Wrexham’s dreams of repeating their run to the third round of last year’s FA Cup ended at the first time of asking this afternoon, in what proved to be a dramatic and pulsating cup tie, as they succumbed to a 4-2 defeat against fellow Blue Square Premier side, Alfreton Town.
Any fears that the home side would look lethargic during their first outing in two weeks were dispelled almost immediately as they won a penalty within the first 15 seconds of the first half after Danny Wright was hauled down in the area; Neil Ashton buried the resultant spot-kick, down low to the goalkeeper’s left.
The early goal served to settle Wrexham into the game, and they enjoyed a comfortable period of play, though without further stretching the away side, whose early play was littered with individual errors.
Alfreton’s equalizer in the 26th minute came entirely against the run of play, but the home side only had themselves to blame after Danny Devine’s clumsy slide tackle conceded a free-kick 20 yards from goal. Josh Law’s tame shot was then fumbled by Joslian Mayebi, whilst Paul Clayton reacted quicker than the entirety of the Wrexham defence to slam home a fortuitous equalizer.
To their credit, Wrexham responded well to the sudden equalizer and had a series of good opportunities to re-take the lead, with Danny Wright and Adrian Cieslewicz proving particularly lively, but the opposition ‘keeper Jon Stewart proved equal to everything. A first half epitomised by the contrasting fortunes of the two goalkeepers ended with the home side thoroughly in the ascendancy.
A sedate opening to the second period saw Wrexham again controlling the game, without ever really penetrating the Alfreton back line, until the tie exploded into life just before the hour mark. After the away side had an effort cleared off the line by Devine, goalkeeper Mayebi caught the resulting corner before appearing to elbow Leigh Franks.
The first of a handful of on-field melee’s followed as the Cameroonian, who this week celebrated his first call-up to the national side, was given his marching orders. Dan Bradley fired in from 12 yards, only to then find himself following Mayebi down the tunnel a matter of minutes later as he picked up his second caution for a late challenge.
The game descended into a scrappy stop-start affair, and though it remained low on quality it proved high on incident, with the referee, Nick Kinseley, proving increasingly unpopular amongst the home support.
As Wrexham pressed for an equalizer they left themselves increasingly vulnerable, and so it proved as Alfreton midfielder, Daniel Meadows, jinked his way through a slalom of challenges, to square for Ben Tomlinson to open up a two goal advantage, as the game entered the last ten minutes.
Undeterred, the home side kept pressing and were rewarded for their endeavour as Danny Wright drove upfield, exchanged a one-two with substitute Nick Rushton, before sliding the ball beneath the onrushing Stewart – cue bedlam in the stands and on the pitch.
Wrexham continued to pressurize and were denied a blatant penalty moments later after Wright’s header rebounded off an Alfreton arm in the area.
The fireworks continued well into the five minutes of added time as the game became increasingly frantic. Tomlinson once again found himself in acres of space in the Wrexham penalty area and buried his effort into the bottom corner before picking up a second yellow card for inciting the home crowd with his celebration.
Despite the numerical advantage it came far too late for Wrexham to change the course of the game. After the full-time whistle boos from the stands were directed towards the referee, who was afforded an escort from stewards off the pitch.
In a week where footballing discourse was dominated by refereeing scandals, the officials again grabbed the headlines during the post-match interviews. Though Wrexham player- manager Andy Morrell preferred to focus on his own side’s defensive frailties than the referee, Alfreton Town manager Nicky Law bemoaned Kinseley’s influence, claiming that the official had “done his best to ruin a good game.”
For Wrexham, it is vital to now to move on from this Cup disappointment as focus shifts to the League clash at Southport on Tuesday night.