The metric that illustrates Ollie Palmer’s importance to Wrexham’s League Two title bid


As Wrexham’s goalscoring talisman these past three seasons, it was no surprise that Paul Mullin’s scintillating first-half display was the talk of the travelling fans making their way home from the 3-1 win against Grimsby Town over the weekend.

Mullin’s thumping 42nd-minute volley on the turn for Wrexham’s third was just what everyone connected with the Welsh club wanted to see ahead of the League Two promotion race’s run-in. As was the delightful double shimmy near halfway during the build-up to Andy Cannon’s second goal, making it 2-0, five minutes earlier; the way Mullin left Grimsby midfielder Gavan Holohan sprawled on the turf suggested this is a player once more at the top of his game after an unusually barren spell earlier in the year.

With the games now coming thick and fast, next for third-placed Wrexham is Good Friday’s mouth-watering visit from fourth-tier leaders Mansfield Town, what price can be put on a fit and firing Mullin now he has scored six goals in his past half-dozen appearances?

Less heralded than the club’s now 18-goal top scorer this season — or even 28-year-old Cannon’s first ever double in senior football — was Ollie Palmer’s role in Saturday’s triumph. Not only did the man who is still Wrexham’s £300,000 ($379k at the current rate) record signing after joining in January 2022 put in a terrific shift before being withdrawn late on with the game won. But he also continued a quite remarkable record.

Namely, in his 19 league starts for them this season, they are yet to lose. Considering Phil Parkinson’s men have been beaten nine times in 39 league outings, this is impressive. Forty-three points have been claimed in those 19 fixtures, too (12 wins, seven draws), to underline both Palmer’s value to the side and the role all five senior strikers will have in these final seven fixtures.

Mullin, on Saturday’s form, seems a shoo-in to start the remaining games, if fit. That’s how it has been since he came to the club in summer 2021, save for that recent eight-game scoreless run that saw him begin on the bench three times.

This leaves the question as to who from the supporting cast partners Wrexham’s main man. In terms of results, there’s no debate, with Palmer and Mullin having been played together a dozen times this season, a pairing that has yielded eight wins and four draws.

It is comfortably the best return of any strike duo at the club, although Palmer and Sam Dalby do boast a 100 per cent winning record after starting against Tranmere Rovers and Doncaster Rovers in September, and then again at home to Gillingham a couple of months later.

Wrexham Striking Partnerships

Starts W-D-L Points

Mullin-Palmer

12

8 – 4 – 0

28

Mullin-Dalby

8

3 – 0 – 5

9

Mullin-Fletcher

7

3 – 2 – 2

11

Palmer-Dalby

3

3 – 0 – 0

9

Palmer-Bickerstaff

3

1 – 2 – 0

5

Fletcher-Marriott

2

1 – 0 – 1

3

Dalby-McClean

1

1 – 0 – 0

3

Palmer alone

1

0 – 1 – 0

1

Dalby-Marriott

1

0 – 1 – 0

1

Dalby-Waters

1

0 – 0 – 1

0

The threat posed by a Mullin/Palmer pairing is further illustrated by how Wrexham went 25 games unbeaten to the end of last season when they started together in the National League. We have to go back almost exactly 18 months to the last time Parkinson’s side tasted defeat in the league with Palmer and Mullin in the starting XI: the 1-0 loss to Notts County on October 4, 2022.

Again, a remarkable record and one that surely makes the two men the first-choice partnership for a run-in that, due to featuring two outings either side of the upcoming Easter weekend and another midweek fixture at home against seventh-placed Crawley Town squeezed in on Tuesday, April 9, will no doubt have a degree of rotation, at least in terms of who plays alongside Mullin.

The above table offers a few hints, even allowing for its innate simplicity. These shortcomings include how certain victories this season have had more to do with the personnel Wrexham have had on the pitch at the end of a game than who started it.

Salford City at home in October is a prime example, with two of Parkinson’s substitutes, Steven Fletcher and Jordan Davies, scoring in the 88th and 89th minutes to snatch a 3-2 win from the jaws of defeat at a time when starter Palmer had been back sitting on the bench for 25 minutes.

The flipside to this, however, is last month’s 2-1 away victory against Sutton United, when both Mullin and Palmer were instrumental in Wrexham finishing the game strongly enough to snatch another late winner after both had been brought off the bench with 18 minutes remaining. For the purposes of our table, that triumph is credited to the Fletcher-Jack Marriott partnership, who gave way to Palmer and Mullin after getting little joy up front.

Those flaws aside, the table offers a decent gauge as to the effectiveness of a partnership.

Take Dalby and Mullin, for instance. Despite dovetailing neatly on last season’s title run-in, this pairing hasn’t worked anywhere near as well a division above. Wrexham losing five of their eight league starts together comes as no surprise.

Fletcher and Mullin have fared better, with three wins and 11 points from seven league starts together. This seems the most likely alternative to Mullin and Palmer, should Parkinson feel two starts in quick succession is beyond his now 32-year-old record signing.

For that reason, the team selection at home to Mansfield on Friday afternoon (it’s a national holiday in the UK), will be fascinating. Does the manager stick to a partnership that has delivered for the best part of two years? Or, with one eye on Tuesday’s game against a weaker Doncaster side, does Fletcher or even Dalby get the nod to partner Mullin against the division leaders with Palmer held back to be unleashed on the 18th-place Yorkshiremen?

It’s a big call.

Palmer seems equally well suited to home or away fixtures. His 19-game run of unbeaten starts this term includes 12 wins on the road, way above the average for a club who until their recent back-to-back wins at Morecambe and Grimsby had struggled this season away from the Racecourse Ground.

This impressive return includes playing the lone striker role in August’s 1-1 draw at AFC Wimbledon, his previous club, plus subsequent starts alongside Dalby and Jake Bickerstaff, who got loaned out in the winter window to Accrington Stanley having not started a league game since that first month of the season, to underline his versatility during a season that hasn’t been easy on a personal level.

ollie palmer 2023 24 all shots

For all the team’s success with him starting, Palmer has scored just five goals this season in 32 league appearances. There have also been times since returning from injury early in the New Year when he’s failed to make even the matchday squad of 18 due to the intense competition that comes with Wrexham having five senior strikers on the books.

Despite this, he has invariably performed when called upon.

Saturday was typical of the level of industry he offers, plus an ability to take the knocks from opposition centre-halves and create space for Mullin to exploit.

GettyImages 1601910119 scaled


Wrexham haven’t lost in the 19 league games this season where Palmer has started (Matthew Ashton – AMA/Getty Images)

In blustery early spring conditions on the north Lincolnshire coast, he never once let the home defence rest, always pressing the ball when Grimsby were in possession. He also won more than his fair share of headers, both deep inside his own penalty area when repelling Doug Tharme’s missile-like long throws, and up front to bring others into play.

Had Mullin not slightly overhit one dinked pass on the edge of the penalty area in the first quarter, Palmer would have been through one-on-one with goalkeeper Harvey Cartwright.

Palmer kept going right until being substituted on 87 minutes, his last act being to win a 50-50 challenge wide on the right and just five yards from the Wrexham goal-line. No wonder he left the field to the chant, ‘Ollie, Ollie, Ollie….’ from the away end.

Those same fans will no doubt be hoping he again gets the nod to start alongside Mullin on Friday, with Fletcher — whose eight league goals for Wrexham have come in just 936 minutes on the pitch — ready to make an impact from the bench, should the Scotland international be needed.

(Top photo: Bradley Collyer/PA Images via Getty Images)





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