On the face of it, Guiseley are suffering. Their only win in their last fifteen games was a 2-0 victory at Chester on Boxing Day, they haven’t won at home since October, have the worst defence in the division and have lost their last three matches. However, there are extenuating circumstances: due to circumstances beyond their control, those three games were all on the road, and typically for a side near the bottom of the table, their performances have tended to be better than their results suggest.
They were certainly unfortunate to lose at Dover on Saturday, having had more of the game than their hosts only to lose to an 88th minute goal, and in their previous game, also away to a promotion-chasing side, the game followed an identical pattern: they equalised at Fylde only to concede the deciding goal with two minutes left. Three matches ago, at Eastleigh, they bounced back from conceding early to dominate the opening stages but miss a series of chances which would have changed the game.
Having said that, the early stages of that game at Eastleigh also illustrated their defensive problems: twice in the opening three minutes, the home team were able to cross into the danger area from high up on the left flank without any pressure being put on them, despite there being no spare man to deter a defender from getting tight to the crosser.
Dover got a succession of crosses in from their left as well, with right back Jack Sheppard often left isolated and unable to deal with the player running at him. This appears to be a consequence of Guiseley’s long ball approach, which asks a lot of their wide midfielders as they push up the pitch to look for second balls off the strikers and therefore struggle to get quickly back to cover the full backs when opponents transition quickly
Guiseley’s direct style requires the whole midfield to push up the pitch, but this can lead to space appearing between the lines. Dover were able, being a direct team themselves, to by-pass the midfield and find space between Guiseley’s defence and midfield.
Guiseley are clearly in a period of transition as manager Paul Cox has been shuffling his pack in an attempt to find a successful combination. He made six changes to his side for their last match, at Dover, and four in the game before that as he looked to assimilate a slew of January signings and compensate for the loss of key defender Jake Lawlor through injury and goalkeeper Jonny Maxted, who signed for Accrington Stanley. Indeed, Guiseley have fielded different keepers in each of their last three games, the current incumbent being a familiar face: Luke Coddington, who has spent two loan spells at The Racecourse.
The extent to which Cox is altering things was illustrated by his starting eleven at Dover. Between them they have made just 69 starts for the club, with the goalkeeper and both centre backs making their debuts in a defence which was completed by two on loan full backs with eleven appearances between them.
Perhaps this lack of familiarity explains a baffling failure to communicate at Dover which saw them leave a player completely unmarked on the edge of the box for a short free kick.
In their last three games, they have fielded three different starting formations: a 4-4-2 at Dover, a 4-2-3-1 at Fylde and a 3-5-2 at Eastleigh, making it difficult to second guess how Cox will line his side up against Wrexham.
One would assume they’ll stick to the back four which conceded four in two difficult away games, but the 4-4-2 formation might have been deployed to combat Dover’s direct man-to-man approach, so it will be interesting to see if Cox will take a similar approach against Wrexham.
A commonly used attacking weapon for Guiseley is the long throw of Jake Sheppard, who is used from both sides to attack the near post, often looking for Harry Flowers or Kayode Odejayi, although there is a lot of height in this Guiseley side to attack set pieces.
Against Dover, Flowers would be a static target on the near post, with Odejayi making a short, straight run to attack the near post (perhaps revealingly, as the first half wore on Odejayi drifted to join Flowers at the near post, but at the start of the second half he’d reverted to his original role, perhaps suggesting he’d become carried away as the first half wore on and forgotten his instructions.)
However, in all but one of ten throws to the near post against Dover, they did not win the initial header. Ironically, the one header they won was when they sprang a surprise and varied their long throw, with James Roberts attacking the near post from deeper and winning a header ten yards out.
While the long throws were not immediately threatening, they were a useful tool to maintain pressure on Dover. The throws created second balls which Guiseley could fight for in and around the box, and when the ball was cleared they would often pump the ball back into the box first time before Dover could get out, looking to take advantage of the numbers and height they still had in the box.
That early service to forwards would often be seen in open play. Odejaye is a strong target man, able to drop off and hold the ball up. When he plays the ball back it often appears to be a trigger for Dayle Southwell to make a run stretching the defence – the player who receives the ball will then look to find him or a wide runner with a first time long ball.
Southwell looks like a good acquisition: he had been playing more on the right at Wycombe, but is used in his more natural position up front by Cox. He is a willing runner who likes to run into the left channel, from where he can shot with either foot. At Fylde he played up front on his own, which he was comfortable with due to his mobility and the fact that, although he isn’t particularly big, he can challenge in the air.