Wrexham’s hopes of extending their three-game unbeaten run were denied by a stunning last gasp save from Salford City’s James Carr, the visiting custodian diving full length to tip Rio Owen’s goal-bound shot over the bar and so clinch a narrow 3-2 for the Ammies in an entertaining EFL Youth Alliance Cup group match.
Played in the searing midday heat at Colliers Park, the Wrexham starting line-up showed three enforced changes due to the competition rules prohibiting players aged over 18. As such, Bryn Owen took over from Liam Hall between the posts while Harry Dean and Alex Moore came in for Aaron James and Owen Cushion respectively.
Aged just 16, the Red Dragons’ debutant keeper was called into action early on when he did well to clear from Salford’s Kyreil Malcolm. Wrexham responded with a header from Regan Nicholas which flew off target before Finn Bland fired in a low cross which Bryn Owen saved at the feet of the onrushing Ethan Smith.
Salford’s twin strike force of Smith and Malcolm were a constant threat with their pace and movement, and it was no surprise when Smith found time and space on the edge of the box to fire home the game’s opening goal on 21 minutes, the referee immediately signalling for both sides to take a much-needed hydration break.
Following the restart, Malcolm’s speed took him clear down the left-wing, but his pull back failed to find Smith. James Rainbird then tested Carr with a long range shot as Wrexham gradually got back into the game. That improvement continued after the interval as Harry Ashfield set up Nicholas, but the defender shot straight at the Salford keeper.
Just short of the hour mark, Ashfield went on a superb mazy run which took him past three players only for his low shot to be saved at the near post. Either side of that, Bryn Owen made great stops from first Malcolm and then Smith, but he was finally beaten again on 62 minutes when Bruno Padavoni calmly finished off a fine move to double Salford’s lead.
Despite his diminutive stature, Rio Owen then showed good strength and determination to play in Ashfield and the Red Dragons’ captain capitalised with a fine finish to give Wrexham a lifeline just two minutes later. Owen, who turns 17 later this month, soon produced another moment of fine individual skill to turn and shoot narrowly wide before Salford’s Matty Cucos made a fine clearing tackle on Bangor-born striker as he seemed set to equalise.
Wrexham’s hopes of getting back on level terms were seemingly dashed with 18 minutes remaining when Padavoni’s shot was well saved by Bryn Owen only for substitute Brad Mundy to rifle home the rebound. Coach Nick Chadwick immediately introduced Mikey Hayman and Max Purvis into the action and the changes were rewarded on 83 minutes when Harry Dean headed home Moore’s corner. Both sides had chances in the closing stages as play became stretched, but it was left to Carr to break Wrexham’s hearts six minutes into stoppage time and deny Rio Owen a deserved goal.
Speaking post-match, Professional Development Phase (PDP) Lead Coach Nick Chadwick was pleased with the performance. He said: “As individuals, Salford were probably stronger. They’ve recently gained Category 3 Academy status and they’ve been at it for a lot longer than we have in terms of this environment. That said, I don’t think you can fault the work rate and attitude of our lads to try and do what we asked them to do.
“Our organisational set-up was very pleasing with the players really taking on board the work we’d been doing during the week. We just need to improve a little bit on our quality going the opposite way, but we were in it until the death. Rio (Owen) was so unlucky right at the very end with his effort for which the keeper’s pulled out a great save.
“He’s been excellent and has done well in every session since I’ve been here. He’s tried to improve in every aspect of his game, and you can start to see that he’s becoming a bit of a threat for the opposition. He’s becoming better and better with every game, and I really like his attitude, his character and personality.”
Chadwick also had a special word of praise for goalkeeper Bryn Owen. He added: “Bryn was superb. He’s had to wait for his chance. He’s a younger one so there’s loads of potential to come from him physically and he’ll only get better.
“He made some great decisions in terms of when he was playing out, when to kick it longer and when to pick a pass which was good. I’m really happy for him.”
Wrexham: Bryn Owen, Max Hayes, Tom Kelly, Alex Moore, Harry Dean, Regan Nicholas (Max Purvis 73), Callum Edwards (Hari Roberts 81), Alfie Lussey, Rio Owen, Harry Ashfield (Mikey Hayman 73), James Rainbird (Keane Hazeldine 81).