Mark Griffiths column: Wrexham defensive duo Pearson and Smith deserve all the plaudits

Reporter:

Nick Harrison

I’M very disappointed with Wrexham County Borough Council, writes MARK GRIFFITHS.

I drove through town about an hour and a half after the final whistle on Wednesday, and there was absolutely no sign of a statue of Shaun Pearson and Manny Smith anywhere!

Football management isn’t rocket science. I’ll admit it’s a complicated affair, but some decisions are clearly correct, and others are the opposite.

The best managers keep it simple and take the obvious opportunity when it presents itself. Signing Pearson and Smith fell firmly into that category.

In both cases, when I first heard we were in for the player, my immediate reaction was unequivocal and totally positive.

Both have more than lived up to expectations. Before the season even started, it felt fair to say we’d the best centre back partnership in the division. Nothing we’ve seen since has cast doubt on that assertion.

On Wednesday, they were magnificent. This wasn’t a performance on the level of the Tranmere win, although as our first away win in nine years in the cross-border derby it was possibly more enjoyable.

At Prenton Park we were utterly resolute. We might have gone down to ten men in the opening quarter of an hour, but the sense that we were going to emerge with at least a clean sheet was unshakable throughout.

In contrast, at Chester, we conceded chances and were unable to either break efficiently or have spells in the second half where we could grab hold of possession and relieve the pressure.

Chester had a couple of chances which they could have converted; Tranmere couldn’t claim that back in September.

However, under such pressure even the best defences will yield chances. In the midst of it all, Pearson and Smith were titanic.

The entire team fought hard when we didn’t have the ball; no-one shirked their responsibility. The centre backs stood out for their heroic repelling of so many Chester attacks.

So what happens when Pearson is grabbed by the TV crew for a flash interview at the final whistle, when the skipper has just led us to a terrific, symbolic victory and the top of the table? He says he’s not satisfied.

That’s what we need in a leader. It’s an attitude Dean Keates has consciously brought into the club. He will often demand more from his team after a victory himself.

It’s a clear message from the top, for the whole squad to absorb: there is always scope for improvement, and the drive to be better again has to be relentless.

Denis Smith used to be like this.

It was difficult to read what his mood would be like after a match.

Sometimes he’d come in happy after a defeat because he knew his side had done what they could, although I have to admit that more often he’d enter the press room in a thunderous mood after a loss!

However, he could come in equally livid after victory. He always demanded more, taking it personally if they could not deliver to his high standards. It was an attitude which earned him a promotion in his second full season. It’s an attitude shared by Keates.

The other thing Keates has done is consciously create a strong bond between team and fans.

In fact, he’s wisely been very inclusive around the club, making staff realise that they are part of a team which, if all its constituent parts pull in the same direction, has a greater chance of success.

This, of course, dove-tails perfectly with the concept of a fan-owned club, and Keates eagerly promotes the idea of a fan-driven team. This was reflected at the final whistle on Wednesday.

Apart from after winning a trophy, I can’t recall seeing a team spend so long on the pitch after the match in communion with the fans, and the celebration wasn’t allowed to start until they were all there. This was a clear message from Keates. We’re all in it together. Everyone pulls in the same direction, or they are not needed.

That’s why Scott Boden, unused at Tranmere, still tweeted his pride after we won there.

That’s why Leo Smith, not on the bench on Wednesday, is ostentatiously at the heart of the celebration in Chester, a flag draped around his shoulders.

If you’re committed to the cause, you’re a valued part of the team, whether you’re on the pitch, in the dug-out or singing in the crowd.

Which brings us back to Smith and Pearson. Keates knew what he was getting when he brought Pearson in – a genuine role model who wants to be a part of the club.

He knew what he was getting with his ex-team mate Smith too – a role model in a different way, as he quietly goes about his business, his standards set high.

They are a pair who drive forwards a team which has already kept as many clean sheets as Wrexham did in all of last season.

So where’s that statue, eh?

Email:

nick.harrison@nwn.co.uk

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