The question for Wrexham as they prepare for this game is whether Maidenhead manager Alan Devonshire will keep faith with the side he started with at Maidstone last Saturday, or reflect his successful late substitutions from that match in his selection.
Maidenhead struggled to get a grip on possession at Maidstone in the first two-thirds of the match, but Devonshire’s alterations allowed them to get an equaliser and they were unfortunate not to grab a winner in the closing stages as they pressed hard for a goal in the driving rain.
United lined up with a traditional 4-4-2, even down to the tried-and-tested combination of a pacey striker and a big target man up front. They were certainly disciplined when they didn’t have the ball. However, they suffered from the same problem as Wrexham did in the first half of their game against Macclesfield.
Like Wrexham’s, the midfield four was forced deep when they didn’t have the ball. Space around their penalty area was at a premium as a result, and their defence looked solid. However, on the other hand, they struggled to get hold of possession, retain the ball when they did, or win second balls as a consequence of that deep midfield. The two strikers were reluctant to come back into the hole when United didn’t have the ball, which reflected an admirable desire to hit on the counter, but in practical terms left them isolated.
Up front, Dave Tarpey is the danger man, as you might expect from a striker who scored 46 goals in all competitions last season. He is quick and his team mates are eager to play early balls over the top for him to run onto. He also likes to pull wide onto the left flank, offering him a chance to cut in onto his right foot to threaten the area.
Alongside him, Sean Marks is a proper target man who will win a lot of headers and is decent on the floor. We learned this the hard way four seasons ago when he scored a fine goal from the edge of the area against us for Braintree. However, the isolation of the front two was a problem for Maidenhead until Devonshire made his changes.
It’ll be interesting to see what Manny Smith and Shaun Pearson make of this duo. They didn’t really have to deal with a traditional challenge like this on Saturday, as Tyrone Marsh constantly made in-to-out runs to the right flank, leaving the centre backs with no-one to mark and midfielders trying to run into the space. The Wrexham defenders might enjoy a more traditional challenge, although Kevin Roberts will have to be ready to react when Tarpey pulls wide, denying him space to cut inside.
Without the ball, the midfield four showed good discipline and organisation when they pressed in the middle of the pitch, and Maidstone were slow to shift the ball laterally to try to bypass the press. Wrexham like to play early diagonals to switch the play, and may look to do this to take the pressing midfielders out of the equation and open up space on the other flank before the midfield unit can shuffle over to the other flank.
This tactic would make the man on the right flank crucial, as he would be given opportunities to break into space. It will be interesting to see whether Dean Keates will think Jack Mackreth showed enough in his cameo performance last Saturday to suggest he could fulfil this role, as his pace would seem to suit this role perfectly.
A goal down, with the second period half over, Devonshire made the first of three crucial alterations. At no point did he deviate markedly from his 4-4-2 starting point, but the change in the nature of some of the players’ roles led to a massive change of approach.
Having previously struggled to take the game to Maidstone, Maidenhead went more direct and began working the Maidstone centre backs, with more players close enough to compete for the second balls.
The first substitution saw Adrian Clifton come on in attack. His physical presence made a difference, but the most telling consequence of this change was to send Tarpey onto the right flank. Until this point the midfield four hadn’t broken beyond the strikers and lacked penetration on the flanks. However, Tarpey naturally wanted to stay higher up the pitch, remaining closer to the strikers, so Maidenhead had more players able to benefit from a more direct approach.
The second change was to bring on Sam Barrett, who would have a massive impact on the game despite only being on the pitch for eleven minutes. He came onto the left side of midfield and immediately took the game to the home team, driving things forward with direct delivery from deep and a willingness to run at people.
Barrett would score the equaliser with a header from a corner with two minutes remaining, and there followed a flurry of set pieces which constantly threatened to bring about a winner. With big centre backs, Marx and a tall left back in Kilman, there’s plenty of height in the Maidenhead team and set pieces are a real threat. They have a few players able to deliver accurately, and Tarpey gets good whip on shots and free kicks from deep.
So what does Devonshire do? Select a more conservative side similar to his starting eleven, or reflect the success his substitutes had in starting the game. It’s hard to imagine him going with what was essentially a kitchen-sink-throwing approach as a starting strategy, but by the same token his side were too passive before he made those changes. It’ll be fascinating to see which route Devonshire takes.