With the Stoke game upon us it’s natural to look back at great giant-killings in our long history, and we’ve seen plenty of coverage of our 1992 victory over Arsenal as a consequence. A remarkable FA Cup third round victory from ten years earlier seems to have been neglected though. Have we really forgotten the day we beat Brian Clough’s greatest side on their own patch?
We had no great reason for optimism when we travelled to Nottingham on January 2nd 1982 to face Clough’s Forest. The glorious cup runs of recent years seemed a distant memory, key players had moved on and succumbed to injury, and we were limping our way to relegation to Division Three at the end of the season.
We were also rusty. Our previous match, an encouraging win at fellow strugglers Cambridge, had dragged us up to 19th position and out of the relegation zone for the first time in the season. We’d shown heart too, coming back from 2-0 down to win 3-2 with Ian Edwards grabbing two and Mick Vinter getting a last minute winner. However, that match had taken place a full month earlier as the weather took at grip on the nation.
Forest, meanwhile, were also not quite at the peak of their form, but as that peak was back-to-back European Cup wins a year and a half previously, their standards were still rather high! They still boasted some stellar names: Peter Shilton lined up against us between the posts, England full back Viv Anderson was ahead of him while John Robertson, scorer in the European Cup final against Hamburg in 1980, was on the wing and John McGovern, who had lifted the trophy twice, would come off the bench.
The game was initially scheduled for New Years Day, but the weather intervened again. Fortunately, the following day was a Saturday and the game was swiftly rearranged.
Things started according to form. As early as the second minute Forest earned a free kick on the edge of the box which Mark Proctor drove home via a cruel deflection off Dixie McNeil. Buoyed by their stroke of good fortune, Forest dominated the opening period. Afterwards, Wrexham’s players admitted they’d shown the home team too much respect, but they reached the break just a goal down as Forest struggled to get past Eddie Niedzwiecki.
The turning point of the game came in the 61st minute. Steve Dowman, a rugged centre back whose career had been dogged by injury since his arrival at The Racecourse the previous season, dived into the goalmouth to power a header past Shilton and register his first goal for Wrexham from a Steve Fox cross.
Forest were stunned and Wrexham suddenly found their self-belief. Nine minutes later Vinter lashed home a shot from outside the box to give Wrexham a shock lead, and three minutes later McNeil volleyed home another Fox cross to complete an incredible 3-1 win.
The aftermath of the result was a false dawn for Mel Sutton’s team. With The Racecourse pitch still frozen solid, the Forest game would form part of a sequence of six consecutive away games which Wrexham would play over the course of nearly two months, emerging with four wins and two draws, one of which was a point which might have been three on QPR’s controversial omniturf pitch.
The rise in confidence was reflected by our approach to the next round of the FA Cup. Our reward for beating Forest was an away draw against Chelsea, but that wasn’t the formidable prospect it would be today. Chelsea, like ourselves, were also in the Second Division and their form was in a tailspin. Having emerged with a goalless draw thanks to a fine performance by Niedzwiecki, who would move to Chelsea at the end of the season, we fancied ourselves as favourites to progress in the replay.
We came within six minutes of victory too, McNeil having given us a lead which Alan Mayes’ late equaliser cancelled out. With the toss for choice of venue won by Wrexham we brought them back to The Racecourse for another stab at earning a dream tie in the fifth round – a home match against all-conquering Liverpool – but this time our erstwhile cup heroes were to be decisive in a less desirable manner. Both Niedzwiecki and Dowman made errors which were punished and a late goal by Vinter wasn’t enough to bring the Anfield giants to North Wales.
Just as the Forest result seemed to galvanise us, so the Chelsea set-back appears to break something. We suffered a terrible run of seven consecutive defeats – ironically halted by a 1-0 win over Chelsea at The Racecourse in the league earned by a Frank Carrodus goal – and collapsed to relegation.
In those circumstances, it seems even more remarkable that our victory over Brian Clough’s mighty Nottingham Forest has been forgotten.