By Matt Badcock
ONE-THOUSAND-TWO-HUNDRED-AND-TWENTY-SIX miles, three games, two wins and a draw, top of the National League – Bryan Hughes couldn’t ask for a whole lot more from Wrexham’s epic week on the road.
The Red Dragons returned to home comforts against Chesterfield last weekend following away wins at Havant & Waterlooville and Boreham Wood before a draw against promotion hopefuls Gateshead, all in the space of seven days.
For new boss Hughes it’s been an ideal start to life in the Racecourse dug-out and as well as seeing his side hit the top of the table, it also gave him insight into the team that has the north Wales town dreaming of a Football League return.
“It gives you time on the coach, staying in hotels, eating together – you start to get a more personal feel of the players,” Hughes told The NLP. “Their own lifestyles, they’ve got their own families and you start to get to know them a bit better. That’s what you need to do. It’s about us coming together to hopefully make this season a special one.
“Although it was a long week, it was good to see those sides of players come out, see their sense of humour that you need to see as a new manager coming into the new club.”
For those not paying attention at the back, Wrexham are currently the National League’s longest serving club and this season, seemingly their best opportunity since 2011-2012 to return to the Football League, has been eventful to say the least.
Hughes is their third manager of the campaign, after Sam Ricketts joined Shrewsbury and replacement Graham Barrow swiftly departed too.
Hughes, who began his career at Wrexham before going on to play in the Premier League for Birmingham City, Charlton Athletic and Hull City, was swiftly installed.
His first five games has brought four wins to reignite their title charge and he’s impressed by what he’s seen. Take Cole Stockton’s 93rd-minute leveller at Gateshead.
“It’s this stage of the season you need those leadership qualities, that character to come back from a goal down away,” Hughes said. “Home teams are going to have spells and you’ve got to see that out, more often than not we’ve done that in this past week. The pleasing thing for me is, with our away form beforehand, we’ve gone to three tough away games and scored six goals in the second-half. That shows how fit we are physically and that’s pleasing.”
Hughes had a spell as Scarborough Athletic manager before an academy coaching role. The side he has inherited is one of the division’s best defensively but at times lacks goals. While that is an area to address, Hughes hasn’t been looking to make radical changes.
“I haven’t been silly enough to come in and change things,” Hughes said. “I was very fortunate to come into a club in this position. So it wasn’t about changing formations or structures, it’s about fine tuning them really. The defence is strong. We’ve had 19 clean sheets this season – you’re not going to change to three at the back when your defence is keeping clean sheets like that!
“For me it’s about getting them into areas where they can be effective attacking wise. We haven’t scored a lot of goals this season. In the four games since I’ve come in we’ve scored seven goals which is encouraging. I’m just trying to give the confidence and belief they can get into those areas of the pitch.
“It’s not going away from that defensive structure – we need to keep that intact – but working with the attacking players and putting them in areas they can be creative.”
As well as leaning heavily on the existing coaching staff, Hughes has brought in club legend Brian Flynn – the man who gave him his Wrexham break.
“That’s one of the big things for me, Brian knows the club and was manager during a very successful spell. He gave me my debut so he knows me personally and his knowledge and experience is going to be vital – especially at this stage of the season.”
Of course there’s plenty more miles to put in before the end of the season but Hughes’ side have a base to push from – and he wants the supporters to help them do it.
“We’re in a good position,” Hughes said. “I was a player here a long time ago and things have changed, obviously, but it’s the same passion from the fans as it was back then.
“We were quite successful as a team back in those days under Brian Flynn. It would be good to bring those days back, the fans deserve that.
“But it’s one small step at a time. We’re doing well at the moment, we’re proud to be top of the league but now we’ve got to plan and prepare for each game and hopefully get results.”