first when he signed permanently for us.

It was probably down to an inflated sense of expectation; having enjoyed two outstanding spells on loan to us, my excitement at landing him probably got the better of me, and I expected a Beckenbauer-like prowess in everything he did. I also recall a strange prejudice I has about the lack of yellow cards he got; I think I had a notion that centre backs ought to eat raw meat, tear dressing room doors off their hinges to throw them at their quaking opponents in the tunnel, and kick lumps out of them if they have the temerity to ignore that and venture onto the pitch. Carey didn't conform to that notion, as he has far too much class. He just stuck to what he did best; being a top notch centre back. Eventually I got it, and I'm hopefully I'll be able to praise Chris Blackburn in similar vein in the future.

Monday, 20 December 2010

Them's The Breaks

I've always been dead set against winter breaks, but I'm beginning to warm to them!

This is the second season in a row where it looks like our mid-season will be decimated by the weather, so perhaps we should accept the inevitable and not bother scheduling games when they're not likely to take place.

If clubs were less keen to take the shameful approach AFC Wimbledon took to our postponed game (and I say that with a heavy heart, because I have the same affection for them as many other fans do) then I might bot feel this way, but I'm not desperate to spend the winter hanging on the misleading proclamations of clubs who are willing to make me put my plans on hold and contemplate skidding my way across the country because they don't want to put local fans off from attending a game if, by some miracle, the 1% chance that will go ahead comes off.

Of course, my attitude towards winter breaks int he past has been coloured by a combination of nostalgia and perspective.

The nostalgic part of me enjoys freak football, likes the random nature of a game played with an orange ball on the snow, with the potential for hilarity it brings. Also, my perspective on the issue was always governed by the thought of hypocritical Premiership mega-clubs demanding a break for their poor, shattered players and then taking them all off for a lucrative tour of Qatar for a fortnight when they should be tucked up at home under a blanket, seeing how mawkish Noel Edmonds can be this year!

Being in non-league football offers a different reason not to have a break, which I have to take into account. During e recent cold snap, teams have been arranging friendlies rather than rest their players, because the lack of revenue coming throughout the turnstiles could hit them hard. I get that, but there's no reason why teams couldn't arrange a series of friendlies during a break. Equally, there's no reason why I should attend them, so there's no problem of waiting to see if a game will have the plug pulled on it. Surely friendly is optional and non-attendance won't incur the wrath of the football gods!

So, on balance I think we should have a break after all, and perhaps ditch FA Trophy replays to bot, although I can understand the FA's reluctance to do that as it would compromise their intention to give the tournament an equal footing with the FA Cup. I think something should be done out of respect of the travelling fans who are the lifeblood of the game; sadly, I suspect it won't be done before we play a waiting game over the trip to Barrow though!

Friday, 17 December 2010

Shearer's Bravery Goes Unrewarded

Spare a thought for Scott Shearer this Christmas. It can’t be easy for him to contemplate how his move to The Racecourse has panned out.

He’s a player whose pedigree is wholly at a higher level, an established Football League pro. No doubt he could have got himself a spot as a reserve keeper in League One or League Two last Summer if he’d wanted to.

I know the financial situations are different, but it’s the sort of decision you often see made at higher levels of the game, where a goalkeeper decides to sit on the bench and make some easy money; there’s a tradition in Italy of keepers doing exactly that, and as there are no reserve teams in Serie A it’s not unusal for a guy to make a handsome sum just for training!

However, Shearer is straighter than that and didn’t take the easy option. Although reports suggested his confidence had been tested at Wycombe, he chose to come to us as a first choice keeper and prove his worth. Sadly, things just didn’t work out for him.

Unfortunately for Shearer, the circumstantial evidence stacks up against him. He certainly didn’t convince in either of those two heavy defeats at the start of the season, and the stats are damning; they are the only two instances in the last year and a half we’ve conceded three goals in a game.

It would be unfair to lay the blame solely at his door, particularly at Forest Green, where although he looked shaky in the air and help to create a sense of unease in the back four with some of his decision-making, you couldn’t point the finger at him for any of the goals he conceded.

Worse was to come for him though. No one who was at Eastbourne could have forgotten the remarkably public dressing down he got from Marvin Andrews. I'm not saying it wasn't necessary. Andrews, making his debut and seeing our defence for the first time, realised something had to be done, and lectured Shearer on his indecisive decision-making. It needed to be said, and might well have been the turning point of our season as he forced us to face up to reality and sort ourselves out. However, Shearer's confidence might well have been the necessary victim of Andrews' reality check.

Straight after that match came the Kidderminster game in which Shearer became a target for harsh criticism from some fans. He showed character to fight back from that, but the die was cast. Never mind being a Football League back-up: soon he would be a Conference benchwarmer.

Another statistic is rather damning; we’ve conceded goals this season twice as often when he’s in goal compared to when Chris Maxwell’s between the sticks.

Maybe the poor bloke was on a hiding to nothing; after all, Maxwell has earned a lot of goodwill from Wrexham fans and most of us wanted to see him start the season as first choice. Shearer's decision to take him on for his place was, perhaps, always destined to end in failure.

Friday, 10 December 2010

Wrexham FC v Kidderminster Harriers FC Preview


Is Marc Playing For A Contract?

I've already said that circumstances suggest Marc Williams won't be offered a new contract as a Christmas present. His involvement in the squad since his return suggests I might be wrong; I certainly hope so! The question now is, if offered would he sign it?

That might seem like an odd question as it seems to be the accepted wisdom that Williams is desperate for a contract and, given the chance on the pitch, will battle like mad to get one. Well, he'll certainly battle like mad, but that's because it's in his whole-hearted nature to do so. I just can't imagine ever looking at Williams coming off the pitch and thinking that he'd left a shred of effort behind. Whether desperation to remain at The Racecourse would be a factor's a different matter.

I might be wrong; he might be very keen to stay at the club he has represented with honour throughout his career. But what have we done for him lately? Given him a short-term contract, just one short year after he was one of the outstanding players in our division, then farmed him out on loan so he could "play for his contract" while spending half his current deal out of sight. Then, two weeks ago when he returned to the bench, he stayed there even though the game was screaming out for his sort of enthusiastic endeavour, Mathias Pogba having been thrown on ahead of him to no avail. Oh, and we rather harshly released his brother too. That isn't how to make someone feel wanted, is it?

So perhaps Williams might decide, even if he does enough to earn a new deal, that he needs pastures new. That spell at Kidderminster might have helped to convince him that making a break from what he's known all his career might not be as big a wrench as he might have feared. And there's likely to be no lack of suitors; like I said in the last paragraph, it's not long since he was our outstanding player, and plenty of managers will be willing to take a punt on him because of that. Judging by the fawning commentary of Mark Cooper on Premier Sports when Kidderminster played Southport last month, there might well be a spot waiting for him in Darlington, for starters!

I hope I'm wrong. I'm a Marc Williams fan, and I'd love to attend his testimonial at The Racecourse in a few years' time. If he's offered another six month contract at the end of the month though, and in the current circumstances I suspect that's the best we'd come up with, I think I'd advise him to say no though.

Friday, 26 November 2010

The Ballad of Christian Smith

So Christian Smith has gone on loan to Newport County. It's an odd deal, but then that's in keeping with his bizarre career at Wrexham.

Few players have divided Wrexham fans like Smith in recent years, and I'm sure plenty of you have actually vacillated between one camp and the other as his career has waxed and waned.

There's nothing terribly surprising about that, I suppose. After all, players do go through peaks and troughs of form and young ones more than most. Probably due to his size, it's easy to forget that Smith is still a young, inexperienced player. Throw in Facebookgate and you've got one divisive character.

What throws me about him is how the way he's perceived seems to be in pretty much the opposite of how his manager sees him. He didn't show much promise under Brian Little, but seemed to be popular with the hierarchy at the club (if his rather public correspondance with Simon Brown is to be believed, because he was Martin Foyle's blue-eyed boy.)

Dean Saunders, on his arrival, seemed to be smitten by him (he did compare him to Franz Beckenbauer after all!) and seemed to see him as a bit of a project, to many others' bemusement. When he left after his social networking scandal, few people shed a tear. Foyle took him to York, where he couldn't earn a contract. It seemed he'd be a brief footnote in the club's history, and nobody was too disappointed by that thought.

Plenty were upset by his surrepticious return though. Quietly slipped into pre-season games, explained away as a favour to help him gain fitness as he looked for a new club, his eventual permanent return wasn't popular. Saunders gave him a regular place, and at first he seemed a negative cog in a moribund team. That impression was further encouraged by the fact that Saunders tended to encourage him to break forwards while Andy Fleming held, when surely the opposite configuration made more sense.

However, his form picked up, and by the Summer he was starting to look like Saunders might have been right in the first place.

The way he was pinging the ball around from the back in last Summer's friendlies even made Saunders' Beckenbauer claim seem understandable (to an extent!) Once he broke into the side he gave us balance as a defensive midfielder, finally playing in his best position, and hit a surprising seam of goals despite his deep position as well. It looked like he'd finally found his niche and was likely to show us what he could do.

Then suddenly nothing. He hasn't played since mid-September, amid rumours of a falling out with members of the management. Who knows what the reason is; the rumour-mongers are encouraged by the peculiarity of him hitting the best form of his life, then suddenly finding himself totally out in the cold for the first time.

So now he's sent out on loan to Newport. It seems very unusual that we should loan a player to a club which is higher than us in the table; is our desire to trim the wage budget such that we're willing to help our rivals? But why should I be surprised? Everything about Smith's career so far has been contradictory. Don't be surprised to see him voted player of the season by the end of the campaign!

Tuesday, 23 November 2010

Unleashing The Beast!

As smart moves go, signing Mark Creighton was right up there. Not only because he's a proper lower division centre back, but because he seems to have unleashed Marvin Andrews' inner beast!

It tickled me, when I was talking to Creighton after his debut at York, to hear him say that normally he's the centre back attacking the ball, but for the first thirty minutes of that game he just stood back and watched Andrews do it! It was Andrews' best performance in a Wrexham shirt-heck, it was as good a performance as I've seen any Wrexham defender put in for quite some time! And he was in similar form last Saturday!

There are, I'm sure, many reasons for this. Considering the fact that Andrews barely played in the eighteen months before he came to us, he has beared up remarkably well. You could see the ring-rust, and he'd suddenly make errors out of the blue (a certain penalty at Kettering springs to mind!) Perhaps that has worked itself out of his system now; certainly he's looking impressive.

Don't play down the importance in Andrews' form of his professionalism either. Saunders has often looked to bring in players with a good pedigree who, through age or injury, are drifting down the divisions. It's a high risk strategy that often leads to a Lamine Sakho or a Matt Jansen. It's no coincidence that of these signings, the three who appear to have committed themselves most professionally to their game, Andrews, Frank Sinclair and Gareth Taylor, who have been successful.

However, don't underestimate the importance of Creighton's arrival in Andrews' renaissance. Is it a coincidence that, when we bring in the sort of centre back who attacks the ball, dominates centre forwards and organises well, that his partner finds the best form of the season? That's not at all meant to be a criticism of the defenders Andrews has previously lined up with, but there's no doubt that he and Creighton look like an excellent fit.

Monday, 15 November 2010

Saunders On His Way?

It's scary to think I might have been right for once! If it's true that Dean Saunders is on a shortlist of five for the Wales job, then there's a genuine chance that he might not see the season out with us. Hate to say I told you so!

Of the five who are said to be on the list, two can surely be written off immediately. John Hartson might be hyperactively working the media, but what actual reason is there to assume he could do a good job? And using the opposite argument to Hartson's inexperience, Ian Rush's managerial career surely disqualifies him from landing a serious job.

Of course, you might argue that Saunders' Wrexham career has done a similar thing, but that's not actually true. If you were inclined to, you could argue he's showing that, given time, he can start to put something together, and anyway, his reputation coming to Wrexham was based on a reputation for coaching top level players. Also, the fact he's been working within the Welsh set-up, and was once reported to be Toshack's heir apparent, must count in his favourite.

That leaves us with three candidates. I'd put Saunders in third place behind two experienced candidates, with Flynn the obvious choice. But since when did the Welsh F.A. do the obvious?

Saturday, 13 November 2010

York City FC v Wrexham FC Preview


Wrexham FC v Luton Town FC Tactical Report


Wrexham FC v Luton Town FC Audio Highlights

fwluth10x.mp3 (audio/mpeg Object)

Bowing to the Inevitable

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Waiting to see if Marc Williams gets a new contract is a bit like waiting to see if Audley Harrison beats David Haye at the weekend. It ain’t gonna happen (If Harrison wins, expect to see an edited version of this opening paragraph on Sunday morning!)

I’m very sad to have to face up to the fact that Williams’ Wrexham career is over, but frankly I’ve been having to do that for the last few months. When Dean Saunders says he hasn’t made his mind up yet, he’s just delaying the inevitable, and quite rightly as a player should be told about their future face-to-face, not through the media. However, I’m sure Williams has worked out the lay of the land already.

I’m very sad about all this. Williams is a player of potential, who took the Conference by storm when he was last fit, two seasons ago. Let’s not forget that, if he hadn’t picked up that freak injury against Salisbury, he might have ended the season as top scorer in the division and we might have had a shot at going up. Isn’t it incredible how things can turn on such narrow margins and moments of fate?

Williams is still young and has potential. I know managers are paid to make tough decisions, and fully understand that Saunders is in a difficult position. He’s seen how it went when successive Wrexham bosses kept faith in another local boy, Mark Jones, in the hope he’d rediscover his form, and he wants to free some money up to spend on the wages of new players in the January transfer window. Adrian Cieslewicz’s new contract, which the young Pole deserves, means he has to look elsewhere for someone to remove from the wage bill. That means Williams.

However, I’m not totally sure I understand the logic behind keeping Williams, or for that matter Wes Baynes, on in the Summer bearing in mind what has transpired since. Neither have even been on the bench, and Mathias Pogba has overtaken both of them. If they weren’t going to be in contention, maybe that money their release will free up should have been available from the start of the season?

I’ll be very sorry to see Williams go; an articulate footballer with a lot more to give and an excellent attitude to the game is always going to be a loss. I wouldn’t be surprised if he flourishes somewhere else, and I richly hope that he does. Waiting for his inevitable departure’s been like waiting for Jack Duckworth to die though; once we knew it was bound to happen, it’s a relief to get it out of the way. Sadly, I’m sure Marc will reluctantly feel the same.

Monday, 1 November 2010

Beware of the Pog

A good judge, certainly someone whose considered view of football I respect, delivered a damning verdict on Mathias Pogba to me after the Southport game.

It interested me because I tend towards the considered end of the spectrum, reserving judgement until I'm pretty sure of my conclusion (and then changing my mind soon after!) I'm inclined to wait until I've seen Pogba start a few games before delivering any sort of verdict, and I've been fairly encouraged by the fact that he does tend to have some sort of impact after he comes on as a substitute. However, I can't help wondering when I'm going to get that opportunity without driving out of town to watch the reserves.

Admittedly, Pogba's a cheap option. Still, if he was going to be given a chance to start, wasn't the Southport game the best chance we'll get? After all, two of our front three are getting on a bit; what a chance to give them a rest and see what the lad could do!

After the game Saunders said he'd be looking to bring in a new striker. Fair enough, but what an indictment on Pogba and Adrian Cieslewicz (whose ratio of goals to chances stands at 100% this season by the way, although he could hardly have missed the one opportunity he had, of course! I reckon Saunders missed a trick by not giving Cieslewicz a go on Saturday too, by the way. After all, he was absolutely buzzing at Hayes after his goal.)

If neither of them are going to be given a chance to show what they can do, what role do they play for us this season? Permanent impact subs? Pogba certainly did make an impact off the bench at Histon, and afterwards Saunders pointed out the loss through injury of Cieslewicz for that match, implying he saw him as an important part of his lans. But are they trapped in a catch 22 situation; the more they do well off the bench, the more likely they are to stay there?

Saturday, 30 October 2010

Sunday, 24 October 2010

Fear of the Known

Dean Saunders made it pretty plain after the game: he wants a new striker.

Quite apart from the very reasonable question of where the money's going to come from when Danny Racchi (who took a chance for York yesterday, by the way) was at best paid next to nothing and Mathias Pogba appears to be in a very similar financial position with us. Still, Saunders is in the market apparently, so let's think about what he can afford.

I've just bought a car myself, and I can imagine the models Saunders will have to look at: either clapped out old bangers or experimental prototypes!

The former category's filled with the sort of players Saunders has been tempted towards in the past. Ageing unattached players who'll come to us because we're the best offer on the table. Reliability's the issue here: you might pick up the odd bargain, but you're more likely to get a dud, and tie yourself to him until the end of the season to boot! For heaven's sake, no-one tell Saunders that Keith Gillespie is unemployed and looking around for a Conference club at the moment! Gateshead are welcome to him!

The other approach is to get in a lad from the Premiership's reserve teams and hope he has the class to shine. Saunders used to like going down this route too, but has been burned by his experiences. The theory behind it's sound: players the likes of Manchester City have picked up young because they appear to have the potential to flourish arsenal likely to be decent, so they ought to have the technique to blossom in The Conference.

The problem is that they tend to be naive as well, and throwing them in against big, nasty Conference centre backs is usually a rude awakening for them. Danny Mitcheley and Stuart Nicholson are examples of such players we've had in recent seasons, and there was no mourning when they went back to where they came from without a goal between them.

Adrian Cieslewicz, though a better prospect than those two, fits into a similar category; he remains one for the future rather than someone who could have an immediate impact.

The other danger of bringing in players from big clubs in this manner is their lack of sustained experience at a decent level. Just look at the likes of Nathan Woolfe and Jon Brown for examples of players who looked very good early on but faded as the demands of holding a place down over a long period kicked in.

Also, the very fact that we're a Conference club is a handicap. There are fringe players at the big clubs who are available on loan and would be terrific sign ins for us. The problem is, there's no benefit for either the player or his parent club in dropping down to our level. A spell in the Football League is seen by them as a useful finishing school, but playing at the fifth level is not viewed as a profitable idea.

So what do we do? I suspect we'll go for a kid or another Lamine Sakho and hope we luckily stumble on a bargain. There is another way to freshen up our attacking options though, but I don't think for a moment Saunders will take it. Our second top scorer from two seasons ago, our second top scorer from last season and one of the highest scorers in the league below us are all on our books, but I can't see Marc Williams, Wes Baynes or Obi Anoruo being recalled to have a run in the team somehow.

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