RECREATION GROUND: Entering The Endgame

Before the season began, I marked Aldershot down as my second Wrexham away day of the campaign. It was a new ground for me, not too difficult to travel to and would take place before the harsh conditions of winter kicked in a few weeks later.

However, in the run-up to the match, it became very hard to justify a trip to Hampshire.

The weather kept up its end of the bargain but Wrexham’s form was bleak in contrast. A six-game winless run in the league led to fans calling for changes throughout the club’s hierarchy with most of the flak aimed at manager Bryan Hughes.

Following a lucky 1-1 draw at home to Sutton United – where a last-minute penalty spared us from recording our fourth league defeat in 10 games – the Wrexham board of directors issued a statement declaring they were fully behind Hughes, which only ignited the fans’ anger further.

Many supporters declared a boycott saying they weren’t going to watch the team again unless changes were made. I found myself thinking the same.

Its not the results, or even the shocking lack of on-field passion, that has put me off. I just can’t justify giving my money to a fan-owned club that’s not listening to its fans – particularly when the supporters have had no control over the gross decisions made by the board over the past 12 months, such as handing a rookie manager in Hughes a three-and-a-half-year deal.

So, as I debated whether purchasing train tickets down to Aldershot would be a regrettable move, I figured an away game was the best loophole to keep supporting my team. Plus, the forecast said it would be sunny all day. How could I say no to that?

Highlights

A pleasant expedition

Accompanying me on the day was a friend from work who, somehow, became an avid Wrexham fan over these first few games of the season. Equally as surprising, was that our extensive five-hour train journey to the south of England was pretty enjoyable.

There were setbacks along the way, like Birmingham New Street being in complete meltdown and then getting lost in the village of Ash Vale. But time flew by. Being in glorious, late summer sun obviously helped but just discovering parts of the country we’d never seen before was uplifting enough.

We were treated to further new scenes during the game, too, as Hughes decided to change the starting line-up and formation. The 4-2-3-1 we’d been trying all season was finally scrapped for a 4-3-3 system with Adam Barton as the holding midfielder.

And it proved effective. Our midfield wasn’t overrun and we looked more solid. We lacked any cutting edge up front and there was still a frightening lack of urgency from the players but there was a visible improvement, at least. We even had chances to win the game when a powerful Akil Wright header was saved by Mitch Walker and a chipped Bobby Grant effort went over the bar.

But it looked like a 0-0 draw would be the outcome going into the dying stages. It wasn’t what we wanted – or needed – but a second clean sheet of the season would have been a welcome shift in trend. However, things turned ugly late on.

Disappointments

Last-minute winner

Barton and Wright came off with 15 minutes left and were replaced by Luke Summerfield and Paul Rutherford. I admired the tactical bravery to try and win the game but I don’t think the midfield needed shaking up that much.

Aldershot brought on Shamir Mullings and began to dominate. Crosses flew into our box and we struggled to clear our lines. Then in added-time, the lively Harry Panayiotou headed home from inside the six-yard box to give the Shots their first home win of the season.

I couldn’t contain my anger after the goal. I immediately called for Hughes to leave and repeated the sentiment in an explicit manner as he clapped us all after the final whistle.

I felt guilty for it, though. I never saw him play for us but I grew up watching him in the Premier League. Clearly, he was one of the best academy products we’ve ever brought through.

He seems like a genuinely nice guy, as well. I know he has the club’s interests at heart and I know he wanted to be the man who got Wrexham back into the Football League. But he and the board must see that we’re going backwards.

The last time we kept just one clean sheet in our first 10 games of a season was in 2007 when we were eventually relegated. That’s a steep decline from the previous two seasons where we’d been breaking records for clean sheets.

Hughes has also made a number of strange decisions during his seven-month tenure. Playing Kevin Roberts and Chris Holroyd in last season’s play-off eliminator and then releasing them days later, for example. Or testing a 3-5-2 formation during pre-season that we’ve hardly seen on a matchday since.

But my guilt for shouting at Hughes increases knowing that he’s working with a part-time coach in Carl Darlington and an assistant manager we never see in Brian Flynn. You could argue that Hughes chose to have this backroom team around him but it feels more like the board are appointing managers who will accept the circumstances of working with one arm tied.

I think the board have done an outstanding job since taking over in 2011. They’ve made the club debt-free and have helped bring so many more fans through the turnstiles of the Racecourse Ground. But over the last 12 months, their decision-making has been amateur.

There needs to be discussions on how to shake things up at the club because there’s something wrong with the current set-up. More transparency would be a big step forward, however, I think that needs to be addressed in the summer.

Right now, we need to focus on staying up because we will get relegated if things stay the same. Former gaffer, Dean Keates, is the only man I trust to get us up the table at the moment, so I would ask him to take over on a short-term deal and build from there. But we need to act fast or we’ll be faced with the worst footballing crisis in this club’s history very soon.

Overall

Unfortunately, the town of Aldershot and its surrounding areas didn’t make the result more bearable. There was too much army-decor for my liking, such as cannons, artillery and on-the-nose street names at every turn (Naffi Roundabout, for example). And not much else beyond that.

I didn’t like the stadium much either. When we arrived, we found our matchday facilities were five portable toilets next to a burger van. Not much of a reward for scaling a huge road and then cutting through a park to get to the away end (see photo guide below). Our uncovered corner terracing was a bit basic too but it was nice to stand in the sun during the match.

Aldershot’s fans were good value, though. The hardcore supporters behind the goal backed their team throughout and I loved seeing their various flags and banners decked out. Had our 206 fans been treated to a better showing, there could have been a good exchange across the ground.

Maybe we can make up for it during the return fixture. And hopefully there will be a better feeling around the club by then.

Aldershot Town 1
Wrexham 0

Recreation Ground


Thanks for reading. To keep updated on the latest hops, stories and photos from the mental health stadium tour, follow the blog on Facebook, Twitter, Instagram and Pinterest.

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