Wednesday, 11 August 2010

Full Back or Half Empty?

I admit it, pre-season meant nothing. At least not to us fans. This is the one genuine time of the year when a manager genuinely is the only person who can fully assess what has just been happening on the pitch. After all, he's the only one who actually knows what he was asking for from the players, and what he specifically was hoping to get out of the exercise. We still cough up to watch them, though.

Still, certain observations can be made, and one of the more interesting facets of our preparatory games has been the situation at full back. Whether you view the situation on either side of our defence as half full or half empty depends on the extent to which you're willing to put your faith in youth.

We've got four specialist full backs in the squad, two on either flank, if you discount potential stand-ins like Kai Edwards and Frank Sinclair. (I hope Dean Saunders discounts the Sinclair option too; I had Sinclair as a shoo-in for player of the season at the turn of the year, but asking him to haul his ageing hamstrings up and down the flank at left back at Altrincham meant he picked up an injury which led to his campaign descending into a mess of injuries and mistimed tackles. As for Edwards, Saunders says he’s looking to loan more players out, and he’s the one member of the senior squad who hasn’t been given a squad number. Go figure.)

The thing is, the two most impressive full backs in pre-season by my reckoning have been the two kids, Declan Walker and Johnny Hunt. I'm sure Saunders won't be too shocked to see Walker play like this; after all, his debut at Hayes was as good a first appearance as I can recall in a Wrexham shirt.

There's a huge danger in assuming one performance by a teenager guarantees a similar output week-in, week-out, but Walker's pre-season suggests he will start the Cambridge game ahead of Curtis Obeng, whose terrific pace is hampered by the fact that a schooling with Manchester City's coaches, followed by a year of coalface experience in the Conference, haven't yet eradicated the naïveté from his game. Just ask Saunders, who is often seen to be frustrated by his decision-making and spent a good couple of minutes on his own with Obeng after the final whistle at Vauxhall Motors taking him through his positioning.

The left flank will, surely, see Neil Ashton start, but I wonder if Saunders ought to be bold and throw Hunt in at the deep end. Admittedly, starting with two full backs boasting two starts between them in their nascent careers might be madness, but Hunt has looked more solid than Ashton in pre-season. Ashton impresses when he goes forward, but so does Hunt; the defensive part of their game is more important, especially as we're looking to piece things together at the back after losing a most of a record-breaking defence.

Ashton has been troubled when a wide player runs at him, most notably in the Liverpool game when the young Spaniard Silva ran rings round him. Mind you, the Saturday before Aberystwyth got their winner when Craig Williams slalomed rather too easily inside Ashton to tee the scorer up. Hunt looked vulnerable in his only first team outing at left back, as an early substitute for Aaron Brown at Hayes, but has appeared solid in pre-season. Notably, Silva's threat receded to nothing once Hunt replaced Ashton with twenty minutes left.

Anyone watching that game who wasn't familiar with the Wrexham squad would have assumed the first choice left back had come on at the end. Hopefully Ashton will use pre-season to get himself into the groove defensively as I strongly suspect he will be the first choice in the opening weeks of the season. Having played much of his career at left midfield, he needs to show he's equally adept in a more defensive role.

No comments:

Wrexham Calendar