THE WREXHAM ANGLE
Phil Parkinson's side are on a roll, but had to show fortitude at Swindon to keep the winning run going. Illness and suspension added to the manager's selection issues, just as the lengthy injury list seemed to be reducing. Arthur Okonkwo, Stephen Fletcher, Anthony Forde and Ryan Barnett have returned to the squad in the last week, but illness has afflicted the squad, and both George EVans and James Jones will be absent through suspension for the showdown with The Saddlers.
Still, every cloud has a silver lining, and the loss of 3 strikers on Boxing Day meant James McClean was pressed into action up front, and showed Parkinson he's a viable option in attack with a match winning performance.
THE OPPOSING VIEW
Walsall might be 16th in the table, but they are opponents to be wary of, especially on their own patch. They've won four of their last five games, and since their last home defeat, in mid-November, they haven't conceded a goal at the Banks' Stadium a 366-minute run they previously achieved in the 2015. Only the top 4 have lost fewer home games, and on Boxing Day they took the scalp of promotion-chasing Crewe.
Saddlers boss Mat Sadler is not just a wonderful example of nominative determinism; he's also a very happy man. He was full of praise for his side when he spoke to the club website after the Crewe victory:
“The three of them back there I thought were brilliant.
“With David Okagbue having to come out because of his eye, that was the little shuffle that we made. The three of them were great today, really really good and they set a real platform for us.
“I thought Jackson Smith was great, some of his distribution and his work around the penalty area was really good.
“I must say, Tom Knowles, we know we want more out of him as an attacking threat because he can do it, we have all seen him do it over and over and over again so we will keep working with him on that.
“I thought his defensive work was brilliant today. I thought he defended so, so well in a position that he is still learning and I thought him and Liam Gordon were really good with that side of the game.
“We thoroughly deserved the victory and we go onto the next one now needing to rest, recover and go again.”
Crewe aren't the only recent impressive recent victims of The Saddlers: at the start of December Oisin MacEntee grabbed two second half goals as they claimed a 2-1 win from behind at Notts County, and in August they beat Stockport County 2-1.
“It’s our next home game but they’re a really good team and they are having a really good season. Phil Parkinson has set them up really well and we are looking forward to the next home game. I know it is going to be a really good crowd which is great for us all. It’s a Friday night game under the lights so we are all looking forward to it.
-Mat Sadler on Wrexham
Skipper Donervan Daniels is one of the most respected centre backs in League Two, and he has been a key factor in Walsall's defensive solidity. He takes his leadership responsibilities further than that though, as he told the Express and Star: “Me and my missus sat down and talked about these young lads. Whether it’s Harry Williams, David Okagbue, or Taylor Allen, whoever it may be, in the future they will be my legacy.”
His early days at West Bromwich Albion, especially when the experienced Joleon Lescott returned to The Hawthorns, set him up for his future career, and he learned some important lessons from him: “There were so many top centre-backs there, and when Joleon came in, I got to play a lot of reserve games with him,” he recalls.
“When I get asked, people say who is the best? For me, Joleon was the best communicator I’ve ever stood next to on a football pitch because he was so loud and he’d always make the call so early. He allowed you to do your job and see the job that you needed to do before it was even posed to you, and that is an art form in my opinion.”
“I went out on loan to Blackpool when I was 19, and played alongside Peter Clarke. He was everything to me. I learned so much from him, and I loved it when he came here last year because this person, this human, educated and helped me develop so much. Now, I am getting to play with him again when I am at a place where I feel I am accomplished in that art.”
HEAD TO HEAD
Our last match at Walsall was a high stakes affair. The penultimate game of the 2006-07 season saw us engaged in a struggle with Boston United to avoid relegation, and victory at the Bescot Stadium would have guaranteed safety for Brian Carey’s side.
That we had any chance of survival at all was due to a superb run of form in the run-in.
We’d won our last 3 games, including a memorable 3-0 victory at Lincoln and a 1-0 win to spoil Shrewsbury’s penultimate game at Gay Meadow.
We weren’t able to maintain that terrific run of results against a Walsall team which was heading for promotion, although we certainly put up some stiff resistance. However, the home team finally broke through thanks to a 61st minute goal by Ishmel Demontagnac, and went on to win 1-0. The result set up a remarkable final day shoot-out with Boston at The Racecourse.
Since Walsall moved into the Bescot Stadium we've a decent record there. In 10 league visits we've lost 4 and won 3, with a couple of spectacular victories along the way.
One of them came in February 2001 against a Saddlers team which, again, was gunning for promotion. They raced into a 2-0 lead just after the half hour but Wrexham were to mount a tremendous revival.
Lee Trundle's overhead kick, his first goal for the club, gave us hope after an hour, Kevin Russell fired in a spectacular equaliser nine minutes later, and in the last minute substitute Craig Faulconbridge slid in to score a late winner from Trundle's cross.
Another remarkable last gasp victory came in October 1995. As the ninetieth minute ended we were 1-0 down, but Karl Connolly equalised and then Barry Hunter got a second injury time goal with a looping header to claim an incredible win.
However, our biggest margin of victory at Walsall came at their old ground, Fellows Park, in March 1964 when we won 2-0 through goals by Ernie Phythian and Graham Bent.
Our previous loss at Walsall was a 1-0 defeat in April 1999 which was notable for the dismissal of on-loan midfielder Stuart Elliott.
Unsurprisingly, the legendary Tommy Bamford is our top scorer against The Saddlers having put nine goals past them, with Billy Ashcroft and Connolly next on six and five respectively.
Bamford got his goals in clusters. In March 1932 he scored four goals in a 5-1 win, and two years later he got a hat-trick in a 4-2 success, the only two hat-tricks scored by a Wrexham player against Walsall since our first season in the Football League.
TODAY’S OTHER FIXTURES
AFC Wimbledon v Colchester United
Barrow v Accrington Stanley
Bradford City v Stockport County
Gillingham v Sutton United
Harrogate Town v Tranmere Rovers
Mansfield Town v Doncaster Rovers
Milton Keynes Dons v Crawley Town
Newport County v Crewe Alexandra
Notts County v Morecambe
Salford City v Grimsby Town
Swindon Town v Forest Green Rovers
A northern blockbuster dominates Friday's fixtures as Bradford City, resurgent under Graham Alexander, welcome league leaders Stockport County to Valley Parade. Promotion challengers Mansfield, Notts County, Barrow and Wimbledon will all expect to emerge with 3 points from their home games.
Elliot Lee's 300th career appearance.