PREVIEW: Barrow AFC v Wrexham AFC

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 final day trip to Barrow takes us to a venue where we’ve enjoyed a fair amount of success.

We’ve won nine times and lost eighteen at Holker Street, drawing fifteen, our biggest win there coming in December 1926 when Billy Rogers and Ted Regan each got two and Harold Lovatt scored the other in a 5-0 win.

Our worst result came in our first match there, on New Year’s Eve 1921, when we crashed to a 5-2 loss.

We’ve enjoyed success at Holker Street in recent seasons, ending a long spell of matches there without a win. We’ve won two of the last three matches we’ve played there, and each time the only goal of the game came deep into the last ten minutes. In February 2013 Kevin Thornton struck with four minutes remaining, while two seasons earlier Andy Mangan scored from the spot with seven minutes left on the clock.

Before those successes we’d not won at Barrow since January 1965, when Sammy McMillan and Keith Webber scored the goals in a 2-0 win.

Wrexham’s visit to Barrow on the opening day of the following season saw history made, but not in a manner which benefitted us!

That season was the first in which the Football League allowed substitutions, although the regulations were a far cry from the multiple tactical changes managers are allowed to make today. One substitute was permitted per team, and only to replace injured players, although it wasn’t easy to tell whether a manager was cynically telling a player to fake an injury to allow a change!

Whatever the circumstances, Barrow’s Bobby Knox came off the bench at Holker Street and made history as the first substitute to score in British football as the home team won 4-2.

Knox’s fortunes and those of The Robins continued to diverge: Knox would come off the bench again, later in the season, as a replacement for his injured goalkeeper, and became the first substitute to save a penalty. Meanwhile, Wrexham failed to recover from their opening day disappointment and finished bottom of the Football League for the first time in their history, but were re-elected for the following season.

We travel to Barrow knowing that we’ve done well in recent seasons on the last day of the season, as we’ve lost just once in the last ten years in the final match.

We triumphed 2-1 at Telford last season in what felt more like a farewell game for a generation of Wrexham players than anything else. Luke Waterfall and Dean Keates each scored in their final games for the club, and in total twelve of the squad that day, including nine starters, would never play for us again.

Even our sole final day loss came in odd circumstances as we selected a reserve team for a trip to Field Mill to face title-chasing Mansfield Town because we were looking to protect our squad before the play-offs. Even then we only lost 1-0 through a highly controversial penalty conceded by Glen Little.

Blaine Hudson makes his 150th career appearance tomorrow.

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