Wrexham travel to Macclesfield Town this weekend for an early kick-off live on BT Sport in what will be one of the biggest games of the season thus far, here Ollie Williams takes a look ahead of the big match.
I've never been to Macclesfield, Moss Rose has always eluded me for one reason or another, every person I say this to often burst out into what feels like song at the fact that I've never visited that particular corner of Cheshire. In my head after years of this, my idea of the 6,000 or so capacity ground (and former temporary home to the old Chester City no less) has gold plated grass, great goals every week and free beer on tap for everyone who wears the famous red shirt (or white third one, available in time for Christmas now...) of Wrexham.
In reality, my first visit on Saturday will be different for only one reason, not the aforementioned flurry of 30-yarders, not a slightly yellow gleam from the grass but because for the first time in four years, Wrexham step into what could be a massive game come the end of the season. Yes they're all vital we know that, but Macclesfield are a side who may well be up there come the end of April and there's a reason BT Sport have lumbered their truck filled with eye-wateringly expensive equipment and a couple of former footballers to the North West.
Many look at the face of this game and see Macclesfield with home advantage and a win over us on the opening day of the season, but don't just examine the face, delve closely at the neck, chest and toes of this one and you'll see that Wrexham have reason to be optimistic.
On the opening day the Silkmen ran out 1-0 winners at the Racecourse in what was a disappointing start to the season, but so much has changed since then. Manager Dean Keates added 14 new players to his squad over the summer, with eight players that made their debuts, James Jennings and Ntumba Massanka came back from previous loan spells and were greeted by a completely new squad from the one they played with three months prior, and three of our permanent players from last season (Chris Dunn, Mark Carrington and Paul Rutherford) all survived the chop from a farcical season and had to adapt to the side they knew being (thankfully) turned on its head.
Oh, and that's without even mentioning Manny Smith, back for a second spell, being managed by his former captain, at a side with new staff, new set up behind the scenes, training ground and of course just one player left over from his previous spell, the ever-reliable Carrington.
Since the opening August weekend, Wrexham have turned themselves into a force to be reckoned with, two losses in 17 in the National League since a slow start, it's evident that this side just needed time to gel together and find their own identity as a team. It's all well and good that some of the players in the squad have played together previously and know each other well, but they haven't necessarily played in certain systems and formations, training and the entire environment has changed and they needed to learn to play together as eleven not two or three.
This weekend's game sees two of the best sides in the division defensively come together, Wrexham kept 13 clean sheets so far, more than any other side in England's top six tiers whilst Macclesfield have kept ten, a great record in itself. Wrexham know they are in for a test, but the Silkmen may be facing Wrexham at the wrong time with the Dragons really beginning to click in the final third. Their former forward Chris Holroyd, our top scorer with seven goals, many of them coming at key moments could haunt Macc.
He's been phenomenal after a start to the season that saw him forced off in the first half against his old side during the National League curtain raiser. It may be no coincidence that Wrexham have played so well since he came back into the side at the end of August. His movement off the ball, dropping into pockets of space and playing neat first touch passes mixed with a deadly eye for goal one on one has been hugely influential, no more so at the Racecourse where he's scored six goals in his last five home games, the only goal away from home came away at Tranmere, so he knows when to pop up when needed...
Holroyd partnered Scott Boden on Saturday in our 2-0 win over Maidenhead and the pair looked menacing from the off, they linked up at times like partners who'd played together week in week out all season long. Boden's ability to hold up the ball is excellent and for me was man of the match, he perhaps needed to have a good game and on another day could have ended his run in front of goal, he just needs that one strike and I'm sure the goals will begin to pour, he's done it before at this level and above, most notably for this weekend's visitors, the stage could well be set for the pair of them.
Meanwhile this week we've added another strike in George Miller, he scored seven goals for Bury in League One last season and is an extremely hot prospect, hence why Middlesborough took the 19-year old on in the summer. If he plays on Saturday, he'll be backed up by a solid midfield containing the likes of Sam Wedgbury and Marcus Kelly who know how to get out of non-league having done so with Forest Green last season. Wedgbury, one of the biggest characters in the Wrexham dressing room is a gentleman off the pitch and conducts himself very well, on the pitch he's, without doubt, the one player I'd least like to face in that side, a hard-hitting machine who runs all day. When you add the likes of Akil Wright, who at just 21 years old has quickly learnt how to grind out results, work hard in the middle of the park against players with twice the experience of him but still outfox them, you know he could go on to be a top player.
With a remarkably well-bonded squad who Wedgbury once said he'd "go to battle with" moments after calling each and every member of the team 'winners', Wrexham are in the best position they've ever been in for a number of years. Dean Keates has transformed the club from potential fighting relegation to seeking a league title in the space of a short few months. This side has had four months pass since they met Macclesfield, this weekend we aren't going to see the same side we did back then, but one of the same players who've evolved and, under the guidance of Keates, Andy Davies and Carl Darlington, been moulded into a horrible side to play.
Sometimes that's what you've got to be, not always the best with slick attractive football for 46 games but a horrid, difficult, *add any applicable expletive* side to face. With our home form sides don't want to come to North Wales, and when we travel in what are some of the best numbers in terms of support in the division and the envy of many league sides, it genuinely gives not only Wrexham players a lift, but it gives us an extra 10%, it sucks out the same amount away from the opposition, just look at Tranmere earlier this season where the away end was immense and the pride on show was evident.
Twelve months ago this club was on its knees on the pitch, but with Keates at the helm with a highly skilled team behind him, he's built not only a bond between the players and fans but built a team on money the fans have put in for 'Build the Budget'. The one club approach this season has given out a feeling not felt since the gaffer was wearing the armband and commanding the midfield, and although he fell just short - you can't help feeling that with an evidently talented group of players we could go that step further than in recent years.
Why not make a statement in front of the country this weekend both on the pitch and in the away end? Together we're one team afterall... #UTST