A place in the Vanarama National League Play-Off Final is up for grabs, as Wrexham AFC take to the Racecourse Ground pitch for the final time in 2021/22, with Grimsby Town the visitors.
Sunday’s Wembley defeat was painful, as cup final losses always are, but should Wrexham win the next two games that pain will be forgotten as we tilt for a return to the Football League after a 14-year absence.
Injuries haven’t helped Parkinson’s late season planning, and five professionals were unavailable for Sunday’s final through injury. At least he was able to confirm post-match that a couple of those absentees might be fit to return to the squad this weekend.
Grimsby’s victory on Monday at Notts County was magnificent and well-deserved. They were the better side through-out, even if they had to wait until deep into added time to get an equaliser, and didn’t get the winner until the spectre of a penalty shoot-out loomed.
The flexibility of their 4-2-3-1 shape was particularly effective going forwards, as Erico Sousa roamed from the right and the outstanding Harry Clifton did the same from the left. Rotating with John McAtee, the trio fed off Ryan Taylor, who showed that Ollie Palmer is not the only the big front man who can spread the ball around on the floor too.
At the back ex-Red Dragon Luke Waterfall rallied the back four – and shepherded the ref! – so it was a surprise when Notts County got a late penalty against the run of play. Although it was converted, The Mariners were not to be denied, and they will be formidable opponents.
Manager Paul Hurst admitted to the Grimsby Telgraph after the game that match winner Emmanuel Dieseruvwe was nearly omitted from the bench.
In terms of the starting line-up, it wasn't much of a decision. In terms of being on the bench, that was a big decision for me. Maybe in the end, chatting to the staff, yesterday I probably wouldn't have had him on the bench. I thought we might need two midfielders tonight [but]...something was nagging at me that we have gone with two strikers on the bench for some time. If we need a goal, we have one on the bench. Thankfully, that nag...chatting with Chris Doig and Ben Davies, he got the nod. He did well.
HEAD TO HEAD
Prepare yourself for a tense affair, because in recent years The Mariners’ visits to The Racecourse have tended to be low-scoring affairs. Just three goals were scored in their last 5 games in North Wales, and Palmer’s strike this season was the only one we managed.
Furthermore, in 12 of the last 15 games against Grimsby at The Racecourse, either one or both sides have kept a clean sheet!
We have enjoyed emphatic wins during that period though. In 2011 Jay Harris and Andy Morrell scored in a 2-0 win to mark Grimsby’s first visit to Wrexham in the National League, and a memorable performance in August 2006 saw Steve Evans, Chris Llewellyn and Matty Done score in a 3-0 victory.
For our biggest win against them, you have to go back to May 1955. Eric Betts scored two, with Ron Hewitt, Arthur Gwatkin and Billy Green also scoring in a 5-0 win.
Tommy Tilston, who scored a hat trick in a 4-0 win the previous season, is our equal top scorer in this fixture having ended up with five goals against Town. That total which was later equalled by Dave Smallman.
Hewitt, Arfon Griffiths, Graham Whittle and Chris Armstrong stand two goals further back.
WREXHAM IN PLAY-OFF SEMI-FINALS
Wrexham fans regard the play-offs with caution – we’ve never actually been promoted in that manner before, after all – but sequences are there to be broken, and we actually don't do so badly in play-off semi-finals. Indeed, a win in this game will tilt the balance in our favour in terms of last four play-offs.
We’ve reached play-off semis four times, and gone through twice. The first occasion was back in 1989, when Dixie McNeil’s side faced Scunthorpe United in an attempt to gain promotion to the third tier.
A rare Daren Wright goal after just 2 minutes set us on track, and although The Iron equalised with just 10 minutes on the clock, Ollie Kearns struck twice in three minutes to ensure we were 3-1 up after half an hour.
That would prove to be the final score, and a 2-0 win in the return match, with Kevin Russell scoring them both, meant we went through to a final against Leyton Orient.
Our next play-off would come 22 years later, and would be one to forget. We’d been incredibly unfortunate to accumulate 98 points but still not go up, and entered the play-offs as strong favourites against Luton Town.
However, to everybody’s astonishment, The Hatters enjoyed an incredible first half, striking 3 times to apparently kill off the tie.
Incredibly, Wrexham forced a glimmer of light in the return at Kenilworth Road. Andy Mangan pulled one back after 8 minutes and our whirlwind start continued when we won a penalty. Unfortunately, Gareth Taylor failed from the spot and the wind was taken out of our sails: as we took risks to get back into the tie, we were picked off and lost 2-1.
The following year we reached the play-offs again, and frustratingly we found ourselves up against Luton in the last four again! Once more, the first leg was a disappointing affair as we lost 2-0 away, and a penalty meant The Hatters led 3-0 on aggregate at half time in the second leg.
Once again, Wrexham mounted a spirited fightback against the odds. Adrian Cieslewicz pulled a goal back and Andy Morrell threw Mark Creighton up front for the last half hour as we bombarded the visitors. Morrell added a second himself with 13 minutes left, but we just couldn’t force the goal which would have taken the tie to extra time.
In 2013 we reched the play-offs for a third consecutive season, and this time we would have a happier time of it. Indeed, luck was on our side when Dave Artell’s last match red card at Mansfield was surprisingly overturned, and he struck the opener against Kidderminster to celebrate his good fortune.
The Harriers equalised from the spot, but Neil Ashton converted an 82nd minute penalty to give us the edge after the first leg.
The return match at Aggborough would be a memorable occasion. Roared on by over 1,500 Wrexham fans, Brett Ormerod gave us the lead after half an hour. Kidderminster equalised after the break, but a fine Joe Clarke goal widened our advantage, and another late penalty from Neil Ashton secured a final at Wembley against Newport County.