MILL FARM: New Year, Different Team

On paper, a groundhop to AFC Fylde looked unrewarding. Wrexham were aiming to halt a run of four straight defeats and record their first points of the new year against their National League promotion rivals. Meanwhile, plunging January temperatures and Northern Rail industrial action made the train ride up to Lancashire very unappealing – particularly with Shrewsbury fans heading to neighbouring Blackpool for their game at the same time.

Nonetheless, despite the warning signs, the girlfriend and I wrapped ourselves in four layers of clothes, set off early and headed to Wesham – the town that AFC Fylde called home.

The Highs

Easy journey

With all the potential disruption described above, I was amazed we had such an easy journey. There were no major delays, very few Shrewsbury fans on the trains and not many Wrexham supporters either. I can only assume both fanbases made their they respective trips via coach. Or went even earlier than us.

Being so prepared for the worst and it not materialising meant the only downside was arriving at Fylde’s ground so early. We had to wait around in the cold for an hour before kick-off but we made the most of things. Saffron sketched the stadium and I added a Mental Health Stadium Tour sticker to the away end back wall. Hopefully it can spread some positive mental health awareness for those who spot it.

“We’ve got the ball”

When the game eventually started, Wrexham looked like they were back to their best. We should have been awarded an early penalty when Luke Summerfield delivered a corner and the referee blew up for a foul on Shaun Pearson. However, for some reason, Summerfield was told to take the corner again. A baffling decision but an unsurprising one considering the poor standard of officiating in the National League.

To be honest, though, a penalty looked like the only way we were going to score in the 90 minutes. For all our early endeavour, there were no clear-cut chances and Fylde found a way back into the game. Ashley Hemmings scored a goal either side of half-time and we never looked like mounting any sort of comeback. This was reflected in our fans chanting “we’ve got the ball” whenever we had possession and “we’ve lost the ball” whenever we didn’t. Were it not for the Wrexham fans singing that all the way to the final whistle, I would have left the ground a lot more annoyed.

The Lows

Five straight defeats

The 2-0 defeat condemned Wrexham to their worst run since being relegated to the fifth tier in 2008. They’ve lost five straight games, failed to score in each and haven’t gained a single point since the turn of the year. It’s a drastic contrast to the team which ended 2018 just a point off top spot after beating promotion rivals Salford and Solihull back-to-back, with many Wrexham fans now turning on manager Graham Barrow.

I’ve been skeptical of Barrow’s credentials since his appointment and it’s hard to argue that this barren spell has happened for any other reason than Barrow’s poor management. Each game I’m getting more and more frustrated with his starting line-ups. During the hectic festive period – where we played six games in 17 days – Barrow failed to rotate his squad and it left players looking physically and mentally exhausted.

Things then became more baffling at Fylde. Not only did he fail to include Ben Tollitt or James Jennings in his matchday squad – probably the two best performers during this horrid run – but he also left our new striker, Jason Oswell, as an unused substitute. I mean, the man’s just signed an 18-month deal. It doesn’t seem like there’s much faith there if he’s not getting minutes when the team are 2-0 down.

What’s stranger still, is Barrow stating his desire to use three at the back, signing Kieran Kennedy to have that change of tactics available and not including him in the squad either. Add all this to the fact last season’s top scorer, Chris Holroyd, isn’t getting any minutes, plus our current top scorer, Mike Fondop-Talom, is being shunned, and it’s no wonder why fans are in uproar.

It’s not just the team selection that looks worrying either. I feel many players are being used out of position, particularly Bobby Grant. He could be the creative spark we need in midfield but he’s currently being used as a forward every week. And I also don’t understand why Summerfield has to take every corner and free-kick when Paul Rutherford had so many assists last season from his set-piece deliveries.

I honestly believe we have a squad capable of winning this league but it means nothing if we’re not getting the best out of them. I would like to see John Askey come in from this point and see if he can get this squad up. However, it’s unlikely to happen given the Wrexham board appointed Barrow and his assistant, Mike Newell, on two-and-a-half year contracts last month. I guess I can only hope that they both prove me wrong.

The Verdict

It’s a real shame about the result because I really liked the set-up at AFC Fylde. Mill Farm is a very impressive non-league ground and it’s really quick to walk to from the station. Outside the ground, there were plenty of food options (including a hefty ¬£1.20 vegan sausage roll from Greggs) and Saff took advantage of the adjacent Aldi by purchasing a morale-boosting houseplant straight after the final whistle.

If I were to criticise Fylde, I’d say their supporters were extremely quiet. Especially when you consider they were beating one of their promotion rivals and pushing themselves closer to a potential title. I can’t fault their team though. They were more clinical than us and deserved the victory. If they weren’t such close promotion rivals, I’d wish Fylde every bit of luck in their pursuit of the Football League. However, I’m already dreaming of avenging our loss by beating them in the play-offs… Although, I’d take us just being in the play-offs on current form.

AFC Fylde 2 – 0 Wrexham
National League

Ground rating: 6.5/10

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