The most intense title race we've ever been involved in - at least since last season - continues apace with our next test coming from a side which is climbing the table after a poor start to the season.
Last Saturday brought another home victory as we overcame York City 3-0 to kick-start a memorable weekend at The Racecourse. Now the dust has settled after nearly 20,000 fans passed through the turnstiles, it's time to get back to business. Ben Foster's sudden return from retirement ended in a clean sheet and he'll have had a solid week of training in preparation for this match.
Phil Parkinson is enjoying the competition for places which a large squad affords him, and with players returning from injury - Bryce Hosannah and Tom O'Connor are expected to be available after injury this weekend - there will only be more players pressing for a start to keep the frst eleven on their toes.
Elliot Lee got a goal at the weekend, Jordan Davies was unlucky not to keep his place but Elliot played with an understanding of that; he knows he has got to play well because he has got good players behind him.
It is the same for James Jones, the same for players all across the team.
Everybody is keen to be involved in every game which is great.
- Phil Parkinson, Wrexham manager.
Oldham have endured a horrible first experience of the National League, but are starting to head in the right direction. They have been a permanent fixture in the bottom half of the table, dipping to 20th place as recently as February, but are showing clear signs of revival.
Three consecutive draws have illustrated their newfound resilience, with two of those games being away from home. Tuesday's 2-2 draw at Wealdstone saw The Latics fight back to earn a point away to a side aiming for a play-off place, despite poor conditions meaning the game was in doubt. They might even have emerged with all three points as ex-Wrexham striker Mike Fondop went close twice late on.
"It was a strange game”, Unsworth told the Oldham Times, “In the first half I thought we did really well, got a goal up, looked really good, comfortable.
“Then in the second half for 10 minutes it was like the Alamo, they pushed their wide players right on and started a lot faster than we did. They just blitzed us, and we couldn’t handle it for 10 minutes so we had to change the shape and when we changed the shape we replied straight away.
"Then at the end we could have won it with Mikey’s header so it was a really strange game. We should have won it at the end with Mikey’s header. He does everything right other than hit the target.
"Fair play to both sets of players to play in these conditions, the pitch was horrendous and the groundsman’s done really well to get the game on. I thought we played really well, on a really difficult surface we adapted to the pitch and we played in a certain way.
"So I suppose, away from home, a long trip, a point…not to say that I’m happy with that - these are the games we need to win moving forward, now and next season without a shadow of a doubt. Tight games we need to beat teams like this, but they are above us and they’ve got a good record at home."
Probably three months ago it’s a game we would have lost so the boys have come a long way in a short space of time. It’s another point and we take it and move on.
- David Unsworth, Oldham manager
The point takes The Latics 9 points clear of the relegation zone, and surely guarantees they won't be pulled back into the scrap for survival. Unsworth has made an impact at Boundary Park, he replaced club legend John Sheridan ten games into the season and was unfortunate to be handed a tricky start to his tenure at Athletic: his first two matches were an away game to Bromley, followed by a maiden home game against us.
Both games ended in defeat, but that Wrexham clash showed he'd had an effect on his squad as they had the better of the first period, took the lead through Fondop, and were leading with 5 minutes left when Ben Tozer lashed in an equaliser. Paul Mullin scored the winner from the spot in added time.
Unsworth had to play the long game, but as his embedded his methods results started to improve. Sheridan had won 11 points from the first 10 games of the season, and 9 points in Unsworth's first 13 matches hardly represented an upturn. However, since an impressive draw against Notts County on New Years it's been a different story. Athletic have lost just 4 games in 17 games in 2023, winning 7. Obviously, that's 27 points from a possible 51: a considerable improvement from the first half of the season.
We've stopped the rot and drawn a line in the sand. The club now isn't a losing club on and off the pitch, it's a club that has got sound foundations now, it's got a plan and we need to take that forward, and it's already started now for next season.
With safety almost certain, Unsworth is able to turn an eye to building for next season, as Dean Keates did at Wrexham in 2017 prior to our promotion tilt the following season.
“We're working now towards next season, Unsworth told the Oldham Times, "and we need to imprint what we want to be and what we want to do now, not in pre-season.
"We've ramped up the training, we might just try one or two different things, start putting one or two layers on how we want to play now, probably take the ball a little bit more and try to be a little bit more expansive without going into too much detail of how we want to play and what we've done and not done.
"We'll certainly be looking at one or two things now for next season in how we train and how we play.
"It's the right time now with five weeks to go. I don't want the season to peter out. I don't want it to be flip-flop jobs, beach heads on, I want the focus for all the players who are going to be here next year to know that when they come back this is what's expected of you. We've had five or six weeks of it. It's putting the groundwork in now for next season. I think it's really important to set that bar and that mentality.”
Unsworth's progress has been achieved despite recent injury issues. Keeper Magnus Norman had to pull out of the recent England C international, so Matthew Hudson has stepped up from the bench for the last 3 games. Up front there have been issues too, with Chris Porter and Hallam Hope injured and Alex Reid battling to play a further part in the season following a hamstring injury. Unsworth drafted in Crewe striker Bassala Sambou on loan to bolster his numbers up front, having got to know the forward when he coached him for Everton Under-23s.
Hopefully things are also heading in the right direction off the pitch too, as club owners the Rothwell family completed the purchase of Boundary Park a fortnight ago. Unsworth is certainly happy to see the cirrent owners' impact on the club:
"It's been a great week and I'm really delighted to be part of it. I'm delighted for Frank and his family and for CEO Darren Royle, who goes un-noticed in the background. He works tirelessly at this football club and with him and the Rothwells. They are really good people.
"We're safe, we're secure, we're going to build now and it's just wonderful and I'm proud to be part of this football club moving forward.
"That feelgood factor is there and we've got to back that up now with performances and wins on the pitch moving into next year and have a real go next season.
"I have nothing but great things to say about the chairman and the Rothwell family as well. They are great people, great to work with every day and we're lucky to have them."
LAST TIME WE MET
06/11/22 Wrexham 3 (Dalby 18, Mullin 25, 62) Oldham 0
Wrexham: Howard, Forde (Hosannah 35’), Hayden, Tozer, Tunnicliffe, McFadzean (McAlinden 82’), Young ©, Jones, Lee ( O’Connor 71’), Mullin ( Evans 82’), Dalby ( Palmer 71’) Unused Subs: Lainton, Lennon, Cleworth, Evans, McAlinden, Bickerstaff
Oldham Athletic: Leutwiler, Clarke (Fondop 46’), Okagbue, Maynard ©, Sheron, Kitching, Cooper, Rooney, Tollitt, Abraham (Carty 70’), Hope (Couto 83’) Unused Subs: Norman, Francis-Angol, Burgess, Luamba, Vaughan, Kilner
HEAD TO HEAD
We go into this match knowing we’re on an unprecedented run of results against Oldham Athletic. We’ve won the last 6 times we’ve faced them, are unbeaten in 8 games, and have triumphed in our last 4 home matches. All those figures are records for this fixture.
We’ve already met at The Racecourse this season, of course, in the first round of the FA Cup. Sam Dalby opened the scoring early on and Paul Mullin chipped in with two more to secure a 3-0 win.
Mullin also scored the injury time winner at Boundary Park, meaning he’s already our 7th highest scorer in this fixture despite only having faced Oldham twice.
Our biggest home win against The Latics was a 4-0 victory in October 2003 which kicked off our current unbeaten run against them. Lee Jones and Carlos Edwards struck before the break, and Mark Jones and Dennis Lawrence added two more in the second half.
A less comfortable, but massively important win, came in March 2005. The reward for the victors would be a place in the LDV Vans Trophy Final at the Millennium Stadium, and Wrexham held a 5-3 lead from the first leg at Boundary Park.
However, The Latics refused to give in, and it wasn't until Chris Llewellyn scored what turned out to be the winner in the 65th minute that we could turn our attention to Cardiff.
This will be our third meeting with Oldham this season, and that 2005 win was also out third clash of the season. Four days later they were back at The Racecourse again, and once more the result was a 1-0 win, although this time we had to wait until the final minute for Hector Sam's winner. That remains the only time in the club's history that we've beaten a side four times in a season.
Oldham’s most recent victory at The Racecourse was in February 2000, when they ran out 3-0 winners.
Ben Tozer's 100th Wrexham match.
Andy Cannon's 200th league match.