In the past two seasons Luton Town have wrecked Wrexham’s promotion hopes at the final hurdle, defeating The Dragons twice at the play-off semi-final stages. The Hatters have again thrown a spanner in the works as they held Wrexham to a disappointing 0-0 draw at the Racecourse, which has relinquished their place at the top of the Blue Square Bet Premier.
Mansfield Town, impressive winners at Forest Green on Friday night, have now taken on the mantle of league leaders ahead of their visit to the Racecourse on Tuesday evening. Wrexham will have to sure more urgency and quality than they did on Saturday afternoon if they are to reclaim that coveted top spot.
On a dreary afternoon at the Racecourse, the conditions were hardly conducive to the passing style that manager Andy Morrell likes his side to play. In accordance, the early stages were scrappy, with neither side exerting their authority. Some early lethargy from the home side almost allowed the visitors to open the scoring twice in the first 10 minutes.
Captain Chris Westwood, deputising for the suspended Dean Keates and injured Neil Ashton, was beaten for pace by Alex Wall down the left hand side. The striker’s square pass across the six yard-box was intercepted by Martin Riley, who almost put the ball through his own net as he cleared behind.
From the resulting corner Luton captain Steve McNulty rose highest but his header was cleared off the line by Johnny Hunt. Wrexham have tended to start quickly at home in recent weeks, but this was an aberration.
It took until the 20th minute for Wrexham to gain a foothold in the game, Dele Adebola streaked down the left hand side, in a similar manner to his counterpart Wall, and his shot was turned behind for a corner.
From Joe Clarke’s corner, Adebola rose to head goalwards, only to see his effort cleared off the line. What Wrexham’s first-half lacked in quality it made up for in endeavour, but that was not nearly enough to breakdown a resolute and professional Luton rearguard.
Brett Ormerod went close after 35 minutes, but his shot was smartly saved by Mark Tyler. A minute later, Riley rose to meet another Joe Clarke corner, which was again hacked off the line. As Wrexham grew into the half they could be forgiven for believing that it would flow naturally after the break.
Thornton drove wildly over the bar on 56 minutes, after good interplay by Brett Ormerod and Adebola but as Wrexham began to dictate the tempo of the play, Luton shuffled their pack. A double substitution on 63 minutes saw Solomon Taiwo and Dan Walker enter the fray, as the away side look to pile numbers into defence and midfield.
The rain began to bucket down on an already patchwork surface, and Wrexham’s challenge grew more and more difficult. Every ball pumped forward was snuffled out. The midfield trio of Clarke, Kevin Thornton and Jay Harris tired as it compensated for the lack of legwork from a forward frontline that has now been unchanged for five consecutive games.
Morrell watched motionless on the sidelines as the match began to drift away from his side. Eventually he blinked, but not with the game-changing substitution that the home crowd were crying out for as he replaced Brett Ormerod with Glen Little.
Still the home side failed to penetrate past a resolute Luton back-line, reduced to spasmodic moments of inspiration from Joe Clarke as alongside him Thornton and Harris looked bereft of ideas and invention. On 78 minutes Morrell decided to sacrifice the relentless Clarke for the diminutive Adrian Cieslewicz. If the introduction of the Pole was aimed at appeasing an irate Racecourse, withdrawing Joe Clarke was the wrong way to go about it.
Afforded little more than 12 minutes to make a difference, Cieslewicz was handicapped from the start. Two minutes after his arrival he slalomed into the Luton penalty box, causing panic and confusion among the visiting ranks. Minutes later he won a free kick on the edge of the opposition penalty area, from which Little found Thornton, only for the midfielder to lash his effort over the bar.
With five minutes remaining Dele Adebola met an inviting Stephen Wright with the full force of his forehead, crashing the ball into the ground and as it looped up Tyler could only parry it onto the crossbar and behind.
As the clock ran down to 90 minutes, the home side eventually found the back of the opposition, but Martin Riley was correctly adjudged offside, after connecting with a lofted Harris cross.
Into added time and Wrexham could so easily have conceded, Chris Maxwell, after an underworked 45 minutes, making a smart save with his legs to stop Dan Walker. Wrexham avoided a calamitous ending as the referee put them and the home crowd out of their misery on a wet and miserable afternoon in North Wales.
The only solace for Wrexham is the collection of a first league clean sheet at the Racecourse since 25th September, but it is perhaps fitting that it arrived in a goalless draw.
With five fixtures at the Racecourse remaining this season, player-manager Andy Morrell must be concerned at his side’s inconsistent home form, which have seen draws with Tamworth, Southport and Alfreton since Christmas – points that cannot afford to be dropped as Kidderminster and Mansfield continue their own relentless quests for promotion.
Ineffectual on the pitch and inert off it, Morrell and Wrexham need to buck up their ideas ahead of the visit of table-topping Mansfield Town on Tuesday evening. Part two of a season-defining trilogy in Wrexham’s season takes on a whole new significance after this sorry performance against Luton.
Next Game: Tuesday Evening, Wrexham v Mansfield Kick Off 7:45pm at The Racecourse.