BEST OF TIMES, WORST OF TIMES | Wrexham AFC on the opening day

Macclesfield Town
Posted:Fri 02 Aug 2019

Vanarama National League football is back at the Racecourse, with Wrexham’s 2019-20 season starting with a home match against Barrow.

The Dragons start on home soil this time around, having travelled to Dover for the inaugural match of the previous season.

Last year’s 1-0 victory in Kent was Wrexham’s seventh opening-day win in 11 seasons in this league.

In fact, the opening day of the campaign is packed with plenty of good memories for Wrexham fans throughout the club’s past.

A win is not always a marker of good things to come: Brian Flynn’s team, who narrowly missed out on the play-offs the previous year, beat Reading 3-0 on the opening day in 1998 only to finish the season 17th – the club’s lowest finish since re-promotion.

Likewise, not every great season in the club’s history started successfully: Arfon Griffiths’ promotion-winning team lost their first game in 1977 at Shrewsbury after a couple of goalkeeping gaffes from Brian Lloyd.

We’ve picked out a stirring start to life in the Conference and a dismal defeat that signalled the beginning of the end for life in the Football League for this week’s Best of Times, Worst of Times…

Best of times: Wrexham 5-0 Stevenage (09/08/2008)

Life in the Football Conference could not have started any better for Brian Little’s Wrexham in August 2008.

The Dragons kicked off their first season after relegation from the Football League at the Racecourse against a Stevenage side expected to push for promotion.

Little fielded six new signings in the starting line-up, including captain Tom Kearney, and was rewarded with a 5-0 win – albeit with a big slice of luck too.

Fortune favoured Wrexham from the moment future Premier League champion Marc Albrighton brought down new signing Shaun Whalley on 17 minutes and Kearney’s deflected free-kick trickled in.

Stevenage came back strongly but could not break down a resilient Wrexham defence, and the hosts improved after the break.

The major turning point came on the hour-mark, however, when Steve Morison and Darran Kempson clashed and the Boro striker was sent off.

Six minutes later, Jefferson Louis headed in from Kearney’s corner to double the lead and put Wrexham in a commanding position.

Levi Mackin followed Morison down the tunnel just minutes after the second goal, picking up a second yellow card for a rash challenge on Ronnie Henry.

But the momentum had already swung Wrexham’s way and Kearney set Whalley away on 71 minutes, who scored the hosts’ third.

Christian Smith replaced Whalley after the goal and got in on the goalscoring act himself when he headed in another Kearney corner.

And another substitute, Marc Williams, wrapped up the win with three minutes later when he pounced on a defensive error to convert from close range.

Kearney had scored one and assisted three on his debut, and Wrexham sat top of the Conference after their first game in the fifth tier. What could possibly go wrong?

What they said: “Wrexham produced a five-star display as Brian Little's men showed in convincing style how desperate they are to bounce straight back into the Football League.” (BBC Sport)

“It appears that Wrexham fans are going to enjoy their experience of non-league football, because on this evidence you can play poorly – and still win big.” (Wales Online)

Line-ups:

Wrexham: Ward, Spender, Kempson (Evans 25), N.Brown, Tremarco, S.Brown, Kearney, Mackin, Aiston, Louis (Marc Williams 83), Whalley (Smith 72).

Unused subs: Baynes, A.Williams

Stevenage Borough: Bayes, Bostwick, Henry, Albrighton, Laird, Anaclet, Mills (Wilson 88), McMahon, Drury (Thomas 62), Morison, Cole (Boylan 58).

Unused subs: Jordan, Oliver

 

Worst of times: Darlington 2-0 Wrexham (11/08/2007)

Embed from Getty Images

As noted above, not every opening-day defeat is a marker of a bad season to come – the 1977-78 season proved that.

On other occasions, it shows you exactly what to expect – and the first game of the 2007/08 season was a bad start to a season that only got worse.

After sealing survival on the final day of the previous season at home to Boston, Wrexham started the new campaign in the North East against Darlington.

Having not lost a league game against Darlington since 1991, history was on Wrexham’s side but the Dragons failed to make it count.

A scrappy first half ended with Darlington snatching an underserved lead in the final few minutes before half-time.

But Wrexham had only themselves to blame – allowing Pawel Abbott too much space outside the area, to cross for the equally unmarked Kevin McBride to head in.

Luck was against Wrexham too, when a convincing penalty shout for a push on Eifion Williams was waved away by the referee.

Then, on 63 minutes, another flashpoint – Williams, through on goal, was brought down by Andy Oakes and the Darlington keeper was sent off.

Wrexham lined up for the penalty, only to find referee Karl Evans had instead awarded a free-kick on the very edge of the area.

Michael Proctor’s subsequent effort was parried clear, and Wrexham could not make the numerical advantage as former Premier League striker finished a route-one move to double the lead.

Wrexham did finish strongly, as Chris Llewellyn fired wide, Shaun Pejic had a header well saved and Proctor’s shot was cleared off the line.

But they could not break down 10-man Darlington as they suffered the first of 26 defeats in the season – a campaign which would signal the end of Wrexham’s previously unbroken stay in the Football League.

What they said: “Wrexham hadn’t been in much trouble at all, but they were shocked when Darlington took the lead on 42 minutes.” (Wales Online)

Line-ups:

Darlington: Oakes, Austin, Foster, Miller, Ryan, Joachim, Ravenhill, McBride, Palmer (Stockdale 66), Wright (Blundell 78), Abbott (Purdie 67).

Unused subs: White, Harty.

Wrexham: A.Williams, Spender, Pejic, Hope, Valentine, E.Williams (Done 71), Mark Jones (Mackin 75), D.Williams, Llewellyn, Roberts (Marc Williams 85), Proctor.

Unused subs: Michael Jones, Mike Williams.

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