150 years without a trip to Wembley, and then two come along at once.What a time it is to be a Wrexham fan.
This was a victory for character as much as anything else: the character Dean Saunders looked to introduce to the club with the experienced players he brought in; the character Andy Morrell has instilled by continuing the process and creating a very tight knit squad.
There were times in both legs when Kidderminster showed why they nearly won the title, particularly after their goal in the first match and for spells before the first two goals at Aggborough. At those points they got a grip of the game and pressed hard. But Wrexham defended grittily, Chris Maxwell commanded his area, and we perfected the happy knack of scoring at exactly the right time to decisively influence the tie.
Brett Ormerod’s well-taken goal was a consequence of Maxwell’s decisive goalkeeping and excellent distribution, and it rocked Kidderminster back just when they were building up a head of steam. After Wrexham had enjoyed a very composed opening ten minutes Steve Burr’s alteration to his side began to take effect.
He’d reconfigured his midfield from the first leg, where they had enjoyed success with a lop-sided 4-3-3. The sort of formation Brian Flynn developed at The Racecourse, with two men up front and a wide man on one flank only, had served Kidderminster well in the second half at The Racecourse as they got a grip on the centre of the pitch. Burr decided to do away with that shape for the home match, bringing in two wingers and playing an orthodox 4-4-2, trying to take the game to the visitors.
Until Ormerod scored the change was threatening to work. Kiddemrinster were more direct, driving long ballls over the top to turn Wrexham’s back four and testing the acceleration of Stephen Wright and David Artell. They had real width, with Danny Pilkington and Martin Devaney justifying their inclusion.
However, apart from a close shave from a well-worked free kick routine they didn’t really create much. Wrexham dug in admirably and kept them at arm’s length. Ormerod’s goal changed the pattern of the game. Wrexham regained control of midfield and all of a sudden Kidderminster’s shape was working against them: now the centre of their midfield looked under-populated. Danny Jackman, outstanding in the first leg in a midfield three, started to look exposed in a two, buffeted and driven backwards by Joe Clarke and Jay Harris.
The remainder of the half belonged to Wrexham. The ground already belonged to Wrexham: the away end stuffed with supporters, who dominated the atmosphere and even managed to overwhelm the sweet aroma of Aggborough Soup with the stench of the red flare which drifted across to the main stand after the first goal!
By half time there was a unfamiliar sense of comfort about proceedings: Wrexham appeared to have becalmed the Harriers and were doing something we’re not really familiar with: finishing off a big job with the minimum of drama.
It couldn’t last. Kidderminster got their momentum going again and when Chey Dunkeley equalised it looked like we were in for a difficult ride to the final whistle. Cue a second perfectly-timed goal. Joe Clarke’s goal owed more than a little to good fortune, Lee Vaughan poking a scuffed free kick past his own goalkeeper. It was a goal which killed Kidderminster dead just when they hoped to get into their stride.
The rest of the match was an exercise in futility for Kidderminster. Burr kept making advanturous changes, but tactics born out of desperation are rarely effective and Harriers merely lost their shape. Players were redeployed in positions where they couldn’t properly effect matters-Anthony Malbon in midfield being the clearest example-as they tried to cram as may attacking players onto the pitch as possible. Their only chance in the last quarter of the game – thwarted by a magnificent Maxwell save – came as a result of a moment of individual excellence by Michael Gash, not any structural or tactical advantage. Wrexham were in the comfort zone now.
The penalty merely confirmed that it was over. Josh Gowling looked a fine centre back across the two ties, but his key contribution was to concede a late penalty in each leg. Both challenges were wild – the foul on Ormerod in the first leg was dangerous, this one on Cieslewicz was just plain silly. There was no other possible consequence of his daft lunge than a spot kick, and Neil Ashton slotted it home with confidence.
The celebrations were memorable and well-deserved. Wrexham had faced a side with genuine pedigree. Kidderminster were desperately unfortunate not to win the title: it took a run of results by Mansfield as miraculous as their own to deny them. If there was any justice second place would have earned them promotion, but we all know that justice isn’t something that exists in the no-man’s land between the Football League and the Conference.
However, over the two legs Wrexham deservedly came out on top. 5-2 might have flattered us, but the fact is that we restricted a fine, in-form team to a couple of periods when they were on top and in their stride. The Kidderminster media have referred to Wrexham’s experience and ruthlessness in their reports on the second leg. They were perceptive to do so: they’ve nailed our decisive qualities over the course of this tie.