Wrexham have fallen short in the play-offs again as they succumbed to a late 2-0 defeat at the hands of Newport County, in today’s final at Wembley.
An 86th minute strike from Christian Jolley left the Dragons reeling before Aaron O’Connor sealed their fate with a second in added time to consign the Dragons to another year outside of the Football League.
An absorbing 90 minutes had seen both sides create enough goalscoring opportunities to force a winner, but in the end it was the South Walians who proved more clinical.
The Wrexham players cut dejected figures after the final whistle as they lay shattered on the Wembley turf having left every sinew of their heart and energy on the pitch.
There were outstanding performances across the side, from the colossal Martin Riley, the swashbuckling Joe Clarke and the tireless Brett Ormerod.
For all the team work though, Wrexham were made to pay for individual mistakes and a familiar profligacy in front of goal that has plagued their season.
During a sedate first half in which each side were left to size up the other, there was little in the way of clear goalscoring opportunities. The man who scored the winning goal for Blackpool in their Championship play-off final three years ago was at the centre of everything positive Wrexham created.
Ormerod fired against the side netting, saw a 20-yard effort drift wide and volleyed over the bar from inside the 18-yard box. Newport, who had set up to stifle Wrexham and hit them on the counter, as Grimsby had in the FA Trophy final, were not at the races until the closing stages of the first half.
Jolley came close to opening the scoring as he bent an effort past the far post before Lee Minshull volleyed straight at Chris Maxwell on the stroke of halftime.
Newport came out with far more urgency in the second half, but it was Wrexham who created the better chances. Again it was Ormerod, who produced the defining moment of the game on the stroke of the hour.
After sterling work down the right hand side from Stephen Wright and Joe Clarke, Andy Morrell unleashed a fierce effort at goal. Pidgeley’s parry fell invitingly for Ormerod, but with his body at an awkward angle contrived to blaze over the bar from six yards out.
It deflated Wrexham. Newport immediately shuffled their cards, and sensing Wrexham’s profligacy introduced top scorer Aaron O’Connor to partner Jolley up front.
Minutes later Adrian Cieslewicz replaced manager Morrell, who left the pitch as a Wrexham player for perhaps the last time in his career.
The Dragons looked to play more direct and exploit the Pole’s pace, but he never truly threatened a resilient Newport defence.
With the clock ticking away, the spectre of extra time loomed large and it increasingly felt that a magical moment, or an individual error could prove the difference – and so it turned out. A long hopeful punt up field caught Dave Artell off guard, who leaned backwards and succeeded in only sending Christian Jolley through on goal. Jolley fought off the persistent Riley, who had just minutes before made a sensational last ditch block on the striker, to dink the ball over the onrushing Maxwell and send the traveling support into raptures.
Wrexham’s patience snapped. Dele Adebola was brought on as the last throw of the dice, but there was little left in the tank. A succession of Johnny Hunt corners prompted Maxwell to race forward, but they failed to test Pidgeley, who flapped them away.
Newport put the gloss on the scoreline by scoring a breakaway second. Aaron O’Connor, fed by Jolley, forced Maxwell to save with his feet, before firing a thunderous drive into the back of the net and consign Wrexham to defeat.
The Wrexham players sank to their knees on the pitch. Their despondency was matched by disbelief in the stands. In the 49th league game of their season, they were undone by a slack five minute period at the end of it all, as legs and minds capitulated with the weight of the situation.
Though that simplifies the reasons for Wrexham falling short, it is hard to escape the reality that they could not have come closer this season.