DAMSON PARK: Drawing Positives

Things were a lot different when Wrexham last played Solihull. A 1-0 win for the Reds in mid-November left Moors bottom of the National League on 12 points while Wrexham lifted themselves to top spot, two points clear of Dover in second.

Fast forward three months and you’ll find that fortunes have been reversed for both clubs. Whilst a number of frustrating draws have meant we’ve lost ground in our own ambition to win the title, Moors have beat several teams and find themselves on the brink of achieving their own target of avoiding relegation. Amazing, really, considering that they were 12 points from safety on Boxing Day.

As is always the case at this stage of the season, the three points on offer were huge. My girlfriend, Saffron, and I headed to Damson Park for our first Wrexham away game together since September.

The Highs

Out-numbering the home crowd

Wrexham’s supporters have come out in force this year. Our derby day encounter with Tranmere attracted a sell-out crowd of nearly 9,000 fans at the Racecourse last month, while we’ve averaged around 4,500 at other home games in recent weeks.

The number of travelling supporters has also been significant this year too. Very often we’ve made up a third of the overall crowd at opposition grounds, even at fixtures in the south of England.

It’s phenomenal backing and it was only a matter of time before the travelling Reds actually managed to bring more fans than the home team. This is the game where it happened.

Of the 1,228 in the ground, 648 were in the away end and 580 were in the home section. To their credit, both sets of fans chanted from opposite sides of the pitch. But in truth, there really wasn’t anything to sing about on the night as the teams played out a dour goalless draw.

Equalling a club record

By stopping Solihull from scoring, Dean Keates’ men joined John Neal’s 1973/4 side and Denis Smith’s 2002/3 team with 19 clean sheets in a league season. I have no doubt that this crop of players will beat the record quite handsomely with 11 games left but a lot of Reds fans don’t seem fussed by the achievement.

I can understand why. Our solid team has struggled offensively and we’ve secured a lot of draws this year as a result. That’s severely hampered our title bid and we now sit in fifth place following this stalemate. But I still feel like the team deserves more credit for matching the record and perhaps a bit of context can help with that.

Of the team’s that they equalled, Neal’s team in the 70’s didn’t get promoted. However, they did finish fourth (with no play-off system in place at that point) and also reached the quarter-finals of the FA Cup. Meanwhile, Smith’s team did get promoted and are the last side to take the club up a division.

They were both successful teams in their own right and Keates’ side are proving to be one as well. If you factor in that they’ll probably break the clean sheet record, it means we’ve got the most hard to beat team in Wrexham’s history at the moment. Plus the same starting back four and defensive midfielders are contracted to be here next season.

Bear in mind, also, where we were last season. I don’t think many people were expecting us to compete for the title this year. I can recall talking to my dad about how we’d do before a ball was kicked. He just said he didn’t want to get relegated.

The amount of draws and lacks of goals is frustrating, yes, but we’re competing again. Just like we did when Keates was in the heart of our midfield at the start of the decade. If we finish in the play-offs, it’ll be a massive improvement on what we’ve seen over recent years. And let’s not forget, the season is still very much alive and we’ve put ourselves in a great position to do something special over the coming months.

The Lows

Yet another goalless draw

Having said all that though, I can’t deny that the match was utterly abysmal. Moors hit the post in the second half through Adi Yussuf and that proved to be the only real chance for either team. Wrexham offered nothing up front for the whole 90 minutes, which was either due to their opponents being well-organised or us being well below par.

Both arguments are probably true. Solihull were very resolute and it’s no surprise they stopped league leaders Macclesfield from scoring past them last month. Moors won everything in the air, completely shutting down any crosses into the box and pressed us hard.

They were bang at it for the whole game, moving the ball with pace and fluidity. If it weren’t for Sam Wedgbury and Akil Wright’s tenacity to win the ball back so often in the middle of the park, I think we could have been overrun.

I was very glad to see Keates had selected the pair, as Solihull’s midfield counterparts Darren Carter and Kyle Storer were very influential. However – as much as it made us more solid – it also prevented us from being creative.

Scott Boden’s mysterious absence from the matchday squad didn’t help either and proved how big his influence has been recently. But even he might have been ineffective against the towering presence of Moors centre-half Liam Daly.

Public transport issues

Saff and I have been severely punished for our lack of driving ability on several occasions and getting to and from this game gave us more anguish.

Damson Park is a very awkward ground to get to with public transport. It’s located directly in between Solihull and Birmingham International railway stations, which is about an hour’s walk away from either one.

When we finally made it to Birmingham International – after our trains were first cancelled, and then delayed – we also missed the bus which would take us to the ground before kick-off.

We ended up taking a black cab to the ground instead. It cost £8.60. Well worth it to see such a great spectacle of football though!

After the game, we managed to get the bus back to the station but only after standing at what I can only describe as the UK’s most embarrassing bus stop. It’s basically a pole stuck on the side of a main road. There was no pavement to stand on, just a patch of dirt next to some branches and a broken fence.

All the cars slowly drove past us as they exited the ground. I kind of expected to hear a classic Inbetweeners line to be thrown at us from a passer-by. One coach driver laughed at us. I asked Saff if she’d taken a picture of it to prove how demeaning it was. She replied: ‘No. It’s too embarrassing.’ Quite right.

The Verdict

I’ve blogged on three goalless draws so far in 2018 and they’ve gradually got worse. This was definitely the most drab game I’ve been to for a while.

From a groundhopping perspective, I was disappointed with the location as Birmingham City Ladies play their home games at Damson Park and I’ve considered going a few times. Any chance of heading there in the future might be tricky.

The ground itself is not great either. The inside is decent enough but the car park looked like a building site. On the way out, we saw someone with a fan in a wheelchair struggling to get around the uneven surface and scattered debris. I can’t imagine it made their evening more enjoyable.

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Results didn’t go our way on the night either. Macclesfield won 4-1 at Tranmere to add to their 2-1 win at Aldershot over the weekend. Those back-to-back wins are massive and if they go on to win the league (which now looks likely) then they fully deserve to be called champions.

I think anyone playing Solihull soon are in for a game. Mark Yates has done a great job turning their fortunes around and I expect them to stay up quite comfortably.

For Wrexham, I think we need to cement a play-off place and push to finish in the top three. That will make any post-season games a little more straightforward with just two matches to play for promotion. And with a defence like ours, we would stand a very good chance.

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Solihull Moors 0 – 0 Wrexham
National League

Ground rating: 2/10

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