I’ve been watching Wrexham for decades and I’ve seen this scenario played out many times. It’s usually been Wrexham on the other end of it though.
Perennial underdogs, legendary giant-killers, our achievements are known throughout the game. But apart from the shocks there were also the near misses. The times when we tilted at a bigger side and emerged proud but defeated. This time we were tilted at, and we survived while our opponents rightly took the plaudits.
When it used to happen to us, we’d have an awful lot of the ball, put our illustrious opponents under plenty of pressure, but miss our chances while at the other end more ruthless strikers weren’t so careless. This time Gresley clinched the moral victory, while we ended up with the more substantial reward.
Over the course of the game the visitors had more of the ball but ultimately Wrexham looked more likely to score. Having said that, the second half, rather than kick on and pick a tiring, stretched side apart as I suspected we might, was a disappointment. Credit to Gresley who just kept going, and it was a second string team Morrell selected, but no excuses: the second half could have turned nasty.
The first period had seen us defend solidly despite the heart-breaking loss of Mark Creighton, and we had to as Gresley, driven on by the highly impressive Kieran O’Connell in the hole, showed good energy, were positive from the start and didn’t fade when the initial spark of enthusiasm ought to have been extinguished.
We carved out just three chances before the break. The difference was that two of them went in. By contrast, Gresley essentially made one clear-cut opportunity, a good one for Graves which drew a fine save from Andy Coughlin. As the whistle went at the break Wrexham walked off having put in a professional forty-five minutes. It felt like we’d cash in at the resumption.
But we didn’t. Indeed, Coughlin had to make another good stop to deny Nadat soon after the restart. Admittedly, after that we did create all the chances for the next half hour, but we lacked a killer instinct and failed to get the third goal which might have made the roof cave in on Gresley.
As the half wore on, one thing remained unchanged: the defensive unit was the part of the team which was functioning most effectively. Steve Tomassen and Leon Clowes were solid at the heart of the defence and Kyle Parle was impressive both in the tackle and when going forward. They had to be as they had plenty to do.
The 83rd minute goal, disappointingly conceded as a result of failing to defend a free kick into the box from a fairly central area, changed everything. Instead of being a comfortable win, the closing minutes were slightly fraught with the possibility of a careless performance leading to a difficult replay which might necessitate Morrell working his first eleven in order to get through. Gresley only carved out one further chance as a consequence of a misjudgement by Tomassen as he dived to head the ball away, but it was a good one and Parle was required to make an excellent last ditch tackle or it would have been 2-2.
Morrell, having rotated his side heavily, spoke afterwards of players failing to take the chance to impress him. No doubt he was thinking of the players who lined up either side of him in the forward line: Cieslewicz was threatening but didn’t actually hurt Gresley; Bailey-Jones was disappointingly peripheral. Jay Colbeck was encouraging in his return to the side after injury and Robbie Evans, given the captain’s armband, scurried eagerly while Mark Carrington’s first game in his favoured midfield role was an elegant vignette. But the back four were the stars, and that told you everything you needed to know about Gresley’s fine performance.
Wrexham (4-3-3): Coughlin; Tomassen, Clowes, Creighton (Parle 18), Hunt; Evans, Carrington, Colbeck; Cieslewicz, Morrell, Bailey-Jones. Unused subs: Mayebi, Ashton, Clarke, Ogleby.
Gresley (4-3-1-2) Morch; Roome, Barrett, Guest, Guy; Graves, Grice (Turville), Piliero (Strzyzewski) ; O’Connor; Spencer, Nadat (Lyons) Unused subs: Harrison, Austin.
Attendance: 1,257 Away: 224
Man of the match: Kyle Parle
Referee: Richard Wigglesworth