Wrexham survived a second half onslaught from Stockport County to record an unlikely 3-1 victory at the Racecourse this afternoon. On a wet and dreary day in North Wales, a sterling defensive effort combined with a farcical refereeing display by Brett Huxtable, prevented Stockport from grabbing a deserved share of the spoils. As it was, goals from Joe Clarke, Danny Wright and Rob Ogleby launched the home side towards their first league victory in a month and, for a few hours at least, level with table toppers Grimsby Town.
In Wrexham’s first return to the Racecourse since the dramatic 2-2 draw with Southport 11 days ago, new loan signing Chris Maxwell was making his first home appearance for The Dragons since December 2011. On that day Wrexham were defeated in the first round of the FA Trophy by Hinckley United, whilst today presented a thoroughly different challenge.
A bog of a pitch, exacerbated by a consistent downfall from the heavens, prevented either side from developing a passing game. It was not conducive to an aesthetically pleasing affair, indeed the first 45 minutes was one of the most insipid of the season so far.
Chances for either side were few and far between, neither ‘keeper was overworked whilst Wrexham controlled possession without ever looking threatening. Yet the home side had started the match very brightly, and richly deserved their 8th minute lead via Joe Clarke’s fifth goal in his last six games.
Johnny Hunt had worked space down the left hand side, his cut-back to the edge of the area where Clarke was lurking, unmarked, was precise. The midfielder’s swept finish into the bottom left hand corner was emphatic, and emblematic of the rich vein of form he finds himself in.
It was an encouraging start by the hosts, similar to the Southport match 11 days previously. Intelligent movement complimented exquisite ball retention, and County were unable to get a grip on proceedings. The visiting side mustered just one effort on goal in the first half, a Danny Hattersley header that was easily smothered by Maxwell, who made a commanding return to the Racecourse.
They had a legitimate claim for a penalty, when a cross smacked into the hand of Martin Riley, but referee Brett Huxtable was unmoved. It became a recurring theme in a pulsating second half, where Huxtable’s inertia took centre stage.
Wrexham’s early dominance appeared to have sapped their energy; for half-an-hour in the second half they were laboured and decidedly second best. That they were not pegged back after a swarm of Stockport attacks was largely down to defensive resilience, a lack of killer instinct from the away side and a perplexing refereeing performance from Huxtable, who turned down further penalty appeals when Hattersley and Alex Kenyon were felled in the box.
Huxtable seemed content to allow both sides fly into lunging slide-tackles, but clamped down on 50-50 tussles. Stockport were visibly unhappy with his inconsistency, Kenyon was awarded a yellow card for his protestations, but they only had themselves to blame for not drawing level.
The away side had the ball in the Wrexham net on 63 minutes, but as Andy Halls steamed in to convert Mark Cullen’s goal bound header, he was adjudged to be offside. Wrexham continued to struggle to find urgency and regain control of the middle-ground, but provided a resilient rear-guard effort that will need repeating between now and the end of the season; Stephen Wright and Martin Riley, in particular, excelled.
Player-manager Andy Morrell, starting his first game since the middle of December, shuffled the pack mid-way through the second 45, introducing Adrian Cieslewicz and Rob Ogleby. It proved decisive in the destination of the three points.
Danny Wright, who had toiled away all afternoon up front in spite of Morrell’s rustiness and Johnny Hunt’s anonymity, should have doubled Wrexham’s advantage 12 minutes from time, but after a slaloming run through the penalty area, he blazed his effort high over the bar.
He made no mistake four minutes later. A corner kick was flimsily punched away by Richard O’Donnell straight into the striker’s path, who dispatched an unstoppable drive through a sea of bodies and into the Stockport net.
Two minutes from time, the scoreline took on a gloss that Wrexham’s second-half performance had not merited when Adrian Cieslewicz played in Rob Ogleby, who tucked away his fifth league goal of the season.
After their impressive rear-guard resilience, the home side appeared destined to notch their first league clean sheet at the Racecourse since September. But it was not to be, when Connor Jennings converted a Halls free-kick past a motionless Maxwell.
It was a goal Stockport’s performance deserved, but it was to Wrexham’s credit that it came in stoppage time, and not half-an-hour earlier. By no means was this a vintage display from the promotion hopefuls, but it is at times like this when timeless clichés about winning without playing well are often trotted out.
After all, it marks a return to winning ways and provides the platform for a midweek trip to Hereford United.