5th May 2001: Nationwide League Division Two
|Bristol Rovers 4||Wrexham 0|
|(Walters 29 (pen), 44, Partridge 51, Ellington 66)|
It should have been a low key end to Wrexham’s league campaign, hopefully completing a 100% record against the bottom four against a side who were relegated last Wednesday. Well, it was anything but! For the second week in a row there were chaotic scenes on the pitch as Rovers fans ignored appeals from the PA announcer and milled round the players’ entrance at the final whistle. Lee Trundle, who had been sent off, Darren Ferguson, who had been booed throughout the second half, and Brian Carey had to make their own way through this throng to the safety of the dressing room with no stewards on hand to protect them, and, as reported in the Robins Review newsletter, Brian Flynn, who stayed in the tunnel to ensure that they had arrived safely, ended the afternoon with a journey to the local police station to make an official complaint against a steward who allegedly manhandled him (see groups.yahoo.com/group/robinsreview for breaking updates). The chaos was sparked by ex-Premiership referee Paul Alcock who, in an officious display which over-shadowed Wrexham’s miserable performance, sent off Trundle and Danny Williams, plus Kevin Reeves. Perhaps Paolo Di Canio is a better judge of character than we thought!
Perhaps there was still some rancour left over from the sides’ previous meeting, in November, when Rovers picked up seven bookings, two earned by Thompson, five of which came after a controversial 89th winner by Craig Faulconbridge. The Memorial Stadium is an unhappy venue for the Reds too, with three Wrexham players being dismissed in the four previous visits, but none of these factors could prepare the spectators for the frenzied events of this afternoon, and Paul Alcock must take his share of the blame for an erratic, egocentric performance which blew a niggly game out of all proportion.
The controversy started in the 19th minute, when Dwayne Plummer was guilty of a shocking foul on Robin Gibson. The midfielder went over the ball and made fierce contact with Gibson’s shin, the terrible sound which echoed round the ground with Gibson’s cry of pain leading many spectators to the assumption that his leg had been broken. Gibson was able to continue after treatment, however, and Plummer was also free to stay on the pitch, a yellow card being administered when a red could have been justified. Bearing this decision in mind, Danny Williams’ fate twenty minutes later was hard to understand. TV replays showed his challenge seemed to be more of a collision with Bryant than anything else, and the straight red card which Alcock produced provoked an astonished response from the midfielder and an angry one from his team mates.
The sending off left Wrexham, who had started poorly and were already a goal down, in dire straits. Despite two early offside decisions which went against Morrell but could have gone either way, the Wrexham back four was by far the busier. With Dennis Lawrence suffering a torrid debut and Lee Roche going through a nightmare first half, Rovers soon scented the chance to end their season with a bang. An early high ball into the box was left by Carey, but Bryant got to it before Walsh, rounded the keeper, and shot wide, and moments later the Wrexham skipper had another close shave when a cross from the right struck his hand in the box but Alcock waved play on. Ellington’s skill set up Walters for another chance, but Gibson pulled off a fine saving tackle as the winger shaped to shoot, and Scott Jones nearly snatched a freakish opener when a free kick from the right wing hit the near post with Walsh floundering and fell to Ellington, who shot wide.
Despite this torrid start, Wrexham began to get better service to the front men as the half wore on, and began to look more dangerous despite an appalling pitch which rendered their usual passing game impossible. Trundle, as ever, was a forceful prescence, and he won a free kick on the edge of the area with a delicious turn in a tight area, which Ferguson clipped wide. In the next minute Steven Thomas, whose breaks from midfield were sporadically promising, beat three men through the middle and pulled a shot wide from the edge of the box.
The roof fell in on them in the 29th minute, though. Mark Walters had given Roche more problems than any previous winger this season, and when he slipped past him into the box the young full back unnecessarily and blatantly pulled him back. He picked up a yellow card for kicking the ball away, ironically making a better contact than Walters did with his straight penalty kick, which skimmed weakly along the bald pitch, skipping embarrassingly over Walsh as he lay prone, waiting for it to arrive.
Roche responded within a minute, whipping in a cross which Culkin, who now returns to Old Trafford to be his Manchester United team mate once more, tipped over. Ferguson’s corner was headed wide by Carey, but before Wrexham could continue their fightback, Williams was off and they finished the half in disarray, with Morrell desperately trying to patch up the gap in midfield. Foran headed a Walters free kick just wide after Carey had picked up a booking for fouling Ellington and Gibson did likewise for failing to retreat ten yards, and a minute later a hidious mistake by Roche gifted Rovers a second. Partridge’s cross from the right found its way to the young full back at the far post, and he underhit an unneccessary back pass, allowing Walters to nip in and score past the stranded keeper.
Wrexham resumed with Russell on for Gibson in an attempt to keep things tight through the middle, but to no avail. Partridge hit an early chance straight at Walsh when he had time to pick his spot, but he made amends moments later. Phil Hardy lost his bearings and turned his back on a ball played inside him, allowing Partridge to cut in and drive past the keeper. Wrexham were in total disarray by now, and could only muster one effort of note in the second half, Thomas again doing well to cut inside his man and hit a crisp shot which Culkin parried. Rovers were allowed a fourth when Ellington was allowed to nip in from the right, round Walsh, and cooly beat Carey on the line. Not for the first time, it was far too easy for Rovers to find their way through Wrexham’s distressed back four. The goalscoring action was over, although Rovers could have snatched a fifth whem McKeever’s cross picked out Gall, whose header was tipped over acrobatically by Walsh.
The controversy was far from finished, though. Darren Ferguson had been involved in a few minor altercations, and seemed to be singled out for some rough treatment throughout the second half, an impression cemented by an unpleasant incident in which he appeared to respond angrily to abuse from the touchline from Rovers manager Garry Thompson. Astafjevs had already picked up a booking for an unpleasant incident off the ball which could have been more harshly dealy with, and when a heavy challenge dumped Ferguson face-first into the dust, Robbie Pethick ran up and smashed the loose ball into him. Alcock took no action, but Ferguson sought revenge moments later, going over the ball and ramming his forearm into Pethick face in an ugly challenge. Pethick lashed out violently in retaliation and Trundle ran across to pull Ferguson away, only to turn and stand forehead-to-forehead with Pethick. Alcock’s response was to make three decisions, all of which appeared to be incorrect! Trundle picked up a straight red card, Pethick incredibly only got a yellow, and was swiftly substituted, and Ferguson, perhaps saved by the referee’s fear of sending another player off, was lucky to also get a booking.
The dismissal sparked angry scenes on the Wrexham bench, with Joey Jones naturally to the forefront. Alcock opted not to act against him, however, but sent off Reeves, who afterwards claimed that he had described the referee’s performance as a disgrace, but had not used bad language. Reeves was reluctant to leave, and appeared to be manhandled by a steward into the stand, while Thompson, who had actually got involved with an opponent on the pitch, watched. While all this was going on, Craig Faulconbridge was receiving treatment for a head injury picked up in an off-the-ball incident which neccessitated his substitution.
The match drifted to a conclusion, with Alcock edging his way towards the tunnel as injury time wore on and sprinting off the pitch with the sound of his whistle still echoing round the pitch, leaving players and linesmen alike to the mob. Wrexham will argue that this was not the first time he was guilty of deriliction of duty!
BRISTOL ROVERS (4-4-2): Culkin; Pethick (Hogg 83), Foran, Jones (McKeever 61), Wilson; Bryant (c)(Partridge 43), Astafjevs, Plummer, Walters; Ellington, Gall. UNUSED SUBS: O’Reilly, Owusu.
WREXHAM (4-3-3): Walsh; Roche, Carey (c), Lawrence, Hardy; D. Williams, Ferguson, Thomas; Gibson (Russell 46), Trundle, Morrell (Faulconbridge 58 (Edwards 81)). UNUSED SUBS: Dearden, McGregor.
Referee: Paul Alcock (Halstead, Kent)
|Plummer (Foul on Gibson, 19)||Roche (kicking ball away, 29)|
|Jones (Bodychecked Morrell, 54)||Carey (Foul on Ellington, 43)|
|Astafjevs (Altercation with Ferguson, 56)||Gibson (Failed to retreat 10 yards, 43)|
|Pethick (Retaliation against Ferguson, 81)||Ferguson (Foul on Pethick, 81)|
|Russell (Foul on Wilson, 58)|
|Williams (Foul on Bryant, 39)|
|Trundle (Butted Pethick, 81)|
|Reeves (Arguing with referee, 81)|
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