I get the nervous feeling that Saunders tends to be an all-or-nothing sort of man. He tried packing his side with Football League experience and that didn’t work, so now it’s full of Conference stalwarts. Likewise, he put his faith in young lads from big clubs’ academies on the assumption they’d develop and be technically too good for the Conference; now he’s looking for experience. I think the current approach might be wiser, but hope we don’t miss out on the benefits of compromising and having a balanced approach.
Likewise, having seen his side look very solid at the back but toil painfully to create, he now seems to have gone in the opposite direction, filling the squad with attacking options. A major concern at the moment is the fact that most of the record-breaking defence from last season has now left, robbing him of a base the new attacking players can build from, but that’s a different matter. The obvious question to ask is how does he accommodate so many attacking options in the side which unbalancing it?
I rather suspect the answer’s a 4-2-3-1, which supports the notion I’ve already suggested that Andy Morrell is not the player he was. I don’t mean that in a pejorative sense; merely that he hasn’t been bought to score thirty-four goals a season, but to harry and hassle defenders in support of Andy Mangan. My assumption when speculation that he might sign began was that he’d be used as a straight partner for Mangan in a 4-4-2. However, the amount of attacking players who have arrived since suggests Saunders might be looking at something different.
You never know how much to read into a dead rubber on the last day of the season, but Saunders fielded a side which looked very comfortable playing 4-3-3 at Hayes, an showed the sort of qualities a tweak to 4-2-3-1 would require. Admittedly five of the starting line-up have now left, although Johnny Hunt did play over an hour off the bench. However, there was a fluidity and flexibility in the side which must have interested Saunders. It suits Kristian O’Leary down to the ground as he is a very solid presence in front of the back four but hardly looks like he’ll suddenly become a player-maker higher up the pitch; his range of passing isn’t broad enough and he lacks the mobility to get back to his defensive station when Wrexham lose the ball.
Playing O’Leary there also allows a couple of progressive-minded full backs to bomb on, and that’s exactly what Saunders has in Curtis Obeng and Neil Ashton. It’s higher up the pitch that alterations would have to be made though, with so many players vying for a place up front. 4-2-3-1 necessitates a lone striker, of course, and surely that would be Andy Mangan.
He’s not just a poacher though; he has impressive movement and showed in that Hayes match that he was happy to switch positions, giving Wes Baynes and Adrian Cieslewicz a turn through the middle. This adaptability could be crucial, as playing this system will ask Morrell to play on the right of the front three. It isn’t a role we’d associate with him, but it’s one he ought to adapt to with ease, given his reserves of energy. Switching with Mangan would cause defences problems as they move across the back four, while David Brown could play the false nine role; it’s a nice, flexible system which might just work!