Stephen Prosser returns to preview the New Year’s Day fixture at The Racecourse Ground between Wrexham FC and AFC Telford.
The end of the calendar year is traditionally a time for both reflecting on the past 12 months and for looking forward to the future. As Wrexham and AFC Telford prepare for their second festive meeting in a week, the clubs may reflect on just how long a period 7 months can be in football and just how dramatically fortunes have changed since the play offs were concluded last May.
Both clubs made the play offs last season; Wrexham made the Conference play offs after having finished 4th, only to have their entire season’s work undone during a disastrous 20 minute spell in their semi final home leg against Luton Town, during which they conceded three goals and effectively lost the tie. In contrast, AFC Telford finished runners up to Alfreton Town in the Conference North and then safely negotiated the play offs to earn promotion to the Conference in front of an impressive 5,436 crowd at New Bucks Head, Telford. Instrumental to this success was 29 year old midfielder Phil Trainer, who netted crucial injury time goals in both the semi final first leg at Nuneaton and in the final itself. Consequently Telford United, one of the biggest names in non league football, entered the 2011-12 season in buoyant mood, full of the hope and expectation that promotion brings, whilst Wrexham not only had to contend with the disappointment of play off failure but with the very real possibility that they would go out of business due to crippling debts.
Fast forward to the end of December and the future of the two clubs looks very different. The Wrexham Supporters Trust successfully completed their acquisition of the club after the Football Conference ratified the takeover on 12 December and the Dragons sit proudly at the top of the Conference having gained an impressive 56 points from their opening 25 games. Much of the credit for this must be given to former manager Dean Saunders, who assembled together a group of talented players who have exceeded all expectations this season. However, since the departure of Saunders to Doncaster Rovers in the middle of September, Wrexham’s form has just continued to improve. Since Andy Morrell took over the managerial position for what seemed to be a tough away trip to Grimsby, Wrexham have won 11 of their 15 league games and are now on a run of 13 without defeat during which time they have only conceded 3 goals.
In contrast, as so often happens with newly promoted clubs, AFC Telford are experiencing an alarming mid season dip in form which has seen them win only 1 of the last 14 games. This poor sequence of results, whilst admittedly against some of the bigger clubs in the league, included a recent 3-1 defeat at basement club Bath City, and has caused Telford to become embroiled in an 8 team relegation battle that is developing at the foot of the table. It also caused manager Andy Sinton to try deflecting some of the pressure off his beleaguered side before last Monday’s encounter with Wrexham by claiming that the pressure is actually on the bigger clubs in the league. However, in front of a bumper Boxing Day crowd of 4500 at New Bucks Head, Wrexham ran out 2-0 winners despite a relatively lacklustre performance. Now, with form and statistics against them, Telford have somehow got to blunt Wrexham’s attack whilst finding a way past what seems to be an almost impenetrable defense. Furthermore, they have to do this without midfield talisman Phil Trainer, who was sent off in the closing stages of the first encounter for a second bookable offence.
Despite the challenges facing his own side, Andy Sinton is right in claiming that the pressure is on Wrexham. The club are desperate for a return to the football league but, despite their impressive form, they have still not managed to open up a significant gap between themselves and Fleetwood. However, with the Cod Army having to travel to Southport on Sunday, this represents Wrexham’s best opportunity of establishing some daylight. Given the contrasting fortunes of the clubs at the moment, it is difficult to see anything other than a Wrexham win in this one.
Many thanks to Stephen for this latest match preview. The article was originally published on Stephens blog, The Amber Army, a site dedicated to the Welsh clubs competing in the English leagues. You can also follow Stephen on Twitter: @WelshCelt2011