Tuesday, 30 March 2010

Where's Wolfy?

Let's be honest, it's looking pretty bleak for Matty Wolfenden.

Unable to progress from the role of late substitute, when Danny Mitchley was brought into the squad he dropped a place in the pecking order. When Mitchley was then dropped after one game it was clear that Dean Saunders hadn't brought the Blackpool striker in to lead the attack, but to round out the squad. Ahead of Wolfenden, a player screaming out for a few starts so he can earn a new contract. It hardly looks good for him.

It seems a shame, to me. I must admit that when he got a run of starts at the beginning of the season, the only time that he's enjoyed such an opportunity, I wasn't impressed. He seemed lightweight to me, and not much of a goal threat. When he succumbed to injury as well, something his career suggested was bound to happen, I was convinced that we had a very poor signing on our hands; a striker who looked toothless and was a bad risk to boot.

However, the way he has come back from that injury has made me think again. He started out with some prolific form in the reserves, and followed that up by looking sharp in his occasion cameos off the bench.

There have been a number of times when I've wondered quite what he has to do to earn a start. For example, when Lamine Sakho started up front against Cambridge and Gateshead I just couldn't work out how he'd jumped Wolfenden in the queue. Perhaps Saunders felt Wolfenden and Andy Mangan were too similar to form an effective partnership, although I'd be inclined to disagree; Wolfenden has shown a surprising robustness in recent weeks, certainly more than Sakho did inhis insipid efforts as a striker in those matches.

I suspect the arrival of Mangan was the beginning of the end for Wolfenden though. Two small strikers in front of a midfield which has struggled to create might seem an unlikely recipe for success to Saunders. And so Wolfenden's days look to be numbered, but I can't help wanted to see a bit more of him before I'm convinced that's the right decision.

Histon Conundrum Cracked

So tell me, is it a coincidence that the first time we manage to beat Histon is also the first time we didn't play a horses-for-courses team against them?

In three previous games Saunders has played a back four consisting totally of centre backs, and the fact we haven't scored in any of those games is surely not unrelated.

I've always taken it as a reasonable rule of thumb that the best way to beat a long ball side is to impose your style of play on the game. If the match is played on the floor, they'll struggle; if it's played in the air we'll struggle.

Selecting four centre backs at the back, to my eyes, accepts defeat in that battle before it has even begun. It's admitting the game will be played on their terms and adopting a damage limitation strategy from the start. It's an approach which reveals a lack of confidence in your team; would Alex Ferguson pick his tallest team if he drew Histon in the cup? I rather suspect he'd back his team to have enough about them to sort Histon out without resorting to such tactics, you know! (Mind you, I bet Rafa Benitez would be tempted to pick a specialised team for such a match, which perhaps tells you more about his merits relative to Ferguson's than anything else!)

Dean Saunders has started admitting lately that he's learning a lot about management. I hope his team selection on Saturday shows he's taken on board this crucial lesson; it'll help him enormously next season if he has.

Tuesday, 23 March 2010

Welcome to Hell

I don't want to admit it, but sticking your head in the sand doesn't get you anywhere: Wrexham are the basketcase of the Conference.

Okay, we're not in the relegation zone (yet!), but no other club can honestly be said to be performing as far beneath their expectations as we are.

After losing to Gateshead tonight we've achieved something fairly remarkable. You can tolerate losng to sides who are much smaller than you every now and then; that's what makes football exciting. However, Gateshead join a long list of clubs who have registered their first win over us in the last couple of seasons. Gateshead, Grays, Hayes and Yeading, Histon, Eastbourne, Tamworth, Altrincham, Crawley, Stevenage.

I don't want to belittle any of those teams, some of which are plainly better than us at the moment. But still, it's not a pretty list, is it? It certainly reflects pretty effectively where we are at the moment.

Anyone who argues this isn't the low point of the club's history, on the pitch at least, is crazy.

What must concern Dean Saunders is that all those defeats bar one came under his stewardship. Only the loss to Grays didn't happen on his watch; Brian Little was manager then, and that defeat pretty much did for him. He clearly didn't have such a charmed life as his successor.

Saturday, 20 March 2010

Cambridge Podcast

The Cambridge Podcast is now up featuring Dean Saunders, Silvio Spann and Martin Ling.

Sausage Sandwich

Dean Saunders is on the Danny Baker Show playing the sausage sandwich game this morning-on Five Live, usually around 945.

Tuesday, 16 March 2010

Reality Bites Hard in the Lakes

Four years ago we enjoyed a great laugh at Dave Bayliss' expense. He managed the humiliating feat of getting sent off against us while he was on loan from us! Rejected, then he bombs out in public! Well, who's laughing now?

Barrow's victory over Wrexham tonight doesn't guarantee safety for Bayliss' side, of course, but it's a huge result for them. And, sadly, for us.

Once more we've played a side into form. Once more a side which hasn't won for ages in the Conference has broken the drought against us. Once more we seem to be something of a pushover.

Sadly, there was a familiar inevitability to it all. When we took the lead, did you really have confidence in us finishing the job off? Did you actually think we'd keep a clean sheet at last? The only surprise was that we took the lead in the first place.

This isn't not how being a "big" team in the Conference was supposed to be. We need to be feared; instead, teams must be desperate to line up against us.

And to think, just a couple of days ago we were about to launch a late charge into the play-offs!

Saturday, 13 March 2010

Saturday, 6 March 2010

A Whole New Ball Game For Saunders

In the 1980s the news was full of experts billed as "Kreminologists". Their job was to gauge the temperature at the heart of the Soviet government, looking to read the signs of which leaders were in fashion and in which direction the byzantine party machine would lurch.

Heaven knows how in the loop they really were, and you could ask the same of anyone trying to read the goings-on of a football club. By nature they tend to be anything but transparent; after all, they tend to be run by businessmen who move into football and fail to understand why the club should be any more open to scrutiny than their own company.

Therefore, you should treat any attempt ot work out the machinations of the boardroom cautiously; but having said that, here goes!

Ian Roberts introduction as chairman and comments on Dean Saunders' future got me thinking. Having assumed Saunders was pretty much unsackable under Geoff Moss, it'll be interesting to see just how much of a difference the new constitution of the board will make to his security of tenure. While Roberts' comments are supportive, there's a clear demand for performance on the pitch to improve markedly over the next year. I'd be a little edgy if I was a manager and the chairman started talking in such detail about my team too!

So will Saunders, who as I've said previously, seems to be getting a bit more of a handle on constructing a side able to deal with the particular requirements of The Conference, find the extra adrenaline released by this extra imperative to succeed of use? Or something important changed in the balance of power at the top of the club?

But of course, this Kremlinologist could be completely wrong!

Monday, 1 March 2010

Saunders' Scouse Scufflers

I'm feeling a bit encouraged. It seems to me that Dean Saunders has hit upon a new line of attack, and it might just work!

It might be a bit late for this season, but there are the green shoots of some sort of recovery showing. It starts with his two transfer window signings. Luke Holden and Andy Mangan are the sort of players we need.

They've both got ability, that much is clear. Managan might not have got as many goals as he might have wished, but he he's shown there's more to his game than just being a goal sniffer. he can hold the ball up, brings player in well, and has the sort of movement which brings midfielders to life by offering them options.

Holden's contributions have been a little uneven, but he's direct, positive and confident. He scared the hell out of Salisbury on Saturday, and was a constant threat.

These qualities are not the only things I like about them. I hope this doesn't come over the wrong way, but they're both awkward Scousers! I lived in Liverpool for five years, love the place and need to explain what I mean, sharpish!

They've strong-willed, confident and not scared of anyone, all qualities which help to make Liverpool a great city which stands out from the identikit, characterless metropolises that scatter the country.

Transfer that onto the pitch and what do you get? A strain of determination running through the side which I like. Look at how Mangan regulates substiutions, hurrying Jamie McCluskey off the pitch when we're losing and telling him to slow down when we're winning! Look at Holden's hyperactivity and constant dissatisfaction; he wants to be involved all the time and is never happy if things aren't going his way. The angry boot of the ball across the pitch at the final whistle last Saturday, his similar smashing of the door to the player's entrance when he left the ground, showed the desire any fan wants to see from his players.

Admittedly there's a potential downside when such characteristics spill over; both would have beensent off for frustrated, over-the-top tackles on their Wrexham debuts were it not for the generosity, or should I say uselessness, of Conference refs. However, it's a risk worth taking if they can inject a winning mentality into the side. Saunders seems to have identified the types of character he needs to succeed which can only be a good thing, even if he needs another transfer window to complete the project.

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