BEST OF TIMES, WORST OF TIMES | Wrexham vs Leyton Orient

Macclesfield Town
Posted:Fri 08 Mar 2019

Wrexham and Leyton Orient meet for the third time this season in a top-of-the-table Vanarama National League clash, with the Dragons still looking for their first win against Orient in non-league football.

Since Orient’s relegation in 2017, the two teams have met three times in the league – with one 2-2 draw and two Orient wins – and once, this season, in an FA Trophy tie which the O’s won 1-0.

Previously, the two teams had a fairly even record against each other – with 11 wins apiece and ten draws between their first meeting in the FA Cup in 1951 and their last Football League clash in 2006.

We have already revisited two of the more recent matches between the two, so ahead of the latest match-up with the O’s, we’ve delved a little deeper into the archives.

Read on for a Gary Bennett masterclass in our game to remember, and the heartbreak of 1989 in our game to forget…

Best of times: Wrexham 4-1 Leyton Orient (14/01/1995)

When there is a big crowd packed into the Racecourse, the onus is naturally on the hosts to put on a good show – and they did exactly that in this clash in January 1995.

The attendance, admittedly, was inflated a little artificially, with fans looking to get hold of vouchers for tickets to the forthcoming FA Cup match with Manchester United at Old Trafford – but it did mean 6,616 in the stands.

And they were a treated to another masterclass from the bang-in-form Gary Bennett, including arguably one of Psycho’s finest goals in a Wrexham shirt.

In truth, a big win was nothing more than was expected – Orient had failed to score in any of their last eight league games, while the Dragons had hit 11 in their last four at home.

Bennett, meanwhile, having hit 39 goals in the previous season, was well on course for going even better having already hit hat-tricks in the league against Wycombe and the Auto Windscreen Shield against Bradford.

The previous home game, at home to Peterborough, had seen him hit two penalties in a 3-3 draw.

From that game, Mel Pejic and Steve Morris made way for Barry Hunter and Jon Cross for Brian Flynn’s side, but this game was all about Bennett.

First, Karl Connolly drove at the defence and crossed left-footed for him to head home a sixth-minute opener from just outside the six-yard box.

Then, early in the second-half, came the moment of the match. Bennett picked up the ball on the left touchline 35 yards out, before turning Darren Purse inside out in the area and thumping in a left-footed shot off the far post from a tight angle.

Connolly got in on the goalscoring act on 58 minutes, heading in unmarked at the near post from Gareth Owen’s left-wing corner.

And Bennett then completed his third hat-trick of the season six minutes later – racing on to substitute Morris’ cross to tap in from six yards out.

Orient did at least go home with one positive, however, when another substitute, Pejic, tripped Danny Carter in the area and Ian Bogie converted the penalty to end their goalscoring drought.

Wrexham would go on to finish the season 13th in Division Two, with Bennett ending the year as the league’s top scorer with 29 goals. Another 18 in other competitions, including in the victorious Welsh Cup campaign, meant 47 in total to pass 100 goals in a Wrexham shirt.

Orient, meanwhile, were to finish rock-bottom with just 26 points – three points less than Chester above them as they were both relegated alongside Cardiff City, Plymouth and Cambridge.

What they said – “The O’s were taken apart by Gary Bennett” (Peter Jones, “Wrexham: The European Era”)

Line-ups

Wrexham – Marriott, B. Jones, Hardy, Humes, Hunter (Pejic), Cross (Morris), Owen, Hughes, Durkan, Connolly, Bennett

Leyton Orient – Heald, Howard, Austin, Purse, Hague, Bogie, Carter, Hendon (West), Warren, Brooks, Dempsey

Worst of times: Wrexham 1-2 Leyton Orient (03/06/1989)

To Wrexham fans of a certain age, mention Leyton Orient and only one thing comes to mind – the late play-off defeat in 1989.

Wrexham finished the season in seventh place, the final play-off spot, three points ahead of Cambridge and four behind Orient in sixth.

The Robins had punched above their weight throughout the season, with Kevin Russell’s goals key to their success in the second season of his first spell at the Racecourse.

It was Russell who then scored twice at Glanford Park as Wrexham sealed a 5-1 aggregate win against Scunthorpe United to book a spot in the final. Darren Wright and an Ollie Kearns’ double had earlier earned a 3-1 home win in the first leg.

Orient, meanwhile, beat Scarborough 2-0 at home thanks to Mark Cooper’s double and withstood a fightback in Yorkshire to win 2-1 on aggregate.

Still in their infancy, the play-off final at the time was a two-legged affair and just shy of 8,000 fans packed in to the Racecourse as the first leg ended in a goalless draw.

It meant it was all to play for at Brisbane Road, as both Dixie McNeil and Frank Clark elected for unchanged teams for the second leg.

Wrexham went close after just four minutes, when Russell’s corner was headed back across goal by Geoff Hunter and Kearns’ overhead kick forced Paul Heald to palm clear at full stretch.

Alan Comfort – who was due to be whisked off by helicopter immediately after the game for his wedding – set up Kevin Hales at the other end, but his blistering strike was just wide.

Comfort then beat Neil Salathiel on the left and crossed for Cooper, but Mike Salmon pulled off an acrobatic stop.

Orient were in front a minute before half-time, however, when Lee Harvey chested a high ball down on the right and fired into the top corner.

Wrexham hit back just two minutes after the restart, however, with a nicely worked team goal.

Russell and Jon Bowden linked up in midfield, before Russell’s deep cross was headed back across goal by substitute Steve Buxton, and Bowden applied the finishing touches with a diving header.

With extra-time beckoning – and Comfort possibly risking leaving his betrothed at the altar – Orient grabbed a late winner, however.

Harvey crossed from the right, and Cooper nonchalantly stroked home from his pin-point pass – despite having three Wrexham defenders near him in the area.

There was still time for Wrexham to have a late shot blocked on the line as they chased an equaliser – something McNeil still bemoaned years later – but it was Orient who sealed promotion.

It meant a long journey back north for the heartbroken Robins, with McNeil admitting he ‘never spoke to a soul’ on the journey, a scene replicated by Wrexham fans too.

It would, of course, prove to be McNeil’s final full season in charge, with midfielder Brian Flynn taking over as player-manager after a poor start the following season. Promotion would eventually be secured in 1993.

What they said – “I have to say of all the games I managed, Leyton Orient was the worst because it was a horrible feeling to get beaten. It was a long journey home, and I mean a long journey home.” (Dixie McNeil, Wrexham manager (to BBC Sport))

Line-ups

Leyton Orient: Heald, Howard, Dickensen (Ward), Hales, Day, Sitton, Baker, Castle, Harvey, M.Cooper, Comfort

Wrexham: Salmon, Salathiel, Wright, Hunter, Beaumont, Jones, Thackeray (Buxton), Flynn (G.Cooper), Kearns, Russell, Bowden

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