Wrexham 2 Kidderminster Harriers 1

ashton_kidderminster_play-offWhat a terrific night. Wrexham’s phony war worked a treat and a side free of the crushing expectation with which they entered into the play-offs in each of the last two seasons played with a freedom and positivity which they couldn’t muster in either clash against Luton.

The intensity with which we played the first thirty minutes illustrated one thing clearly: there’s little difference between second and fifth in the Conference this season.

It’s not like last time, when Fleetwood and ourselves were head and shoulders above the rest and there was a gulf between us and the rest. Kidderminster might have opened a gap between the two sides by the end of this season, but for most of it we were right up there at the sharp end, and our final position is a false one: we gave up on the league after Woking and focussed purely on preparing for the play-offs rather than results.

It’s a situation which brings the thinness of Morrell’s squad to the fore, as he was forced to take more extreme action to protect his first team than you normally see. That’s a matter for a different time though: Morrell was able to get most of his chosen eleven onto the pitch for this game, and that gap between second and fifth disappeared.

With the crowd fully playing their part, Wrexham enjoyed a terrific first twenty minutes, full of energy, purpose and heart. We pressed well, played at a high tempo and made Kidderminster look uncomfortable. If their defence wasn’t so dogged, and Danny Lewis hadn’t pulled off a fine save from the effervescent Brett Ormerod, then we might have taken a decisive advantage right there and then.

Andy Morrell put in a fine, battling performance, Johnny Hunt stretched the Harriers defence and Jay Harris and Joe Clarke drove onto to support the strikers. The Harriers left back Mickey Demetriou, massively impressive when the Harriers met Wrexham’s second string selection a fortnight ago, stood out again, but this time because he was forced into a series of brave, desperate six-yard box interventions as Wrexham slung balls in from their left.

He was turned inside-out by Ormerod for the opening goal, but by then the intesity had died a little and Kidderminster were beginning to show signs of imposing themselves in midfield. Substitute Keith Briggs played a key part in this, bringing a little more drive to that part of the pitch: his introduction after James Vincent’s injury being one of those strokes of good fortune managers sometimes enjoy. Particularly influential was Danny Jackman though, who was a thoroughly impressive link between midfield and attack.

The second half saw Harriers give a glimpse of why they nearly took the title as they began to get a grip on possession. The penalty decision which led to their equaliser was hotly contested but probably correct: Martin Riley appeared to play both man and ball. The frustration was understandable not only because it was a huge blow to the team but also as it was one of the few decisions the desperate referee, Charles Breakspear, got right in the whole match! He certainly showed considerably less fortitude and judgement when he ignored a blatant handball in the Kidderminster box which ought to have yielded a 12th minute penalty!

It looked like Kidderminster might have been able to push on from there and add to their equaliser, but Wrexham’s experienced side certainly doesn’t lack character. The way they fought back to grab the equaliser and nullify the remaining minutes was a testimony to their spirit as much as anything else. The Kidderminster complaints about the penalty award were even more illogical than Wrexham’s, and not only because it could be argued Ormerod was denied a goal scoring opportunity as he was in the act of shooting within the six yard- box: the more I saw the replay of Josh Gowling’s challenge, the more reckless it looked, as he lunged in to take Ormerod above the knee. Last Saturday’s ref wouldn’t have hesitated to show a red, but then that’s not necessarily saying much! As he left the players’ entrance Gowling confirmed he thought it was a penalty to a curious fan as well!

So the tie is about as perfectly poised as it could be. Football being a low-scoring sport, I’d always prefer to take a one-goal headstart into a match than be on the wrong end of one, but Aggborough isn’t the easiest place to get a result. The spirit of last season, when he stuck it out for a gutsy 1-0 win, will need to be invoked by the man who scored the only goal that night, Andy Morrell.


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