Why Phil Parkinson will not be fazed by losing run at Wrexham
There is no doubt now Wrexham have hit a sticky patch.
Three straight defeats have seen Phil Parkinson’s side slip to fifth in the League Two table, their lowest position since mid-October. Just one goal has been scored during those losses, all against teams who had previously been horribly out of form.
On Saturday, Andy Cook’s 90th-minute winner ended Bradford City’s eight-game winless run in the fourth tier, just a week after the Welsh club had become the first visiting side to lose in the league to Salford City since early October.
Even after such a damaging month, any pressure on manager Parkinson is likely to come from himself rather than others in the club.
Wrexham are only two points away from Crewe Alexandra, who occupy the third automatic promotion spot, and have two games in hand in them.
Owners Rob McElhenney and Ryan Reynolds have also made clear in the past just how they deal with tricky periods. When Wrexham lost 5-0 to Stockport County in September after a mixed start to the season, McElhenney made sure the man who got them promoted last season knew how much support he had.
“Phil, we are right behind you,” read a text, sent so it arrived before Parkinson had even reached the dressing room. “We are right with you.”
But this is a bad run, by any measure.
Despite this, Wrexham’s display on Saturday was an improvement on that sorry 3-1 loss to Salford.
For a start, George Evans was able to dictate, thanks to everything going through him in the holding midfield role.
With Andy Cannon also using the ball well in midfield and wing-back Ryan Barnett playing much more advanced than he had against Salford, the home side were able to pin Bradford in for long periods, particularly during a one-sided first half. This led to plenty of set pieces being won in dangerous positions, which usually yield plenty of goalscoring opportunities for a team boasting James McClean’s delivery and the Exocet missile that is Ben Tozer’s long throw.
Against Bradford, however, this usually reliable attacking weapon misfired. It was a similar story from open play, where umpteen promising situations were squandered via a poor final pass or the wrong option being taken against a defence that was the epitome of resilience throughout.
Cook’s sucker-punch winner, after an exquisite turn had left Tozer trailing on the edge of the area, meant the Racecourse Ground was unusually quiet at the final whistle, save for a smattering of boos from the home fans and the elated celebrations of their 1,153 counterparts from Yorkshire.
However, amid that sense of deflation over losing a third straight league game for the first time in almost three years — since Notts County, Torquay United and Stockport got the better of manager Dean Keates’ side in April 2021 — there remains a sense of defiance among the squad.
“The run won’t last forever and we will turn the corner very soon,” insists this month’s deadline-day signing Luke Bolton. “We did more than enough to win the game, just didn’t take our chances on the day. Spirits remain high.”
Wrexham are far from the first League Two promotion chasers to hit a rough spell this season. Leaders Stockport and second-placed Mansfield Town recently endured three- (twice) and four-game winless runs in the league respectively, while in-form Crewe may have gone third on Saturday by beating Crawley Town but they finished 2023 by taking three points from a possible 18.
All have since emerged from those mini-slumps.
Wrexham will surely do the same, no matter how flat things may feel. There is too much quality in the squad for that not to be the case, while the presence in the dugout of a manager who has already proved his ability to get this club over the line when the pressure is on should also prove pivotal.
Any disconsolate home fan harbouring doubts over Parkinson when digesting a first home defeat since the opening day of the season in August, coincidentally against an MK Dons side managed by now Bradford boss Graham Alexander, could have done a lot worse than grabbing a five-minute chat with any of the departing away fans.
In his near five years in charge at Valley Parade, Parkinson dealt with much graver crises than a month that has seen Wrexham slip out of the top three and exit the FA Cup via a 4-1 thumping at Championship side Blackburn Rovers.
No more so than in his first season at the helm. Having inherited what then co-chairman Mark Lawn still describes today as “the worst Bradford City team of my lifetime” just five games into that 2011-12 League Two campaign, he had to work under the shadow of possible liquidation for the club should he fail to keep them in the EFL.
Bradford eventually won their survival battle with two games to spare, though only after numerous bumps in the road that Julian Rhodes, their other joint-chairman at the time, feels could have knocked lesser characters off course.
“We set Phil just one target when he got the job — to keep us in the Football League that first season,” recalls Rhodes. “Bradford in the National League with all the overheads we had back then (around £1.2million per year in rent, rates and utilities)… we’d have had a big, big problem. Oblivion, really.
“Phil appreciated all that but it never fazed him. He was always so very calm under pressure. It was a big reason why we went for him because he seemed that sort of character when we first met.”
Less than a year later, Parkinson was leading fourth-tier Bradford out at Wembley to face Swansea City of the Premier League in the League Cup final, having beaten top-flight sides Wigan Athletic, Arsenal and (over two legs) Aston Villa to get there. Promotion via the play-offs followed three months later. He would mastermind a stunning 4-2 FA Cup win over a title-bound Chelsea at Stamford Bridge en route to then League One Bradford reaching the quarter-finals in 2014-15.
All that success, however, was only made possible by achieving that initial target of avoiding relegation.
“Phil quickly realised how big the job of keeping us in the league was,” adds Rhodes, delighted to see Bradford claim their first win of 2024 at Wrexham’s expense but still confident his former manager can go on to claim a fifth career promotion this season. “We were in a horrible position, down near the foot of the table for so long. I lost count of the number of crisis meetings we had that season, both as a board and with the manager, just trying to find a way out of the trouble we were in.
“What Phil never allowed was for any of it to become a drama, either for the players or the club. He’s one of those who never gets too high when things are going well and never gets too low when it goes in the other direction. He just gets on with the job and blocks out any outside noise.
“Perfect for Bradford City, and I’d imagine perfect for Wrexham in their attempts to win another promotion. He’s a manager who just gets the job done.”
(Top photo: Jess Hornby/Getty Images)