Here’s my column from last week’s Leader. It forms part of the paper’s comprehensive pre-match coverage every Friday, featuring interviews, an in-depth look at the opposition and lots of statistical analysis. All content in the column (c) www.leaderlive.co.uk.
A look at how we’ve fared in the third round of the FA Cup will gladden the heart of any Wrexham fan. It’s a clear affirmation of why we have such a terrific reputation in cup competitions, as we’ve a remarkable record at this stage in the tournament for a club of our size.
Despite our long history, most of our 150 years have been spent in the lower levels of the pyramid: we’ve only spent four seasons in total in the top two divisions. Bearing that in mind, our record at the stage of the FA Cup where the big teams come in is remarkable.
This is the 31st time we’ve reached this point in the competition in 81 attempts since we first got to the third round in 1928, which in itself is an achievement considering that we’ve had to fight our way through the earlier rounds every time except for those four seasons in the Second Division. Furthermore, we’ve managed to get to the fourth round more often than not, having won sixteen of those ties.
Our record at The Racecourse is very impressive, as we’ve won at home eleven times in the 3rd round, compared to six defeats. Away from home we’re naturally less successful, but a record of five wins against eight exits is still impressive considering our place in the grand scheme of things. Throw in the fact that we didn’t win any of our first four away games in the third round and you can see how our reputation as giant-killers has developed in more recent times.
Quite apart from our famous feats against Arsenal in 1992, there have been other remarkable third round victories. In 1981 we drew FA Cup holders West Ham at Upton Park and brought them back to The Racecourse for a replay. That also ended level after extra time and we won the toss to host the second replay. After ninety minutes it was goalless but Dixie McNeil popped up to score the winner and send us through.
The following year we clinched an even bigger scalp when we travelled to Brian Clough’s Nottingham Forest and triumphed 3-1! We fought back from behind to win, thanks to goals from Steve Dowman, Mick Vinter and McNeil again. McNeil’s love of the FA Cup is reflected in his remarkable scoring record. Unsurprisingly his 22 goals in 25 games is comfortably a club record, ahead of Karl Connolly on 16 and Steve Watkin on 12.
West Ham were also our victims in 1997 when Kevin Russell’s last minute screamer clinched victory in a replay at Upton Park, and who could forget Kieran Durkan’s screamer to defeat Premiership Ipswich in 1995?
Crystal Palace, Sunderland and Bristol City all fell victim to John Neal’s giant killers in the 1970s, and our most recent third round upset came when Middlesbrough were felled in 1999.
In contrast, the third time we got to the third round, in 1931, was a chastening experience. We were drawn away to First Division Wolves and received a frightful spanking: our 9-1 defeat remains our worst result in a cup match and the fourth worst in all competitions.
In case you’re keeping count and think my numbers don’t quite add up, I have to draw your attention to the statistical outrider which is the 1945-6 competition. It was the first competitive football to be played since the Second World War ended, and the only time the FA Cup has been played over two legs. In the third round we drew Blackpool, who were in the First Division when the war ended but were playing in the same wartime division as us for the season, and lost 4-1 both home and away.
The last time we got this far in the competition was in 2012, of course, when we went out on penalties in a replay against Brighton. Our FA Cup record in recent years has been highly impressive as we’ve lost just two games out of the last fifteen: a second round loss to League One Oxford United last season and a rather less glorious defeat in the first round the previous year by Alfreton Town!
Sunday’s match immediately bucks a trend as we haven’t had to venture away from The Racecourse too often in recent FA Cup ties. In fact, our preliminary round match at Macclesfield last November was the only one of our last ten games in the competition that we’ve played away!