Wrexham will hope Okonkwo’s shutout against Mansfield is start of defensive defiance

Arthur Okonkwo being the last to leave the Mansfield Town pitch after Wrexham had ground out a hard-earned point felt entirely fitting.

The 22-year-old, on loan from Arsenal, had been an immovable object in the preceding 90 minutes, especially in a one-sided first half that was played almost entirely in the visitors’ territory.

His save to tip Ollie Clarke’s wickedly swerving shot on to the post just before the break was of the highest quality. Likewise, how he denied Aaron Lewis on a night when the home team’s high-energy pressing game meant there was simply no respite for Wrexham’s defence in those opening 45 minutes.

Okonkwo wasn’t alone in keeping Mansfield at bay. Aaron Hayden was among those to also put his body on the line more than once, most notably when throwing himself in front of another goal-bound shot from Clarke.

Wrexham did have one huge slice of luck in a first half that saw their hosts carve out 11 openings to just one off-target effort by Phil Parkinson’s men, when Davis Keillor-Dunn’s fiercely drilled shot struck the inside of the post before bouncing to safety.

But Okonkwo and co probably deserved that good fortune for the gutsy efforts that ensured Nigel Clough’s side failed to find the net for only the second time this season.

Considering this was only the loanee’s second league outing, the hope has to be that this can herald a change of fortune for a Wrexham side who had not shown anywhere near enough of that fighting spirit when conceding 23 goals in the ten games that preceded the trip to Mansfield.

Only League Two’s bottom club Sutton United have let in more. That is damning enough but becomes even worse when factoring in the huge differential between the metric expected goals against (xGA) — how many goals they are likely to concede — for the Welsh club.

Before the gutsy rearguard effort at Mansfield, Wrexham’s xGA stood at 12.4 from 164 efforts on their goal (75 on target), according to respected scouting tool Wyscout.

Only five sides could boast a lower figure — Gillingham (xGA 9), AFC Wimbledon (9.5), Mansfield Town (10.1), Bradford City (12) and Accrington Stanley (12.3).

This suggests Parkinson’s side had been quite effective in restricting the opposition to largely difficult goalscoring opportunities. Put this xGA together with those 23 goals conceded, however, and a damning picture emerges with tougher chances also turning into goals.

Wrexham’s disparity between xGA and goals conceded was comfortably the largest in the division at 10.6 before the Mansfield game, suggesting they were conceding almost twice as many goals as the chances merited.

xGA to Goals Conceded in League Two

xGA Goals conceded Difference





Newport County




Notts County




Sutton United




Up to and including Sept 30

Contrast this with Gillingham (xGA 9, goals conceded 9), Mansfield (xGA 10.1, 9 goals conceded) and Wimbledon (xGA 9.5, ten goals conceded) after the season had reached the 10-game landmark.

What’s the cause of such a disparity? Are the goalkeepers incapable of keeping out the most innocuous of shots? Is the defence not offering enough protection, particularly when a failure to close down the shooter quick enough is turning those difficult chances into a ‘pick your spot’ shooting opportunity?

A look through the goals conceded by Wrexham suggests a bit of both. In the 5-0 thrashing at Stockport County, for instance, there was a farcical mix-up defensive mix-up between Ben Tozer and Will Boyle, while MK Dons and Swindon Town both were afforded sufficient time on the edge of the home penalty area to score with ease.

Equally, though, Wrexham have been conceding a lot of goals per shots on target with Stockport netting all five in last month’s romp at Edgeley Park when Mark Howard was in goal.

Ben Foster had a similar record in the 5-5 draw against Swindon with his only save being a shot straight at him from Jake Young, while the former England goalkeeper saved acrobatically from MK Dons forward Jonathan Leko just before the break on the opening day but, otherwise, was unable to do anything about the five shots that flew past him.

Okonkwo’s task is to become the goalkeeper Wrexham so badly need, a goalkeeper who doesn’t just make the saves he’s expected to make but big, important efforts at key times, too. The sort of save that sticks in the memory — such as Rob Lainton’s remarkable one-handed effort against Chesterfield last season — and wins precious points.

Saturday’s league debut against Crewe Alexandra did offer some hope on that score, especially how Okonkwo clawed a seemingly goal-bound shot from Joel Tabiner to safety at full stretch.

It was just the sort of position where MK Dons and Swindon had punished Wrexham earlier in the season, though in this instance Elliot Lee did at least deserve credit for putting pressure on the ball.

Nevertheless, the shot was hit so cleanly and with such pace that Okonkwo deserves credit for a save that left Tabiner holding his head in frustration.

Okonkwo save 2 Crewe

The flipside to this save in the 3-3 draw came via the mess that was Crewe’s final goal. A dinked ball over the top for Courtney Baker-Richardson seemed to carry little threat, thanks to Will Boyle marking the striker closely.

Crewe Goal 3 pt1

A breakdown in communications, however, saw Boyle leave the ball to concentrate on Baker-Richardson, presumably in the expectation Okonkwo would come to claim. It was a mistake Rio Adebisi seized upon, leaving his marker, Will McClean, trailing.

Okonkwo belatedly rushed from his six-yard box but by now it was too late.

Crewe Goal 3 pt2

Adebisi duly reached the byline before cutting the ball back for Shilow Tracey to tap in from close range. The biggest error was undoubtedly Boyle’s. But neither Okonkwo nor McClean were blameless for a goal that was as eminently preventable as so many others this season.

Crewe Goal 3 pt3

Okonkwo responded in just the right way at Mansfield. Maybe he really can be the perfect antidote to those early season defensive horror shows, as seemingly difficult chances were made to look far too easy by the opposition.

(Photo: Matthew Ashton – AMA/Getty Images)

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