As we approach the dawn of the second half in this tight and enthralling Vanarama National League season, we have already witnessed many entertaining televised fixtures, unbelievable upsets and plenty of dramatic match winning goals throughout the current campaign. It is Wrexham AFC’s tenth season in this division, keeping optimists and some pessimists on their toes. After plunging into non-league alongside Mansfield Town in 2008, the Dragons have attempted to claw back their once cherished Football League status, ultimately failing at every attempt. Dean Keates’s first half season with his mould of players has drawn new hope amongst the Wrexham faithful, many players so far shining as heroes whilst an unfortunate few remain as zeros. (I won’t be including fringe/loan players)
(Starting XI) Chris Dunn – 6.5/10 – Perhaps a generous score considering some erratic errors he has made this season. Notably his weak excuse of a punch against Barrow allowing the anticipating Calum MacDonald to equalise in the 94th minute, completing a blockbuster 3-3 result at the Racecourse. While he has lacked communication with his defence at times, it is undeniable that on his day he is a fantastic goalkeeper. Often performing crucial save after save in times of desperate need. The single reason rampant Macclesfield Town only scored four as time and time again they toyed with a usually indestructible defence.
James Jennings – 7/10 – I can’t deny that James ‘Jenno’ Jennings has been slightly lacklustre compared to his usual, collective self. The brother of former red Connor was quite the coup from League Two side Cheltenham Town. A statement of intent from Keates who relies on his quality to win and play the ball from his favoured left back position. A catalogue of yellow cards and reckless challenges have spawned for him so far, provoking some fans to question his form. Yet being the epitome of ‘class is permanent,’ Jennings’s overall link up play is nothing short of solid, even developing a recent attacking prowess by netting against Barrow and Torquay United.
Manny Smith – 9/10 – Mountainous Manny Smith, the man who is built like a brick wall deflects balls away like he is an accomplished Jedi Knight. But such is life in the relentless route-one realms of non-league. Now in his second spell with Wrexham, he has once again demonstrated the reason why he is a highly regarded defender at this level. Working with the phenomenal veteran Shaun Pearson, he has been nearly unstoppable in giving opposition attackers no space to breach him. The only notable issue at this stage was allowing Scott Wilson plenty of joy during the tragic 4-1 defeat at Macclesfield Town. As Theresa May infamously said: ‘strong and stable’ which sums Manny to a ‘T.’
Shaun Pearson – 10/10 – Ladies and gentlemen, boys and girls, Conference players who don’t play for Macclesfield, you are fortunate enough to be witnessing the Shaun Pearson revolution. What a signing the Captain has been. Fending off contest from rival Conference teams and Football League teams, Keates has acquired a truly phenomenal defender and leader on and off the field. The focal reason of Wrexham’s impressive 15 clean sheets and the best defensive record in the National League this season. In contrast to his defensive game, he possesses the skillset aerially to bag goals up the other end, scoring against Eastleigh and Chester on live television much to the appeal of myself and countless other Wrexham supporters. He boasts one more goal this season than striker Scott Boden who was foreseen as an excellent signing for this level by Newport fans.
Kevin Roberts – 7/10 – The former Chester City player and Halifax skipper has fit the bill fairly competently on the right side of Wrexham’s back line. He’s proved to be a conflicting little player, capable of flexing his experience, applying his terrific leadership and good defensive abilities. Whereas on the flip side, he finds himself as an opposition target for his hit and miss positional sense, often leaving him vulnerable and exploited. Likewise his offensive play resembles a real ‘Jekyll and Hyde’ scenario as his high work ethic grants himself plenty of chances to initiate a killer cross, most strike an opposition shirt although he has produced some of the highest quality balls attackers will latch onto in this division.
Marcus Kelly – 7/10 – A classy little player that many hold in high regard, Marcus adopted the role of the set piece specialist and has more often than not delivered on that front. Despite supporters’ inability to determine his role as either a robust number 10 or as a bombing winger on the left flank, Marcus is very technically gifted and more than good enough to manoeuvre away from impossible situations with ease. He often finds himself putting ‘bums on seats’ as he swerves past multiple defenders, frustratingly leading to some misplaced passes from time to time. Personally I hope to see him become much more involved defensively, as he’s been known to ball watch if opponents break through the midfield lines resulting in opponents usually doubling up on Wrexham’s left side.
Sam Wedgbury – 8.5/10 – A man mountain of a unit who is physically strong enough to handle even the most intense onslaughts in midfield. With a silky ginger beard resting above his massive chest, he carries not only the power but the intimidating look required of an evil mastermind let alone a midfield general. It is invaluable what Sam offers to the defense, from his constant movement in front of the backline, branching off into his ruthless tackling and unique ball winning methods from his ability to read the game like a hawk. He rarely steps a foot wrong in his distribution, displaying his capabilities to play risky balls from deep to advancing forward players. I would love to give him a higher rating, but his lack of discipline costs himself, the team and the club as a whole.
Akil Wright – 8.5/10 – With news that Akil has put pen to paper on a two and a half year permanent deal, Wrexham have acquired a phenomenal talent if he performs like he has so far this season. The 21 year old who has made 19 appearances so far has found himself as the spearhead for transitional play, causing panic and unrest to opposing defences as he darts up the field. His athleticism and physical attributes have helped him tremendously to adapt at this level, bullying players whenever he feels like it. Although his technical side needs some improvement as he isn’t the most graceful player to pull on a Wrexham shirt. Then again at 21 years old, the Football League will soon be beckoning.
Paul Rutherford – 8/10 – A man that I was highly critical of during the Gary Mills tenure last season, he has been transformed as a player in the duration of Dean Keates’s reign. The perfect personnel to include in a title challenging squad, boasting plenty of pace, determination and high fitness levels, he refuses his opponent even a single moment of recovery. Despite this, Paul’s actual quality, composure and intelligence on the ball is under fire at the best of times, yet he finds himself as the season’s assist king at this moment in time, fingers crossed he keeps producing the goods.
Chris Holroyd – 10/10 – Absolutely fantastic addition, need I say more? The former Chester City and Macclesfield attacker has mustered up just over a goal every two games. Ludicrously reaching half of his total goal tally in 123 less appearances than at Macclesfield. As a player he dazzles in skill, pace, technical attributes and (so far) consistent goal-scoring qualities. I honestly cant uncover any faults in Holroyd’s flawless and intelligent performances as of yet, leaving many with minimal surprise if any approaches from Football League teams becomes reality. ‘Fear. The. Beard.’
Scott Boden – 5/10 – A real shame to see a once promising Football League player struggle a level beneath his proven territory. Falling second fiddle to Chris Holroyd and temporary loan players. Many blame the management for not playing to his strengths, although one cannot deny that Boden’s performances have been unworthy of a concrete place in the starting XI. Not always willing to dig in and work hard to find the ball, he is his own enemy in that respect. Recent goals against Macclesfield Town and Barrow could be what he needs to kick-start his season in the latter stages.
(Subs) Christian Dibble – 6/10 – Signed from Nuneaton, Dibble was only expected as a backup goalkeeper, yet many were questioning if he was a hidden gem of a player. After saving a penalty against Bromley, he established himself in the starting XI with awesome performance after performance, sadly injury soon struck where afterwards Callum Preston took charge once and Chris Dunn permanently ever since.
James Hurst – 5.5/10 – First through the door after the mass exodus last season, he is a player capable of doing a competent job at right back. Midfield? Not so much. Fitness levels are a concern for James, the reason why he’s used as a substitute so often. Hopefully he can push on and impress for another chance in the team.
Mark Carrington – 7/10 – Again perhaps a generous score considering his regular place as a benchwarmer this season. Whenever Mark is thrust onto the pitch he has been humble enough to accept filling in at left/right back or midfield. Often it’s felt like the missing player was never gone in the first place.
Leo Smith – 5/10 – Still a youngster with great potential, I am praying he avoids the Robbie Evans route. At 19 years of age you can have some understanding of why he’s only managed 7 appearances this season, but whenever he’s played he’s been somewhat ineffective compared to last season, where he was a hot topic of debate for a secure place in the starting XI. Plenty of time to develop yet for the Wrexham academy graduate.
Jack Mackreth – 5/10 – Pace, pace, pace and well, that’s mostly it. Dubbed a menace and an impact substitute, he does utilise some skill and technique to dribble past defenders and find men in the box, although his worrying inconsistency and many uninspiring performances (especially vs Harrogate Town) haven’t been well received and rightly so. If there was one player I have faith in to step up though, it would one hundred percent be him.