WREXHAM manager Dean Saunders has hinted that several of his players are drinking in the last chance saloon based on their performances in Saturday’s FA Cup stalemate against part-timers Eastwood Town at the Racecourse.
The Unibond Premier League side from Nottinghamshire went close to embarrassing the Dragons – who had goalkeeper Gavin Ward to thank for a second chance to progress to the first round proper – and they will have to find another gear if they are to safely negotiate tomorrow evening’s Coronation Park replay.
Preparations for the return began yesterday with Saunders bringing his squad in for training on what would normally be a day off, but it’s difficult to see just how many options for change are open to him, following the loss to injury of creative and energetic midfield duo Andy Fleming and Swansea loan signing Joe Allen.
The Racecourse boss said: “They will be in tomorrow, not for punishment but because it is two days before the next game and we’ve got to try and get them recovered and make sure they don’t have any little knocks.
“If we don’t do the things we can and what I have asked them to do then we won’t win games.
“Today I told the players why they were in the team and what their jobs were and tomorrow I will ask them if they think they did those jobs. Some will say yes and some will say no.
“We didn’t play enough football and we’ll have to play better but I’ve learned more about my own players today. I think it was obvious to everyone in the ground that we did not have enough footballers on the pitch.
“We had some good athletes out there but we didn’t have enough footballers. I pick the team and I learned today that we never played enough football.”
“I can make decisions on certain players and normally that happens when you are losing and it comes at a cost. But I’ve had a look at the players and I know where we need strengthening,” the manager added.
Saunders might well have added that the players on view were their own worst enemies, woeful passing all too frequently surrendering the ball cheaply, and they were less than composed in possession when put under pressure by the visitors, whose work rate and enthusiasm alone earned them their second bite of the cherry.
The blustery conditions certainly took the greater toll on Wrexham’s game plan, but, Eastwood’s spirit could and should have been broken by the gilt-edged first-half opportunities presented to Shaun Whalley and Michael Proctor that on another afternoon would surely have been tucked away to change the dynamics of a contest in which the visitors relied on a combination of containment and counter.
It was a strategy that sucked Wrexham into a contest they could not win. Outnumbered both numerically and physically in the middle of the park, the home side lacked width and it was surely no coincidence that both wide men, Silvio Spann and Whalley, were benched when the second-half changes were made.
By that stage, though, the Dragons had run out of ideas and Eastwood – whose back four had appeared vulnerable in the opening period – were becoming ever more comfortable, due in no small part to goalkeeper Shane Redmond.
Quite whether that would have been the case had Wrexham capitalised on a defensive error just five minutes into the game is open to conjecture. Striker Marc Williams forced the miscued clearance by central defender Mark Hume which looped invitingly for an unmarked Whalley to open the scoring.
But instead of jumping to attack the ball, he let it bounce off his head and saw it clear the bar by some distance, much to the relief of Redmond, who was not best-placed to attempt a save.
That miss was to set the tone for much of what followed from the home side in terms of unfulfilled promise. When they got it right their passing carved huge gaps in the opposition ranks, as was the case in the 12th minute when Spann fed Taylor, who played a neat one-two with Proctor, but the Dragons captain steered his shot from 18 yards wide of the target.
Eastwood could not have complained had they been 2-0 down after less than 15 minutes, yet they knuckled down to pose their own threat from an 18th-minute corner. The Wrexham keeper came for and missed Ross Gardner’s kick, but redeemed himself when he managed to block a goalbound effort from Lindon Meikle.
Minutes later Ward had to make a double save from Ian Holmes after his defenders failed to deal with Alistair Asher’s penetrating free kick from the halfway line, a scare that earned the visitors the respect of an ill-at-ease Wrexham.
The Dragons squandered another good chance in the 28th minute when Williams was unceremoniously hauled down by Hume. Wes Baynes delivered a teasing free kick to the near post and Proctor was first to the ball, stabbing it high of a gaping net from close range.
Looking every inch a striker whose last goal came way back in March, Proctor then battled his way into a good position only to run into Redmond when the easier option might have been to pick out Williams.
Eastwood’s main threat continued to come from set pieces and Andy Todd had an effort blocked from Richard Dunning’s free kick, but Wrexham might have gone into the break ahead when Williams forced Hume into a mistake on the touchline and cut inside to pick out the rapidly advancing Taylor.
The teenager met the pass with a firm first-time shot that deserved better than flying straight into the arms of Redmond, who was then untroubled by Whalley’s aimless effort following a neat build-up involving Steve Evans, Proctor and Williams.
With the manager’s half-time pep talk still ringing in their ears, Wrexham made a better start to the second period and Whalley did manage to hit the back of the Eastwood net, only to be ruled offside before Baynes forced a fine save from the keeper, who stretched a long way to turn the ball behind.
But it was not long before proceedings settled into the same old routine, the home side huffing and puffing to little effect against opponents content to eat up time and make the occasional foray up field.
When they did, however, it was with purpose and while Ward needed to make another smart save from Gardner after 72 minutes, his opposite number was barely troubled and made light work of the increasingly desperate efforts that came his way.
As such it would have been harsh in the extreme had Eastwood been robbed of their replay with what turned out to be the final kick of the match, Ashley Westwood getting his boot to an Evans throw-in for a shot that would surely have beaten Redmond had it been a couple of inches the net side of the crossbar.