28th April 2001: Nationwide League Division Two

Wrexham 1   Millwall 1
(Faulconbridge 7)   (Cahill 53)

Lions Rise As Apes Plumb the Depths

Millwall are up, and many present at The Racecourse this afternoon might be rather relieved about that. In a match punctuated by two stoppages, one of eighteen minutes at the start of the first half, another of about five after Millwall’s equaliser, they scraped a point which was to prove enough to earn them promotion from Division Two, but their disjointed performance, and the rousing first half efforts of Wrexham were over-shadowed by the behaviour of their notorious followers.

The game had been in progress for a mere two minutes when a group of Millwall supporters spilled onto the pitch from the away end, which was filled to capacity, and raced into the Pryce Griffiths Stand. With the police nowhere to be seen, they ran rampage along the rows of seats, and although post-match comments by both clubs attempted to defuse the situation, there were reports of two stewards being punched and Wrexham fans being attacked in their seats. It would seem the hooligans had arrived without tickets, despite the match being all-ticket with none available on the day and, according to which version you believe, either knocked down a gate, climbed en masse over the turnstiles, or were allowed in by the police to avoid problems outside the ground. Each of these scenarios has appalling implications, and beg the question why did the police allow these circumstances to prevail when a high profile presence had been promised? And if supporters were actually allowed into a part of the ground which was full, why was the referee not told to hold up the kick-off? Have the lessons of Hillsborough not been learned?

When the game itself resumed, rather than be knocked off kilter by the incident, Millwall set off at a brisk pace, and their vociferous fans thought they had earned an early lead when Carey’s brave block of a Livermore drive fell to Neil Harris, whose shot was deflected over Walsh and narrowly over the bar. No sooner had the mistaken cheers of those who thought the ball had gone in died down than Millwall ought to have got them to their feet once more, Sean Dyche rising unchallenged six yards out to meet Livermore’s corner and head feebly wide.

Wrexham regained their composure after this rocky spell, and snatched the lead with a beautifully worked goal which was allowed to happen by some sloppy defending hardly befitting the side with the best defensive record on the Second Division. A Darren Ferguson free kick from the left was unconvincingly cleared by Stuart Nethercott to Carlos Edwards on the opposite wing, and he was allowed the space to work a measured 1-2 with Danny WIlliams before delivering a cross to the far post, where Craig Faulconbridge swooped to sidefoot into the roof of the net. If the Lions were edgy in the face of promotion already, this seemed to bring all their doubts home to roost, and they struggled to regain a toehold for the remainder of the half as Wrexham pressed hard.

Millwall were hardly helped when Steve Claridge had to leave the pitch with an injured knee, but the root of their problem was in midfield, where the strength of Williams and the crafty prompting of Ferguson combined to overpower anything the visitors had to offer. Furthermore Lee Trundle, returning from injury, was his usual threatening self up front, and gave Sean Dyche a torrid time. Despite trying to stick as tight to the striker as possible, Dyche was no match for his sheer power and could not prevent Trundle from twisting and turning, causing mayhem in the last third. He is not the first defender to learn that it’s one thing knowing what Trundle is going to do, but quite another to stop him! He served notice of his intentions shortly after Faulconbridge’s goal when he muscled Dyche off the ball and hit a shot on the turn which whistled narrowly wide with Warner beaten.

Faulconbridge went close to adding a second when he rose to meet a Ferguson free kick but couldn’t get on top of the ball to direct it under the bar, and when Ferguson sent him clear on goal with a precise pass, Nethercott excelled himself in racing back in pursuit of the striker and sliding in to execute a full-stretch block from behind as the trigger was pulled. Millwall managed to ruffle Walsh’s feathers when Livermore hit a stinging shot which the keeper gathered at the second attempt, but within moments Ferguson had earned another free kick on the edge of the area and hit a skimming effort which defeated Warner but scraped over the bar. Trundle came up with another shot on the turn which went narrowly wide before Millwall finally got back into the match with their best spell of the match as the half drew to a close.

Driven on by the wind at their backs, which briefly gusted forcefully to drive Wrexham back, Millwall spurned two glorious chances in the space of a minute to go in level. First a tremendous scramble in the goalmouth following a corner ended in a Williams clearance off the line finding Cahill six yards out. The Australian launched a powerful shot on goal, which drew an incredible reflex save from Walsh, who pushed it onto the post, and the spin which his left hand imparted on the ball meant that it hit the inside of the post and, in defiance of all logic and geometry, bounced back out into the prone keeper’s arms rather than into the net!

The second near miss was down to poor finishing rather than brilliance and luck, however. Wrexham succeeded in marshalling Neil Harris comfortably, with Carey and Ridler outstanding while MarkMcGregor enjoyed only his second game of the season at right back after receiving the Supporters’ Association’s Player of the Year Award. However, the striker managed one moment of excellence when he backheeled a return pass into the path of Livermore, who inexplicably side-footed the ball wide of the right hand post from ten yards as Walsh lunged despairingly at him.

Millwall were never likely to repeat their lacklustre, incoherent first half performance once the game resumed after its second, more orthodox break. A half time substitution and reshuffle certainly helped to organise the defence more successfully, but despite their improved possession and newfound control at the back, one could hardly say that they carved out many chances or played much football befitting of their status as the division’s dominant team. Indeed, Wrexham nearly doubled their lead almost immediately, when Ferguson’s twenty-five yarder was pawed round the post by Warner.

The equaliser came from a corner, which was perhaps not surprising given the fact that set pieces formed Millwall’s most potent threat. The award of the corner was controversial, Hardy adjudged to have got the final touch as Reid swung one in from the left, and when Livermore delivered from the right, Cahill capitalised on some sloppy marking to head home from ten yards. The goal sparked frenzied celebrations which spilled onto the pitch, and forced Wrexham’s players to race for the safety of the tunnel. After a five minute delay, in which it was announced to the Millwall fans that the referee would abandon the game if there was another incursion, the game resumed, and Millwall briefly enjoyed a spell of superiority. Walsh had to readjust swiftly to parry a swerving Harris drive, and from the resulting corner Cahill managed another header which Williams cleared off the line.

There was little further threat from the visitors, apart from a late Kinet drive which Walsh held well, as the half descended into a rather scrappy affair, the tension of the situation both at the top of the table and in the stand behind Walsh’s goal not helped by a swirling wind and dry, bouncy pitch. However, Trundle made light of these handicaps when he charged into the box, feeding off a Faulconbridge flick, and was denied by the alert Warner, who raced off his line and narrowed the angle sufficiently to block a fierce left-footed shot with his legs.

The game ambled to a surpisingly soporific conclusion. Danny Williams had a decent drive from twenty five yards which was marginally too high, but the tension had been taken from the situation by the knowledge, in the away end, that Reading’s unlikely capitulation at Colchester had handed their team promotion irrespective of the events at The Racecourse. It was just as well, and Wrexham were able to salute their fans unmolested when the referee blew the whistle to signal the end of their league campaign at The Racecourse. It was a match which, interruptions apart, summed up the season rather neatly; disappointment at an outcome which failed to match the performance being tempered by further evidence of an improvement in the quality of the team, and their enhanced ability to live with the best at this level. Millwall were left to engage in surprisingly orderly promotion celebrations, in the knowledge that recent performances like this have made the thought of Wrexham enjoying such scenes seem much less preposterous than they did five months ago.

WREXHAM (4-3-3): Walsh; McGregor, Carey (c), Ridler, Hardy; D Williams, Ferguson, Russell; Edwards (Gibson 82), Trundle, Faulconbridge. UNUSED SUBS: Dearden, Lawrence, Sam, Thomas.

MILLWALL (4-3-3): Warner; Lawrence, Dyche, Nethercott (c), Neill (Bircham 46); Ifill (Kinet 80), Cahill, Livermore, Reid; Claridge (Moody 12), Harris. UNUSED SUBS: Gueret, Tuttle.

Referee: M. G. Cowburn (Blackpool)

Attendance: 5,939

Reaction: Brian Flynn / Mark McGhee / Theo Paphitis/ Tim Cahill

Wrexham   Millwall
Ferguson (foul on Lawrence, 39)   Reid (foul on Edwards, 30)
Carey (foul on Moody, 50)    
Williams (foul on ,Reid 90)    
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