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A CASE FOR THE DEFENCE – THE FOUNDATION OF WREXHAM’S PROMOTION PUSH

Wrexham Skipper Shaun Pearson

On Sunday Wrexham secured a club record 20th clean sheet of the season in their 2-0 Cross-border Derby triumph against Chester. 

If attack is supposedly the best form of defence then the comatose sleeping giant of pêl-droed Gogledd Cymru are rewriting the rulebook in their bid to rejoin the Football League after a decade of relative despair.

In addition to a mean defence Wrexham also possess the following: a chieftain tank of a captain; an industrious midfield; hope more than expectation in attack.

It’s a blueprint that seems familiar.

Wales’s success in qualifying for, and progressing so impressively in Euro 2016 was built on a granite rearguard.

Without playing down the obvious importance of Gareth Bale, Aaron Ramsey and super Joe Allen it was the on-pitch Red Wall which many teams struggled to work out how to breach.

Wales rarely go gung-ho and cut loose at the business end of the pitch. Odd-goal victories far outweigh trouncings of the opposition. Maybe that was Chris Coleman’s way.

It also appears to be the way of Wrexham Association Football Club.

After a few seasons of mid-table obscurity Wrexham are on the cusp of something good again.

Rookie boss Dean Keates dismantled the woeful squad assembled by his prehistoric predecessor Gary Mills. He needed experienced grafters, winners, warriors. Men who will put their bodies on the line in the name of three points every weekend.

He brought in players in his own mould — disciplined, tireless and ambitious.

Like Wales, goals have been in short supply for Wrexham this season. However, Sunday’s 2-0 win over sworn enemies Chester saw the Robins (yeah I prefer the original nickname) set a new club record for registering clean sheets in a season. Okay it is only 10% of the milestone Arsenal goalkeeper Petr Cech achieved at the weekend but it is impressive nonetheless.

And with nine games of the season left to play they could set the bar exceedingly high for decades to come.

It seems my beloved club has finally got over the so-near-yet-so far 2011/12 season. Wrexham ended the season with 98 points, more than enough to win any league title ordinarily (Lincoln City won it last season with 99).

However, Jamie Vardy ended up having a party as Fleetwood Town spent their way to League Two with 103 points and almost as many goals scored.

Wrexham notched 85 that season and again had the meanest defence, conceding just 33 times in 46 games.

Prolific has been replaced by profligacy in front of goal for Wrexham this season. They have found the net just 43 times so far, just two more than Barrow sat in 20th place in the National League standings.

On-loan Blackpool striker Scott Quigley has given Wrexham’s shot-shy attack a much-needed boost —  his opener on Sunday was his seventh goal in eight games since arriving in January.

But it is the rock solid foundations upon which Dean Keates has built his Racecourse fortress.

Unbeaten in 18 league games on home soil Wrexham’s main man who keeps the shutters down and in place is captain marvel Shaun Pearson.

He was the manager’s first summer signing and it set the tone for the sort of quality expected to mount a credible title tilt.

Wrexham skipper Shaun Pearson wheels away in delight after scoring

Pearson won promotion with Grimsby Town and Mariners fans were crestfallen to see him depart Blundell Park. They monitor our progress to see how he is getting on.

Brought in alongside him was a familiar face — Manny Smith. The defender returned to the club after his family failed to settle at Gateshead.

Manny Smith is in his second spell at Wrexham

In his first spell at Wrexham Smith went an entire season where he played every minute of 61 league and cup games. He was part of the team embarrassed by North Ferriby United in the FA Trophy final. He has unfinished business.

Kevin Roberts helped FC Halifax Town return to the non-league’s top flight at the first attempt last season. However, he jumped at the chance of a two-year deal in North Wales and has made the right-back position his own.

Kevin Roberts ventures forward

On the left of the four-man defence is James Jennings. He was on loan from Cheltenham Town last season and wasted no time in making the move permanent.

Jennings has the upper hand over his younger brother and former Reds midfielder Connor, with Wrexham taking four points off Tranmere Rovers this season.

James Hurst and Mark Carrington, the longest serving Reds player in the current squad have been peripheral figures due to a combination of the form of the aforementioned quartet and injury.

David Raven is also worthy of a mention. The experienced full-back joined Wrexham in January after leaving Inverness Caledonian Thistle.

Just hours after his capture was announced he was named on the substitutes bench for the clash against Tranmere.

He made an earlier than expected debut as he came on for the injured Jennings after just seven minutes.

Against Chester last weekend he again deputised for Jennings, suspended on this occasion but soon had to move into the heart of defence when Manny Smith limped off.

The very last line of defence is Chris Dunn. He has beaten off stiff competition in the form of Christian Dibble, son of former Wales number one Andy to be Wrexham’s chief custodian.

Many Reds fans were not convinced at first but the Londoner has proved to be an agile and reliable goalkeeper.

Fantastic clean sheets and where to find them

A new-look Reds side failed to register a shut-out until the fourth game of the season, narrowly edging out Gateshead 1-0.

Five in a row (three wins and two draws) followed before a backs-to-the-wall 1-0 triumph at Tranmere was secured despite the Reds being reduced to 10 men during the opening exchanges.

Halifax held them to a stalemate before Keates’s men pocketed maximum points at Dagenham & Redbridge and Chester. The scoreline on both occasions? One-nil of course.

Wrexham won their next three home games without Chris Dunn’s goal being breached before Dover Athletic pocketed a point at the Cae Ras in a goalless affair.

The defensive grit continued to be a platform for success at the start of the year with wins over Torquay United and Hartlepool, but the Reds had to settle for a point as both rearguards prevailed at Gateshead.

They won 2-0 at Guiseley before equalling the record with a dour point at Solihull Moors.

A dismal Chester side then became the latest team to try and fail to unlock the Great Wall Of…well, this description would have only worked if one of the lads hailed from Bleanau.

Tim Edwards is an unabashed Wrexham Association Football Club fan and buyer of strange pastries from backstreet stalls in Moldova. He is also the Fearless in Devotion fanzine and can be found grumbling either through social media @fearlessidzine or at the Turf pre-match outside the Racecourse Ground.

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