Saturday, 12 February 2011
So Wrexham, in rare form, are facing up to a side which has looked too good for the division ever since the season began.
Neither side concede many goals-Crawley have kept five clean sheets in a row-so don't expect too much in terms of kitchen sink-throwing, at least until one of the sides finds itself behind with twenty minutes left.
My suspicion that we'll be looking at a tense affair is encouraged by Steve Evans' pre-match comments. I know the obvious rejoinder to that; why on earth would anyone take Evans' comments at face value? Fair comment, but, hard as it is to bring myself to admit it, I suspect there's some truth in his hope for four points from the double header. Clearly a draw would be no disaster for either side, and that might lead to a change in attitude from both managers.
Dean Saunders has turned into a gambler this season, with terrific results. He selects attacking sides for away games and often responds to a game turning against him by overloading rather than tightening things up and looking to regain a level of equilibrium.
Likewise, Evans has always been an offensive manager (you can take that how you wish!) He likes his sides to attack, and my understanding is that their last home defeat, to Newport, came about because he chased three points recklessly rather than settle for one. However, it would take a brave manager to adopt such an attitude in these summit meetings.
There'll be an early indication of Evans' aproach to this game. From what I've seen of Crawley this season, they vary between a 4-3-3 and a 4-4-2. If he opts for a 4-3-3 then there's a real danger of the two sides' similar formations cancelling each other out. If he does this, it would be a real indication of his mindset; clearly he'll be looking to keep it tight and back his quality strikers to take their chances better than Wrexham's will when they present themselves.
If he goes for 4-4-2 then he'll have picked the bold option. On the upside for him, teams have sometimes managed to get at Wrexham down the flanks playing a 4-4-2 as Saunders' 4-1-2-3 formation really doesn't offer natural support for the full backs. The two most obvious examples of this were the recent game at Mansfield and the first twenty minutes at Newport.
However, playing 4-4-2 might also play into Wrexham's hands: Saunders has got his side well-drilled, and they maintain excellent shape when they're forced to defend. When Crawley go 4-4-2 they often play with inverted wingers who look to come inside onto their stronger sides. I've seen them come unstuck like that when a side's sitting in and maintaining their defensive shape as Wrexham can; the wide men come inside and simply overcrowd the central areas in the opposition half, making creativity very difficult.
They might be able to come inside and slot balls to runners in the channels, a tactic which would be aided if Evans makes a change from recent sides and picks Richard Brodie ahead of the more static Craig McAllister, but Wrexham are very adept at closing up the channels.
So there you have it: it's bound to be a 4-4-draw isn't it?