You’d be forgiven for forgetting that there was a football match being played in Wrexham this afternoon. The Dragons certainly seemed to have been caught unawares as they were clinically brushed aside 2-0 by their English counterparts.
The heavy-handed policing overshadowed buildup to the first cross-border derby between Wrexham and Chester in four years. What should have been a cause for celebration, the first-ever fan owned derby in English football, was destroyed after it was granted the status of a ‘bubble match’ – the first in non-league football.
Clashes between the two sets of fans dominated the mood pre-kick off, with one particularly unsavoury banner on the Mold Road Stand quickly banished by stewards, whilst their opposite numbers responded by ripping apart the furniture in the Glyndwr University stand.
As the game proceeded against a backdrop of riot police standing in between the two sets of supporters and the droning sound of a police helicopter above, it was Chester who raced away with two early goals – their only two shots on target of the 90 minutes.
Wrexham’s defensive uncertainties of the early season continued with the makeshift pairing of left-back Neil Ashton and a half-fit Mark Creighton at centre-half. That the visitors took an early lead with a goal from a set-piece was hardly surprising given that this was the Dragons’ sixth successive different centre-back pairing.
Captain Paul Linwood rose to head home Jordan Laidler’s exquisite free kick inside four minutes, with Joslain Mayebi able only to parry into the roof of his own net. Chester had all the play in the opening stages and promptly doubled their lead on 17 minutes.
Again the home side’s defending was suspect, allowing Nathan Turner to stab the ball across goal before his brother, Lewis, picked up on the loose ball to slot a right-footed effort beyond Mayebi into his bottom right hand corner.
The two-goal deficit failed to spark Wrexham into life and they continued to meander aimlessly through the half. Mark Creighton’s afternoon to forget was ended when he buckled after playing a pass shortly before half time, with Junior N-Tame on in his stead. Morrell confirmed after the game that a pulled hamstring, which could keep him out of action for a few weeks, had forced him off.
Though the Reds controlled the second 45 they created little in the way of chances, with a Chester defence, well marshalled by debutant Danny Higginbotham, repelling all that was thrown at them.
Joe Anyinsah and Rob Ogelby entered the fray as Wrexham switched to a 4-2-4 formation, but their desperation to at least reduce the deficit failed to translate on the pitch, and visiting goalkeeper John Danby was rarely troubled.
Youngsters Bradley Reid and Rob Evans provided two moments of inspiration with lung bursting runs upfield, but both times they came to nothing. Wrexham’s control of the second half was illustrated by the gulf in corner kicks count – 14 to 1, though they were unable to turn their authority into meaningful goal scoring opportunities.
Though Chester substitute Ashley Williams received his marching orders for lashing out at Bradley Reid in the 83rd minute, it was too late for the Dragons to make their numerical superiority count as they continued to lump aimless balls at the Chester backline.
Wrexham paid the price for a first-half performance which was completely lost and utterly directionless; without Keates and Harris they have become rudderless in the middle, undermined emphatically by how toothless they suddenly appear in defence.
Morrell admitted after the game that the mood in the camp was low, even lower than it was at Lincoln on Monday afternoon.
“I didn’t think I could get much lower than that. It didn’t look like a derby to me. We didn’t have fight. We’ve got some serious training to do, some serious things to put right. It’s the first time we’ve lost back-to-back games since I’ve been in charge.
“I always question myself and I will do after that. Have I done as much as I can do? Have I picked the right team?
“Have we worked hard enough? I won’t sleep and it’s backs against the wall time for us now. It’s time to stand up and be counted”
(Our report on the ‘bubble’ policing will follow later…)