Wrexham suffered defeat to league toppers Torquay in a game which saw them show real heart, especially after a contentious penalty decision had given The Gulls a two-goal advantage.
Dean Keates made three changes from the side which played Altrincham on Tuesday: skipper Jay Harris returned from suspension in place of Jordan Davies; James Horsfield replaced Reece Hall-Johnson; and Jake Bickerstaff was preferred to Adi Yussuf.
In blustery conditions, the early stages were nondescript, but the first meaningful move of the game resulted in a goal for the home team. A Wrexham attack down the left was broken up and Connor Lemonheigh-Evans broke swiftly before switching superbly to Ben Whitfield. The winger ran at Horsfield, who tried to show him outside, but instead Whitfield cut inside and lashed a drive inside the left post.
Wrexham had to work hard in the subsequent passages of play to stay in the match as United took control. Penned into the penalty area, Elliott Durrell made a good block from a Lemonheigh-Evans shot shorty before the lead was doubled in highly controversial circumstances.
A corner from the left fell loose as Kwame Thomas appeared to be fouled, but the referee failed to penalise the challenge and Theo Vassell made an excellent block from a close range shot. The referee appeared to see nothing in it at first, but after prolonged Torquay appeals for handball he pointed to the spot. Hall drilled the spot kick into the roof of the net and the odds were stacked firmly against The Dragons.
However, the Dragons responded superbly. Straight from the kick-off a corner was won on the left, and Jay Harris’ delivery was headed home from the edge of the six-yard box by Vassell.
The end-to-end passage of play ended with The Gulls going up the pitch from the restart, and Aaron Nemane hitting a crisp shot on the turn just wide of the left post.
Wrexham then mustered their best spell of the half: a terrific run by Bickerstaff ended in him hitting a 20-yard shot just wide of the left post; and then a free kick was flicked on to Vassell, whose snapshot was held by Shaun McDonald.
However, Torquay showed why they are top of the league and finished the second half strongly. Whitfield’s shot from a tight angle was parried by Christian Dibble before the menacing winger went agonisingly close to his second.
Nemane’s cross into the pitch span up invitingly and Whitfield’s volley beat Dibble but was brilliantly headed off the line by Vassell. The danger wasn’t over though, as the ball dropped in the goalmouth, with Nemane unable to get the decisive touch from virtually on the goal line.
Then ex-Dragon Danny Wright nearly scored with a magnificent header from a fine Jake Andrews cross which shaved the post.
Worryingly, a head injury to Thomas, who collided with Harris and Nemane when going for a bouncing ball, brought back painful memories of last Saturday. The stoppage wasn’t as long as that required for Rob Lainton’s treatment at Bromley, and Thomas was able to make it to the bench under his own steam, but he still had to be replaced by Adi Yussuf.
Six minutes of added time were signalled, and Lemonheigh-Evans nearly scored before the sides retired, when Whitfield squared to him ten yards out. His shot hit the post thanks to a lunging challenge by Vassell which got enough on the ball to stop it nestling in the bottom corner.
Wrexham were much improved after the break, and had the better of the game without being able to pull a goal back. Durrell was more prominent in the second period and got things going by picking up a Jamie Reckord backheel and firing just wide from 25 yards.
Whitfield went close with a 25-yard shot soon afterwards, and a superb Fiacre Kelleher tackle warded off further danger as United appealed in vain for another charitable penalty shout. The resulting corner saw Kyle Cameron’s header tipped over by Dibble.
Dean Keates decided to alter the balance of the game, replacing Bickerstaff with Anthony Jeffrey and switching to 4-3-3, and Wrexham looked in control of the game for the remaining 35 minutes.
A free kick into the box nearly led to an equaliser: the keeper McDonald rushed off his line but was never going to get there and, with the goal unattended, Paul Rutherford couldn’t get enough elevation on his effort to score. The headed clearance fell to Durrell on the edge of the box, but his shot rolled wide of the post.
Jeffrey looked to have the beating of his man and swept in a couple of inviting crosses: Young met one 8 yards out but his shot was deflected wide; and after another had stretched the Torquay defence, Rutherford shot wide from a similar range.
Halfway through the half Reckord nearly followed Vassell in snatching his first Wrexham goal. A tackle on Yussuf fell to him and his first time drive from 20 yards whistled wide of the post.
That close shave sparked a reaction from the Torquay fans, an indication of their disquiet at their side’s loss of control, and their team responded with a breakaway goal.
Wrexham will be unhappy with the nature of the goal as there were a number of opportunities to halt Torquay’s progress. There was a shout for a foul on the halfway line before Nemane enjoyed the benefit of a lucky ricochet and swept in a cross which Lemonheigh-Evans finally converted after the ball had bounced back to him off Durrell.
Once again, Wrexham immediately looked to bounce back after conceding. A long ball by Harris found Yussuf, who was flattened by the goalkeeper. The referee decided the contact took place just outside the box and Young’s wasted free kick nearly led to a fourth as McDonald easily caught the ball and sparked a break which ended in Whitfield clear on goal, only to be denied by Dibble.
The last 10 minutes saw Wrexham push hard to find a way back into the game. Young ripped a terrific 25 yard free kick just wide and then hit a ball over the top which sent Yussuf clear on goal, only for Cameron to recover with a superb tackle.
Then Durrell turned, played a 1-2 with Young before lashing a shot into the side-netting, before Horsfield’s cross found Kelleher unmarked 6 yards out, but his weak contact was easily saved.
There was one final effort in added time as Elliott Durrell’s 20 yards shot scraped the bar, but the league leaders claimed the 3 points, without being able to control the whole game.
Torquay United: McDonald; Kerr (Buse 89), Shering, Cameron, Andrews; Nemane, Randell, Hall, Whitfield; Lemonheigh-Evans (Waters 75); Wright (Umerah 50). UNUSED SUBS: Covolan, Warren.
Wrexham: Dibble; Horsfeld, Kelleher, Vassell, Reckord; Rutherford, Young, Harris, Durrell; Thomas Yussuf 41), Bickerstaff (Jeffrey 55). UNUSED SUBS: Hall-Johnson, Davies, Jarvis
Referee: Scott Simpson