Phil Parkinson's 950th match as a manager has the look of a fascinating clash between a side keen to prove that they can improve their away record and one which will be eager to start getting results at home, after 3 consecutive away performances which represented a significant upturn of form under their new manager.
THE WREXHAM ANGLE
After a brave exit from the FA Cup and a busy transfer deadline day, focus can finally return to the league. In the two weeks since we last played in League Two, results have been kind and, if anything, our second place in the table is slightly stronger as our rivals have failed to cash in their games in hand.
It's still tight at the top, though, and attention has recently turned to the difference between our home and away form. The remarkable stat which sums this up is that we're outperforming xG at home more than any other side in the top four divisions, and underperforming xG more than any other side in away matches.
Our last league match, a disappointing 1-0 loss at Newport, illustrated the point. It left us firmly mid-table in the away match table:Notts County are the only side in the top 13 with fewer away wins. Another peculiar stat: only two sides have a better defensive record than Wrexham (and remember, 5 of the 16 goals we've conceded came in one game!), However, despite being 4th highest scorers in the league, we're equal lowest scorers in away matches,
Even more strangely, we've managed to pull off some fine performances on the road this season. Victories at Notts County and Shrewsbury were memorable, and we've both won and drawn at Mansfield. Our fixtures have been quite lop-sided:we've played all but 3 of the top 14 sides away from home, and the game at Salford will mark the first time we've travelled to any of the current bottom 6.
Parkinson has plenty of experience of such situations, of course, and knows how to make the necessary tweaks to turn Wrexham's away form around. He has new additions to his squad to help him do just that.
THE OPPOSING VIEW
Funnily enough, Salford's record is the reverse of Wrexham's as poor home results hold them back. On the road, they've pulled off some impressive results, not least in the last couple of weeks. Between October and mid-January the Ammies suffered a horrible run of 12 games without a win, a sequence of results which cost manager Neil Wood his job.
New boss Karl Robinson immediately stopped the rot, although he made an inauspicious start. A 2-2 home draw with bottom of the league Forest Green Rovers was obviously a disappointment, but it did bring a run of 4 losses to an end. Also, Robinson picked up a red card after just 14 minutes!
I felt like people think it's because of your anger, or you've lost control, but it certainly wasn't that. I had a smile on my face when he sent me off, I was very baffled.
"When he showed me the red card I said 'sorry, I think you've got that wrong and got the wrong colour' and he said 'no'.
"It was frustrating but I think you can see the sense of calmness on the whole situation. You have learn from every situation. Even the ones where you don't think you've made a mistake, you have to respect what's been done."
Despite that disciplinary hiccup, Robinson has made a major impact on the team. They broke their winless streak in their next game, away to Crawley, thanks to an 80th minute Kelly N'Mai goal. In truth, the scoreline flattered Crawley, and a certain Luke Bolton led the charge, hitting the bar and going close on another couple of occasions.
Next came an away draw with Bradford before the Robinson revival continued last Saturday in spectacular fashion. A 3-2 win at Crewe showed clearly that Salford are more than capable of going toe-to-toe with title contenders - Alex would have leapfrogged us with a win - and illustrated the threat City pose up front, as venerable target man Matt Smith smashed in a hat trick to go to 19 goals for the season. Wrexham's centre backs will be aware of the need to match him physically, or cut off the supply of dangerous crosses as those goals took him into second place in the League Two scorers list, 2 behind Macaulay Langstaff, hitting the net every 130 minutes in league games.
There are some familiar faces at the back for City: their central defensive partnership at Crewe was Curtis Tilt and Theo Vassell, a pair of mobile, quick centre backs who both spent a season at the Stok Cae Ras. Tilt played 38 games in the 2016-17 campaign, scoring once before heading to Forest Green Rovers, while Vassell accumulated 31 appearances 3 seasons ago before being released.
Having achieved such fine results on the road, Robinson must now look to improve matters at the Peninsular Stadium. The Ammies have managed just 2 home league wins, and they were back-to-back victories over Newport and Crewe as September led to October. That draw against Forest Green came after 2 horrible home beatings - 5-1 against Tranmere and 3-0 against Grimsby - so Robinson has immediately stopped the rot. This Salford squad is better than that and will be eager to prove it.
It's no surprise that Robinson has had an immediate impact, as he has an impressive managerial pedigree. He cut his teeth at MK Dons before a successful spell at Oxford United which saw him steer them to the League One play-off final. Most recently, he assisted Sam Allardyce at Leeds last season as they attempted to ward off relegation from the Premier League.
Salford's chief executive Nicky Butt was certainly happy with the appointment, as he told City's website:
"Throughout the interview and appointment process he impressed us with his wealth of knowledge and ability.
"Salford City's ambition is to play as high up in the Football League as possible so when we entered the recruitment process we felt it was important for us to appoint someone with experience of managing at a higher level, and Karl's long-term vision for the club, drive and determination excited us."
"A couple of my friends play for a League Two side and they're telling me it's going to be physical, but I'm ready for the challenge."
-Jez Davies, new Salford signing
A disappointing season - City lost on penalties to Stockport in last season's play-offs - has been characterised by a series of injuries, with key players like Callum Hendry, Ossama Ashley, Vassell and Bolton all suffering long periods of time on the sidelines. Robinson knew that he'd need to boost the squad's numbers in the transfer window, and brought in two interesting signings. Dan Chesters, a winger from West Ham, arrived on deadline day, while Jez Davies has been signed permanently. Both of them have impressed in their U21 sides this season, with Davies a regular in Burnley's team and, previously, Tottenham's, and Robinson was excited by the prospect of working with the latter, as he told his club website:.
“We bring in young players like Jez so they can grow and help the club move forward.”
“He’s a central midfielder who can get up and down the pitch really well, he can affect games, he always looks to be on the front foot and he likes to pass forward. They are some of the things we like about him.
"It is important to have a good balance in the club, it’s important that players have all the right aspects to their game including their attitude and commitment and Jez has all of that, we have been really impressed.”
Also speaking to the club website, Davies is certainly eager to make an impact:
"I'm technical, physical, I like to get about the pitch and work hard. I've been playing under-21s football at Burnley but I'm ready to start my next chapter, playing men's football in the league.
HEAD TO HEAD
We’ve only played at Salford once before, and it wasn’t a pleasant experience. We’d beaten them on Boxing Day 2017 in one of the most spectacular performances of the pre-Parkinson National League era. That 5-1 win put us firmly in the frame for a title push, and a bedraggled City side were flattered by the scoreline, only scoring their goal in time added. The tables were well and trult turned when we made the return trip three days later we were put through the wringer as reality hit home.
In contrast to the previous match, Wrexham never really looked to have a cutting edge, despite some tidy build-up play. City grabbed two goals with incisive attacking play and then managed the game really well.
The second half was dominated by Wrexham in terms of possession, but we struggled to break through a well-organised Salford side which would end the season by ending their first campaign in the fifth tier with promotion to the Football League while we fell away. For manager Graham Barrow this was the beginning of the end as his strong start as manager ended and a sequence of defeats led to his shock resignation, making him the shortest-lived permanent manager of Wrexham in the club’s history.
TODAY’S OTHER FIXTURES
Accrington Stanley v Grimsby Town
Barrow v Milton Keynes Dons
Bradford City v AFC Wimbledon
Colchester United v Forest Green Rovers
Crawley Town v Morecambe
Gillingham v Walsall
Mansfield Town v Notts County
Newport County v Swindon Town
Stockport County v Harrogate Town
Sutton United v Doncaster Rovers
Tranmere Rovers v Crewe Alexandra
There are a couple of clashes between sides in the promotion spots worth keeping an eye on today. Mansfield versus Notts County has an unexpected edge to it as both sides are going through a rough patch: County have won just 2 of their last 6 league games, which is one more than Town have managed.
MK Dons' excellent form has propelled them into the play-off positions, a journey Barrow made a couple of months ago. A win at Holker Street would propel the visitors over Barrow with a game in hand.
Meanwhile, Harrogate are in great form, having won their last 3 matches, but will have their charge towards the top 7 severely tested by a trip to league leaders Stockport County.
Phil Parkinson’s 950th match as manager.
Jack Marriott's 350th career match.
Jacob Mendy’s 50th Wrexham league game.