Wrexham’s assault on the Blue Square Premier title suffered a deflating setback as they were held to a 1-1 draw at the Racecourse, following an efficient display from the visiting Alfreton Town. Kevin Thornton’s beautiful opener after nine minutes was cancelled out by a Scott Boden tap-in midway through the second half.
The Dragons remain top of the table, by virtue of superior goal difference to Kidderminster Harriers, whose extraordinary run of 16 wins in their last 18 outings has catapulted them to the upper echelons of the league table.
It had started so positively for Wrexham. An unmistakable spring air permeated the Racecourse ground, which filtered through to a relaxed atmosphere amongst the 3,706 fans present.
Perhaps it was the presence of three Wrexham debutants in the starting eleven – Dele Adebola and David Artell the new loan signings, and Kevin Thornton making his belated bow from the start. Or maybe it was the boon that comes with booking a first ever Wembley appearance.
As such it generated a confident, almost expectant climate, and it couldn’t fail to have been ratcheted up by Thornton’s stunning opening goal on nine minutes. After a low-key opening, the ginger-haired prince received the ball 20 yards from goal, and, with little options around him, shuffled into space before unleashing a dipping drive which nestled into Jordan Pickford’s top corner.
It should have marked the beginning of something; at best a flood of opportunities, at worst a period of dominance. But Wrexham’s play was scrappy and unimaginative. There was little control in the middle, captain Dean Keates in particularly looked lethargic following recent exploits.
The three forward positions were a hodgepodge; with Dele Adebola immediately installed into the central role, Brett Ormerod was marooned on the left-hand side and rendered little more than a peripheral figure. Manager Andy Morrell must now consider, in a front-three forward line, are Ormerod and Adebola fundamentally incompatible?
However, the 37-year old new boy displayed fleeting glimpses of a talent that has seen him traverse through the Football Leagues, a clever flick here and there, aerial dominance and marauding runs. But his sheer presence at the apex of Wrexham’s front line seemed to have a negligible effect on those around him, with patient build up play that has become synonymous with their style in recent weeks, abandoned in favour of aimless long balls.
In light of the home side’s lethargy, Alfreton caused a number of problems to Wrexham’s back line, led by the silky Louie Soares, who twice forced sprawling saves out of Chris Maxwell in goal.
It was in the second half, though, that the visitors made their hosts pay, and Wrexham once again contrived to concede at the Racecourse. Neil Ashton inexplicably went to ground with Soares running at him, whose shot from the right hand side of the area was deflected into the path of a grateful Scott Boden who fired home from inside six yards.
Wrexham’s response was almost immediate, after an Adebola flick on was looped into the path of Ormerod by Danny Wright. Ormerod, bearing down on goal, squared to Wright, whose precise effort was blocked by the feet of the onrushing Pickford.
Thornton, whose close control and use of possession was excellent throughout, forced a sprawling save out of Pickford on 70 minutes, when he connected with a cutback from Wright inside the area.
But it did not last. The defence and midfield resorted, again, to aimless long balls towards the considerably-sized head of Dele Adebola; many were overhit, many were cleared by the solid central defensive pair of Adam Quinn and Darran Kempson. A complete lack of inspiration on the pitch filtered into desperation and frustration in the stands, yet Morrell stood motionless on the touchline.
He eventually called upon Glen Little and Adrian Cieslewicz from the bench, but only in the final 10 minutes, and 10 minutes too late to make a meaningful impact. The withdrawal of the impressive Thornton was met with howls of derision, but should be tempered with the fact he played 45 minutes of a reserve match on Wednesday, after his goalscoring cameo on Tuesday night at Barrow.
As time slipped away from Wrexham so did the three points, and a chance to maintain their cushion at the top of the table. The Dragons had chances at the end to snatch an unlikely victory, but that would have masked a disappointing and disjointed display. An acrobatic effort from Adebola, following a long-throw from Stephen Wright, was tipped onto the bar by the excellent Pickford.
Keates had a glaring opportunity to claim all three points with the last kick of the game, when Kempson’s headed clearance found him with time and space in the centre of the opposition’s penalty box, but after chesting the ball down he volleyed wide. The Wrexham captain sank to the ground, and Wrexham’s faithful pilgrims filed out.
The Dragons were guilty of cruising through the first half in second gear, possibly saving their legs for the future travails that await them over the next few weeks. It backfired. The injection of extra energy in the second half came too late. But as is the nature of this league, they have the chance to make amends on Tuesday night against Ebbsfleet United.