Thursday, 30 September 2010

Room For Racchi?

I know the budget's tight. I know we've got a lot of midfield choices. But did we miss out on Danny Racchi?

The reason I ask is that I'm one of the sad ones who has coughed up for a subscription to Premium Sports. Yes, I'm one of the rare few who are willing to pay to watch fifth division football that doesn't feature the team I support. I try to justify it by telling myself that the cost for a month is about the price of half a ticket to a Conference game. Then I stick my fingers in my ears in the hope that I won't be able to hear the logical side of my brain's reply.

Anyway, Racchi was playing on Premium TV for York City earlier this week. And he looked good.

I must admit that I didn't see his performances in our pre-season friendlies as I went on holiday instead (There, I chose going on holiday over watching meaningless uncompetitive games. I do have some perspective!) However, I'm told he looked useful. Dean Saunders must have agreed as he kept him on, at least on non-contract terms.

I was also told he was a winger. Maybe so, but what I saw on TV suggested he's much more than that. He's a feisty midfielder who can strike the ball, as was proven by a couple o flong distance near-misses. He's also confident enough to have a go from free kicks, and although he got nowhere near as close when he hit a dead ball, it says something of his confidence that he's got himself to the front of the queue on set pieces so soon after arriving at the club. For a little guy, he's no mug in the air either.

I'd be stupid to draw lasting conclusions on him from watching one game. However, if I'd seen him play like that in a friendly I'd have been clamouring for us to keep him on. Wonder if he's likely to give us a second go if York's new manager doesn't take a shine to him?

Tuesday, 21 September 2010

Saturday, 18 September 2010

Kettering Podcast

Wrexham Supporters Association's website

Just posted the Kettering podcast featuring Dean Saunders and Jay Harris. No audio highlights from the game, I'm afraid, due to technical problems! Sorry!

That Familiar Feeling

Am I alone in feeling edgy about today's game?

Kettering's home form over the last ten months is dismal: played 19 won 2 drawn 6 lost 11. Let's be honest; recent experience makes it virtually inevitable that they beat us!

Also, after what by all accounts was a frank squad meeting, provoked by their awful start to the season, they might just be ready to throw themselves into the game today. Of course, that sort of rejuvenated spirit can't be sustained; you can't paper over the cracks if your team isn't good enough. However, it can give you a short term boost. I remember going to Chesterfield a few years ago when they'd lost their previous game 7-0. Their manager, Roy McFarlane, had hit the roof in order to get a reaction from his players. You don't need me to tell you who won, do I?

Then, of course, you throw in the Ashley Westwood factor. If ever there was a driven player, here he is. And he'll be gunning for us! It should be quite interesting, remembering his penchant for getting involved in aggravation (something he has sustained at Kettering, he has been involved in two mass brawls already this season, and was named by his local paper as being the joint cause of one of them!) i was thinking that if we keep our eyes peeled we'll probably work out who he didn't like in the changing room last season, until I remembered that there's barely anyone left at The Racecourse from last season!

Monday, 13 September 2010

Hunt Shows His Character

I was talking in my Leader column last week about character, and I thought that quality was evident again on Saturday. This time it was Johnny Hunt who showed his appetite for a challenge, and in the most admirable of ways.

I’ve seen young players crushed by a rough ride like Peter Till gave him in the first half of the York match. Till’s a good winger and Martin Foyle admitted after the game that he’d used the knowledge that young Hunt would be thrown in at left back, switching Till’s flanks to attack him.

The tactic worked a treat. Wrexham’s starting formation doesn’t really afford much cover for the full backs as our wide players are encouraged to push up the pitch. It was something Newport threatened to exploit in the opening fifteen minutes the week before, but by taking control of the midfield we nullified the threat.

That same solution wasn’t to be forthcoming against York. Till beat Hunt regularly in the first half hour, and when the youngster lunged rashly in, desperately trying to halt his tormenter, Till skipped past him and drilled the ball home to equalise.

Meanwhile, Christian Smith, whose presence in front of the back four has been so important in the last couple of games, found himself constantly rushing across to try to help Hunt, leaving a gap which York’s midfield runners looked to exploit. Till’s threat was pulling our formation all over the place.

Dean Saunders reacted by changing to a 4-4-2 to give Hunt some protection, but equally crucially, Hunt refused to be cowed by his experience. As a child he clearly had the message drummed into him that if you fall off your bike you get straight back on and try again!

His efforts in continuing to challenge Till were admirable. Rather than go to pieces he kept scrapping away, and slowly he began to work him out. Admittedly, having Nat Knight-Percival drop back to double up with him helped, but the way Till’s threat was nullified wasn’t purely down to that. In the second half, when Saunders wanted to push on and go for a win, he was able to return Knight-Percival to a more attacking position, secure in the knowledge that Hunt had learned how to deal with Till, and when their individual battle was resumed Hunt won it hands down.

The ability to recover which Hunt showed, and which I mentioned last week in relation to Scott Shearer, encourages me. There were times last season when I felt the team knew the weight of fortune was against them, and they failed to fight against it. If things didn’t go their way there was a sense that they would accept it as their fate. They couldn’t drop the culture of failure.

This side, not only through the examples I’ve given, but through those of relentless old stagers like Andy Morrell and Dean Keates, and curmudgeons like Neil Ashton, who take any form of failure as a personal slight, are just what the squad needed. It’s not just the quality of the players in a squad which make it succeed or fail; it’s the quality of the men.

Saturday, 11 September 2010

York Audio Highlights

Wrexham Supporters Association's website

The audio highlights of the York game are now up

Dragon Talk Podcast

Wrexham Supporters Association's website
There's a new Dragon Talk podcast up at featuring Dean Saunders talking about the Wales job after the York game, and Jake Edwards talking about his playing days for Wrexham and his angle on what it takes to get out of the Conference.

York Podcast

Wrexham Supporters Association's website

The York podcast featuring Dean Saunders, Kevin Gall and Martin Foyle

Monday, 6 September 2010

Newport Tactical Report


Saunders For Wales?

I clearly have no journalistic instinct whatsoever. If I did, I surely would have picked up on the torment of the man sitting directly behind me at Newport last Sunday. For that man was John Toshack, who would announce a couple of hours later that his time as Wales manager was drawing to an end.

I’m afraid I picked up nothing of the inner turmoil he must have been experiencing as he mulled over his decision. I didn’t detect the angst of giving up something he’d put years of hard work in, or even the angst of having to sit through a Wrexham game!

For the record, I’m one of what seems like a very small band, the Toshack sympathisers, but that’s by the way. Of more relevance to us is the immediate link made by the media between Dean Saunders and the post of Welsh manager. Frankly, it’s not as preposterous as the other jobs he’s been linked with over the last year.

The very fact that he’s a contender tells us a lot about the realities facing Wales as a footballing nation. We know we have very few players to choose from, but there’s an even more narrow field of coaches to consider if we decide to appoint a Welshman. It seems highly likely we will go native. Never mind Fabio Capello and Sven-Goran Eriksson with England, or Berti Vogts in Scotland; when it comes to disastrous foreign appointments, Bobby Gould just blows them out of the water!

However, if you are to look at the fact that a manager of a mid-table side in the fifth level of league competition is under consideration for the national post, it does suggest the choice is a touch limited!

Saunders’ critics might be bemused, but , just try to come up with a serious all-Welsh shortlist which doesn’t include candidates who are likely to be ruled out by the cost of compensating their clubs or silly names like Ryan Giggs, whom Sir Alex Ferguson didn’t even give time off for friendlies, never mind to coach the side! All of a sudden Saunders is up there, isn’t he?

Of course, that’s not the full story. If Saunders is indeed a genuine candidate, it’s not through his work at The Racecourse, it’s because he has been a valued part of the Welsh coaching set-up for some time. Indeed, there was speculation in the past that the plan was for him to succeed Toshack once he decided to call it a day.

The argument for appointing Saunders must run that being Wrexham manager has purely been an opportunity to gain experience. His coaching skills would be given more chance to flourish when he gets to work with Premiership players who are able to absorb his coaching, his frustration at players who failing to take his ideas on board at an end, and perhaps his results at Wrexham aren’t totally relevant. I mean, does anyone really think Conference football and the international game are all that similar?

Not that Saunders is a certainty to be appointed though. Firstly, he has worked hard at Wrexham, and might decide he doesn’t want to leave until he has fulfilled his desire to get us back into the Football League. Perhaps that would be his dream scenario; if he is able to add success to his CV, he’d have a very strong case the next time the job became available.

Also, when it comes to working out who fulfils the required criteria for the next Welsh manager, there seems to be a very logical fit. We need someone who can get the most out of the talented crop of young players who have come through over the last couple of years, so why not appoint the man who helped to bring them through? Brian Flynn has enjoyed terrific success as coach of the Under-21 side, so why not let him supervise their transition to becoming the national team?

Anyway, when the inevitable happens and the papers begin reporting that Robbie Savage has declared his interest in the job, Saunders will begin to look like a superb appointment!

Sunday, 5 September 2010

Saturday, 4 September 2010

Who Benefits From International Experience?

Another superb result for Brian Flynn's Under-21s today, who are again in with a great shout of getting to the European finals, but what does it do for us?

With Chris Maxwell keeping a clean sheet and Marc Williams playing for the first hour up front, it's natural to be proud, but another play in the starting line-up naturally makes me think twice.

Neil Taylor played too, so forgive me for pointing out that neither of the current Wrexham players can get into our side, and maybe Taylor would have stayed if he'd been a regular too.

Of course, that's a cheap shot, but I it's also a fair concern. It's good indicator of the talent coming through our academy that our players can go to a pressured envronment and perform; getting such experience is a massive boost in their development.

At the same time it's a worry that the experience they gain in such matches might be for the benefit of their new clubs, not us. I know it's hard to hang onto young talent when you're in the fifth division, but if we're to turn the club around we've surely got to hang onto the youngsters we produce, either to get the most out of them on the pitch or to get a decent fee for them once they've matured.

It's hard to see why Maxwell would want to stay when his contract's up in the Summer if he doesn't break through into the first team, and Williams is hardly being made to feel welcome is he? So their exploits abroad are merely putting them in the ship window, while toughening them up for their next employers, I fear.

Thursday, 2 September 2010

Bath Changes The Game For Mangan and Brown

It used to be only goalkeepers who would be left in limbo if they lost their first team place: after all, outfield players can adapt to a different role on the pitch, but a keeper unlikely to pop up on the left wing! However, the way tactics are moving these days, a couple of Wrexham's attacking players could find it hard to find the spot they desire in the team.

It's odd how things turn out. Certainly, Andy Mangan wouldn't have expected to find himself in his current situation when he signed for us, or indeed as recently as the start of this season. Come to think of it, neither would have Dean Saunders.

Admittedly his injury, following a criminally unpunished challenge by Paul Edwards, hasn't helped him. However, things didn't stand still in his absence, and if Wrexham build on the impressive showing at Bath, Mangan will find himself fighting for a place in his favoured position rather than being the man Dean Saunders builds his team around.

Because let's not kid ourselves: that was Plan A as long ago as last Christmas, when Mangan release from Forest Green was negotiated, and possibly even earlier than that. Mangan would be the man who would rattle in the goals, and the issue was whether we'd be able to inject some creativity into last season's staid side.

However, Andy Morrell's form confused matters. At first they looked like a perfectly compatible pair; if Saunders did play two up front they complemented each other well; if he picked one, Morrell looked very effective coming in from the right to support Mangan.

However, Saunders seemed to start seeing things differently after Mangan had shown enthusiasm when Saunders, in a desperate attempt to squeeze as many attacking players as possible onto the pitch at Forest Green, used him on the right.

It was a move repeated against Kidderminster and Barrow, but Mangan is not a natural fit for the position. No problem, you might think; stick him up front when he's fit again and Morrell, much more suited to the right-sided role, can shuttle across. The problem is, things changed at Bath. In Mangan's absence Morrell played the lone striker role to perfection. His energy occupied the centre backs (actually, make that terrified them!) making him a constant threat. End Product? He scored the first and won the free kick the second came from when he typically chased a lost cause and forced a mistake from a panic-stricken defender.

If Morrell keeps playing like this then Saunders has a tough choice: does he play Mangan out of position when there are better alternatives on the right (Wes Baynes, the forgotten man of The Racecourse springs to mind!), or sacrifice Morrell the striker? I see Mangan as crucial to our chances; he's a proven goalscorer and we don't get our hands on them too often. But would I want to see more performances like Morrell's on Monday? Of course. I don't envy Saunders his decision.

David Brown, having had a good run early in the season, also faces a problem if Monday's performance is the shape of things to come. Saunders, perhaps over-reacting to that lack of spark going forward last season, packed four attacking players into his early line-ups with Brown playing in front of the midfield duo. It worked nicely in flashes, not least against Cambridge. However, the Forest Green match saw him rendered peripheral and since then Saunders has clearly had doubts: the longest he has managed on the pitch in a game since the first day of the season is 67 minutes.

Again, if the Bath game was a turning point, Brown finds himself with a battle to regain his place. Instead of a player in his position ahead of Keates and Harris, the midfield looked a lot more balanced with Christian Smith sitting in behind them. So, with his favoured position gone, where would he fit in? He might suit a wide role, but only by trying to drfit inside and find space, as he doesn't have the obvious attributes for that role. Likewise, he doesn't look like a natural lone striker, and there's be plenty of others who'd fancy themselves to be ahead of him in that particular queue.

Naturally, players go in and out of favour at a club. It'll be interesting to watch these two key parts of Saunders' plans fight to regain their spots in his favour. I suspect Mangan, particularly, will be given every chance to find his place somewhere in the eleven, but he might find it harder to break through if the team that played on Monday maintain their form.

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