Wrexham suffered their second consecutive home defeat and their third in the league this season after local rivals Hereford United claimed an unlikely three points with a stoppage-time winner.
The first-half proved to be a scrappy affair with neither side exerting any real authority. Hereford took an unexpected lead from the first corner-kick in just the 8th minute of the game. The Wrexham defence, and stand in goalkeeper Andy Coughlin, again deputising for the suspended Joslain Mayebi, failed to deal with the corner. Captain Dean Keates headed the initial effort off the line before Chris Todd took advantage with a glancing header from just a yard out; a scrappy goal to reflect the nature of the early stages.
Though Wrexham had most of the play, the home side failed to create anything of note. They surrendered possession too easily at times which led to long, hopeful punts up field, and this allowed Hereford to sit comfortably on their one-goal lead. A lack of cohesion in Wrexham’s build-up play was evident mid-way through the half with a cross-field ball from Neil Ashton sailing aimlessly for a throw-in on the opposite side. The negativity and lack of ambition from the away side was matched by Wrexham’s own lack of imagination, and the decision to bring on Polish play-maker Adrian Cieslewicz at half-time was a no-brainer.
With player-manager Andy Morrell now calling the shots from the dug-out, Wrexham’s play improved immeasurably as long-balls upfield were abandoned in favour of patient, passing build-up play. They were rewarded for their renewed patient style with the equalizing goal just before the hour mark. Dean Keates’ in-swinging corner looped over the crowded penalty-box, deflected off the inside of the far post and fell invitingly to Stephen Wright who smashed home his first goal for the club with an acrobatic bicycle kick.
As Wrexham began to dominate the game, Hereford were forced out of their shell. Their dogged negativity gave way to a more progressive style of play, but it was the home side who carved out the better chances as the half wore on. Joe Clarke was unlucky not to score after cutting onto his right foot and into the penalty area, only to see his goalbound effort cannon off the post. Minutes later, Cieslewicz whipped in an inviting cross which Keates met with a diving header that skimmed agonizingly over the bar. With Wrexham pouring forward at every opportunity, the game was set for a grand finale.
Few could have imagined however that the visitors would have the last laugh as the game entered into stoppage time. The otherwise authoritative Dean Keates gave away a free-kick on the edge of the penalty-box after a marauding run from Hereford’s lively subsitute Harry Pell. Luke Graham met Sam Clucas’ floated delivery with a thumping header that gifted mid-table Hereford an unlikely, and perhaps unjustified, victory.
In a turgid game bereft of creativity, the most telling statistic was that all three goals came from set-plays – or perhaps the inability to defend them. A resurgent second-half performance from the home side should not mask what was in truth a first-half display lacking any imagination or cutting edge.
At full-time Wrexham remain in second place, four points behind leaders Newport. But with Grimsby, Dartford, Luton and Forest Green all in action later in the afternoon, defeat risks Wrexham sliding out of the play-off places.
On a lighter note today’s match programme included an ode to the side that won promotion from Division Three in the 2002/03 season. The hero that season was current player-manager Andy Morrell with 34 league goals. Similar inspiration will be needed if Wrexham are to find the consistency that can see them repeat their promotion charge this season.