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.

Wrexham FC v Southport FC Tactical Report


Friday, 22 October 2010

Wrexham FC v Southport FC Preview


Has Saunders Cracked It!

Now here's a revisionist argument. Could it be that Dean Saunders is a tactical genius? It's a notion plenty would take issue with as Saunders has been scrutinized and criticized with relish by a lot of Wrexham fans, and I'm not going to be a hypocrite and pretend I've been a consistent advocate of his decision-making, although I hardly fall into the anti-Saunders camp either. However, it would take a churl to deny that he's put together a much better side than he did last season, and I'd go further to suggest he's been making a number of calls which have made the most of his resources. I'm not just referring to team selection; he has been sparing with his substitutions this season, but he has often made in-game changes which have altered the game's balance in our favour. There's greater coherence about the Wrexham side than we've enjoyed for a while. As we turned in erratic performances at the start of the season I consoled myself by thinking that once we gelled things would go our way. However, there was that nagging doubt in the back of my mind (call it my realistic side if you must!) that suggested things would never actually settle down, and we'd suffer another campaign like last season, when we spent nine months searching for the winning formula. However, the fact is that we have started to click. There's a balance to the side, and we need fear no-one in our division. Chris Blackburn, a player I admit I wasn't sure about, has settled very well in front of a back four which is starting to look robust. From that basis we can create through the likes of Dean Keates, whose presence at this level of football perplexes me more each passing game. Admittedly we still don't take our chances in front of goal as I'd like us to, but at least we're creating chances, which is a big change from last season. So yes, I feel kind of satisfied: confident even! It's an odd feeling, but I could get used to it!

Wednesday, 20 October 2010

Lies, Damn Lies and The Percentage of Tackles Won by Leeds Defenders on Thursdays

So, who has the better pass completion rate, Alexandre Song or Michael Carrick? And to be honest, who cares?

The current fad for statistically detailed football information is a bit hard to swallow. All of a sudden, we are being inundated with complicated, convoluted figures on everything from how many yards Kevin Davies sprints in a match to whether Wayne Rooney would be more likely to buy a breakfast cereal if there was a free toy in the box.

Firstly, let’s get one thing straight; football doesn’t lend itself to statistics. Cricket does, as the whole game hinges on numbers. Baseball does, with its complex scoring system, immediately allocating individual responsibility for every event on the diamond. Football doesn’t; the only key figures are how many goals you score and how many bookings Nigel De Jong has got (or Mark Van Bommel ought to have).

Everything else is conjecture. One man’s own goal is another’s deflected shot. Want proof that we all see events differently in football? Who was at fault for Chesterfield’s goal in the 1997 F.A. Cup quarter final, then: Deryn Brace or Andy Marriott? If you ask ten Wrexham fans and get a consensus of opinion, I’ll be impressed.

We also have no history of statistical analysis to compare these figures to. A series of magical figures revolve around cricket, for instance; Gary Sobers’ 365, Jim Laker’s 19 wickets, Don Bradman’s failure, by the narrowest margin, to achieve an average of 100. We know if a bowler takes a wicket every eighteen runs, he’s good, and if he takes one every fifty he isn’t. But who knows what a cross handling percentage of 88.4% by Paul Robinson means? Nobody!

Football collects numbers in scorelines - England 4 West Germany 2, Wrexham 2 Arsenal 1 - but that’s it. We’re useless at keeping any other type of record - I remember Jermaine Defoe’s scoring run when he was on loan at Bournemouth. No one was able to agree what the record for consecutive league games scored in was until he had apparently passed it, and then it turned out that our very own Kevin Russell had managed one game more, and had held a record for thirteen years without anyone knowing! Once Defoe equalled that mark, it was discovered that a Manchester City player had managed it too. Who knows, maybe Michael Proctor scored in ninety successive games without any of us noticing!

The fact is that a lot of these highly impressive stats are totally bogus. A player might have more goals than anyone else in the history of the Premiership, but that only started in 1992! And while the player with the most Champions League appearances also holds the record for the most appearances since the European Cup began, that's because the league format means they play every other week!

The other issue here is just how revealing these figures are. Defenders often have the best passing percentages, because half their passes are five yard square balls between themselves with no opponents within twenty yards. Even Richard Hope could manage that!

You can’t trust the figures either! I spent a wonderful afternoon at Colchester a few seasons back listening to some guys trying to collate these figures in the Layer Road press box. Apart from the fact that they couldn’t keep up with play, and to their growing irritation missed every other throw in and free kick, they had no idea who the Wrexham players were, and therefore credited all Darren Ferguson’s actions to Lee Roche, and vice versa! I can’t help looking with some scepticism at these figures since then.

However, before I get too comfortable on my high horse, I must confess that in the statistics section of the Supporters Association website I reveal such essential facts as Tommy Bamford scored at a rate of 0.48 goals per game more than Jack Boothway. But won’t knowing that fact contribute to your enjoyment of Saturday’s game?

Tuesday, 19 October 2010

Temporary Solutions

I'm not at all surprised to hear Dean Saunders is looking into the loan market. We might be doing fairly well at the moment, but we've managed to paper over the cracks in the squad. There are gaps in the playing staff Saunders has put together that could cost us very dear

Look at it this way. If you ask Saunders who his first choice right back is, I think he’d say Chris Blackburn. Furthermore, I think if you asked him who his first choice defensive midfielder is it’d be Blackburn again. Trouble is, as Saunders has admitted, Blackburn’s needed as cover for the centre of his defence.

He only has two other options at centre back, Marvin Andrews and Frank Sinclair. Let’s be honest, neither of them are in the first flush of youth, and both are prone to injury. Therefore, Blackburn will have to spend some of his time filling in for one of them, and Saunders will be deprived of his services in one of the positions where he’d like to play him.

Of course, he could fall back on Christian Smith to cover at centre back, but he has very little experience in that position in first team football; you suspect that would be very much a last resort.

So Saunders has to delve into the loan market. There is another possible solution, mind, although it doesn't seem to be one that Saunders is particularly keen on. Sadly, Kai Edwards isn’t seen as an option.

Sunday, 17 October 2010

Anfield Trauma A Familiar Tale

Did you get a feeling of déjà vu this week? The ongoing saga of the sale of Liverpool certainly rang a few bells!

There've been so many elements of this story which resonate with our own problems over the past decade that it's untrue. In fact I must admit to turning into the water cooler bore last Friday, pigeon-holing a Liverpool-supporting work colleague at lunch and ranting on about the situation, using my "unique insight and experience of the situation" to shout the odds about an affair he knew a lot more about than I did! He's a top bloke and didn't deserve to be the victim of such an out-of-control ego, but at least he took it well!

It's been morbidly fascinating to follow the story via the Guardian's excellent live blog coverage, and there have been points where recalling what happened to us has given Wrexham fans an ability to read between the lines. For example, when we were waiting for the High Court judgement and it was broadly expected to be merely a stage in the process which would be appealed against by whoever lost, I was thinking back to how the judge in our case denied Alex Hamilton the right to appeal, which was essentially what happened this week.

The confusion over what would happen if Liverpool went into administration was also reminiscent of our plight. It seemed nobody was quite sure what would happen as a consequence, and when we became the first club to suffer a points deduction under the Football League's rules the situation was similar.

The ten point penalty was a completely random one, the amount pulled out of the air, and we were constantly exasperated by the FL's failure to give quick, clear answers to our queries when new problems arose. They simply hadn't thought it through, and used us as guinea pigs! I have an image of them retiring into a huddle in the corner of the playground, like kids trying to decide which of the unathletic children they'd be forced to pick for their team in P.E., before coming up with an off-the-hoof solution!

Let me give you an example: there was an arbitrary limit on how many players we were allowed in our squad (indeed, there were lots of extra, illogical punishments imposed willy-nilly on us as they saw fit after the event, some of which were quietly ditched). Any experienced player on our books counted towards that figure, and we were only allowed two keepers. Imagine our delight when the FL dictated that one of those "experienced" keepers was Michael Jones, who at the time was an 18 year old who, two years earlier, had played 45 of a first team game! Thankfully they backed down on that one, and seemed to go easy on the interpretation of the emergency loan as we were given some leeway to compile a squad.

Of course, one key difference is the scale of the clubs in question. There's a strong suspicion, well-expounded on the EPL Talk podcast, that a club the size of Liverpool could never be allowed to go out of business as their scale means there'd always be someone willing to make the necessary investment. I think that's true, and it certainly couldn't be said of clubs like us- just look at what happened to Chester. Mind you, if the club's support is vibrant a rebirth could be a good thing; hopefully Chester will show that as Newport and Wimbledon already have. Sometimes you have to take a step backwards to take two forwards.

My assumption that Liverpool would be invulnerable to liquidation’s got a negative side for them though; while there will surely always be a bidder for them, there’s no guarantee that those people would have the good of the club at heart. The Fit and Proper Person test the Premier League apply loos as absurd as the Football League’s. After all, the former let Hicks and Gillett in, and the latter didn’t halt Alex Hamilton. I wrote in my Leader column at the time that, according to the Football League’s test, Fred West, Saddam Hussein and Nick Leeson were fit and proper people to take control of an FL club!

Liverpool might never disappear and have to be reconstituted, but the example of Leeds is one their fans have rightly been heeding: I hope Manchester United’s supporters wake up to the fact that when their fall comes, and it looks like it’s merely a matter of time to me, it’s going to be worse than Liverpool’s because the figures they’re playing with are even greater! It seems that the final nudge the leveraging house of cards needs is a downturn on the pitch. Stop me if I’m wrong, but did the home game against West Brom not quite go as planned yesterday?

Liverpool aren’t out of the woods yet. For us, the real killer was the aftermath of our problems. The anxiety of an imminent threat to our existence passed, but the hangover of years of trauma was harder to shake.

We wouldn't be in non league football if Hamilton had never happened; I'm sure of that (not that it was inevitable; I'm equally certain we'd still be in the Football League if Denis Smith hadn't been dismissed.)

I think our inability to get over what has happened to us is tied up with the nature of our entry into administration. We didn't do it to avoid paying our bills, the reason the points deduction was introduced. We did it to regain control of the club and save it.

That should have been recognized when we appealed against our punishment, but it wasn't because politics was Brian Mawhinney's game and he wasn't about to introduce a flagship piece of legislation then see the first club to come under its jurisdiction evade punishment. However, the fact that we hadn't artificially constructed a team by spending more than we had, then wiped out the debt, meant we came out of administration in a worse state than the ruthless sides the punishment was introduced to deter. At least they clung onto some of their ill-gotten gains; indeed, some prospered despite their punishments.

I’m sure Liverpool’s travails are a temporary state of affairs, although they do have one amusing consequence in my house. Like so many schoolkids in a small town, my lad supports two teams: his local side and a Premiership one. However, for the first time in five seasons, he’s actually enjoying following Wrexham more than Liverpool!

Hayes Audio Highlights

Wrexham Supporters Association's website

Hayes Podcast

Wrexham Supporters Association's website

Hayes podcast featuring Dean Saunders, Adrian Cieslewicz, Gareth Taylor and Andy Mangan.

Hayes & Yeading FC v Wrexham FC tactical report


Friday, 15 October 2010

Songs of Hayes

I'm fascinated by Hayes and Yeading. How the heck do they keep their heads above water? I went into a little of detail about their attendances in the preview of tomorrow's game, and it's incredible a side that consistently fails to get anyone through the turnstiles can compete like they do. In fact, it's worrying for us to think that they seem to reserve their best form for their games against the bigger teams.

In fact, this feels like a real test for us. We did well last week, but we know we can perform against the stronger teams that look to come at us: even in the bad days when we were busy getting relegated from the Football League we were capable of beating the decent sides. Remember when we beat MK Dons and Darlington in consecutive games under Brian Little?

Hayes will come at us, but at a tempo and with a physicality which will test us. Their record shows that they don't tend to have a problem scoring goals either.

As our defence is our weak point, it'll be interesting to see if we can play with the same sort of energy, intensity and quality we managed last Saturday. I desperately hope we can: if we do, it could be quite a game!

Hayes and Yeading United FC v Wrexham FC Preview


Sunday, 10 October 2010

Wimbledon Tactical Report.


The Mystery of the Cup

Isn't it wonderful to live in a world where technology allows us to obtain all sorts of arcane information in a mere moment, and modern corporations are committed to transparancy? Well, you do if you're in The Premiership.

I've been trying to work out who we could draw in the FA Cup tomorrow, and it's impossible! There's absolutely nothing on the internet telling you whether the sides that won in the third qualifying round over the weekend will be in the northern or southern sections of the draw, or which Blue Square Premier sides are in our half.

The FA's website has lots of information, but no answers on who we're going into the draw with. After spending ages trying to work it out, I decided to ask Wrexham's secretary Geraint Parry, working on the basis that he knows absolutely EVERYTHING. But he hadn't been given a definitive list from the FA either!

His list tallied with what I suspected would be our half of the draw (I did eventually find a website which said which of the weekend's games had been in the northern half, although Geraint pointed out that sometimes the FA will take teams from one half and put it into the other in the next round!)

We reckon there'll be twelve teams from the Blue Square Bet Premier for us to avoid;
York City
Grimsby Town
Mansfield Town
Kidderminster Harriers

However, the way the draw has been split hasn't been too cruel to us: most of the sides at the top of the table are in the southern section. As for the other clubs, it looks like these are the sides who'll go into the draw with us, with the sides who are going to be in a replay in bold.

One league below us:
AFC Telford United
Eastwood Town
Nuneaton Town
Solihull Moors
Corby Town
Stalybridge Celtic
Vauxhall Motors
Redditch United

Two leagues below us:
FC United of Manchester
North Ferriby United
Frickley Athletic
FC Halifax

Three leagues below us:
Newcastle Town

Three leagues below us:
Lincoln Moors Railway
Tipton Town

Four leagues below us:
Radcliffe Olympic

Fancy Lincoln Moors Railway at home?

Tuesday, 5 October 2010

Fleetwood Podcast

Wrexham Supporters Association's website
featuring Dean Saunders, Marvin Andrews, Chris Maxwell and lots of fun and games as everyone behind the scenes tries to work out if that shot crossed the line!

Sunday, 3 October 2010

Darlington Photostream

The Tactical Season So Far...

With roughly a quarter of the season now gone, it feels like an appropriate time to take stock of where exactly Wrexham stand, not least bearing in mind the fact that there was some pressure on Dean Saunders at the start of the campaign to get early results.

So far the season has split into three distinct periods. Saunders started the campaign playing the sort of 4-2-3-1 formation which is so popular at the top end of the game. However, he added his own particular twist by pushing the wide players as far up the pitch as he could get away with, turning it into essentially a 4-2-1-3.

It was made even more of an attacking approach by the fact that the man behind the front three was David Brown, who was clearly in the side for his creative capacities, not his tracking back.

Of course, Saunders’ motives for playing this way were clear. Last season we struggled to break teams down; this time he was determined we wouldn’t lack for attacking options.

The system worked well...on the first day. Defeats at Forest Green and Eastbourne sent Saunders back to the drawing board as the approach just seemed a little too progressive for away games.

His solution took us into the second tactical phase of the season. Saunders’ response to those reverses was to shore things up by putting Christian Smith into a defensive role in front of the back four, replacing the man behind the front three in a 4-1-2-3. It led to our most consistent form of the season so far, as the role of defensive midfielder suits Smith best. He can destroy with his size and strength, and his long passing allows him to launch counter attacks from deep.

However, there was still a problem. We never lost playing that way, but we drew too often, and the York game raised the question of whether it would allow you to get at the opposition in home matches.

Saunders abandoned the formation after half an hour and snatched a point, partially because he was extremely bold, snatching the initiative back not through adding bolstering the defence but by hurling on attacking substitutes to drive York back.

This led to his third, radical phase of the season. He switched back to 4-2-1-3 but with a twist. The wide roles would be filled by strikers while Jamie Tolley would be asked to shuttle between midfield and attack. It was a very progressive tactic, clearly aimed at turning draws into wins. However, the results it has yielded have been mixed; it has earned impressive home wins against weak opposition, but looked stretched in away games.

Addressing this, Saunders actually reverted to the "Christian Smith system" at Darlington, but with Chris Blackburn in the holding role. Whether he's better equipped than Smith to play that role's a moot point, but the fact remains that Wrexham haven't lost this season when they've started the game playing that method.

Perhaps we need to take the Christian Smith route on the road and the Jamie Tolley line at The Racecourse. Whatever Saunders decides, it’s fair to say we’re in a better state than we were last year – at least he’s now found a way of breaking sides down at home – but he must now find a way to consolidate our improvement.

YouTube - Does Darlington Exist?

YouTube - Does Darlington Exist?

Freudian dogtags, alien stadiums and VIc Reeves as Danny Baker's claim that Dalrington doesn't exist is forensically investigated.

Friday, 1 October 2010

Darlington Preview


Taylz of the Unexpected

Who'd have thought it? You might think we're the eternal fall guys, but we completely out-manouevred our more illustrious adversaries to pull off a coup over Neil Taylor's transfer fee!

Crucially, the case never went before the wise old heads who adjudicate on such matters; if it had, I can't help suspecting we wouldn't have got such a decent deal.

These tribunals, determined by reference to formulae rather than market value, don't seem to favour the selling clubs very often. They don't tend to follow logic either. That's why we cleverly ensured it didn't go that far.
Add Image

Wrexham have played this one by the book, and in the end they made Swansea blink first with the weight of their logic. If City had maintained their brinkmanship and taken it to tribunal, they might well have got Taylor on the cheap. Surely they were reluctant to take that chance because, in these financiallly straightened times, if you suddenly get told to cough up more than you've budgetted for, you can get badly burnt.

Wrexham drew on their contacts wisely. Their case was compiled with the help of those who've negotiated far larger fees in the biggest of football's markets. They were restricted by the guidelines of the tribunal, but were advised well. Although they put their argument together according to the rules, they ensured that what would be deemed an irrelevant argument in the committee room had been given a decent airing before things got that far.

The unwitting key witness in this case was Bristol City's Albert Adomah. He moved there in the Summer from Barnet, the tribunal setting his fee at £150,000. Swansea's offer for Taylor was considerably less than that; a derisory bid which added to an uneasy feeling that they'd exploited their superior status to make this deal happen.

This is where the multiple withdrawals from Wales' Summer friendly in Croatia played beautifully into our hands. They might have been the final straw which drove John Toshack to resignation, but as he scrambled round for players willing to represent their country, he called up Taylor, who came off the bench to make his debut.

Now Wrexham had a strong argument, albeit one they couldn't use in the tribunal. If Adomah was worth £150,000, what should a full international fetch? The rules stated they couldn't present this as part of their case, but they could at least plant the seed in Swansea's mind. What if the committee followed that logic? What would City be forced to pay out? Faced with this thought, they cracked at the eleventh hour.

Throughout this deal, from first contact between buying club and player, they held all the aces. But ultimately they lost the upper hand, and Wrexham came out, having out-bluffed them, with a tidy little sum. £150,000 to be precise. Wonder how they arrived at that figure?

Wrexham Calendar