WREXHAM returned to winning ways at the Racecourse last night, ending a run of three Blue Square Premier draws with victory over promotion rivals Cambridge United – the first occasion this season that the Dragons have beaten a side above them in the table.
The result may have lifted Dean Saunders’ side only one place in the table to seventh, but with bottom club Northwich Victoria next up at the Racecourse on Tuesday and games in hand on their rivals, the Dragons can look ahead with a fair degree of optimism.
The opening 25 minutes produced little in terms of entertainment for the national television audience as both sides treated the ball like a hot potato and appeared to spend more effort in getting rid of it than bringing it down on the ground.
But the visitors were playing with more purpose than the Dragons, the home side abandoning the passing game espoused by manager Dean Saunders in favour of a long game that seemingly came as a surprise to big striker Jefferson Louis, who won little or anything in the air.
But when the home side did indulge in some joined-up football, as in the sixth minute, United were found wanting. Sam Williamson won possession with a determined challenge and spread the ball wide to Marc Williams for a cross that was smothered at his near post by keeper Danny Potter.
That proved an all too rare glimpse of Wrexham’s ability as United worked hard to close down space and relied on the pace of strikers Danny Crow and Scott Rendell, back from Peterborough United for a second spell, to pose their threat.
Overall, though, it was relentlessly poor fare from both sides and neither goalkeeper was troubled until, that is, in the 25th minute when Wrexham surprisingly took the lead.
There was little hint of a goal in the offing when Andy Fleming found Louis in space and the striker quickly offloaded to Ryan Flynn, who in turn kept the ball moving forward to Jon Brown.
The teenage Cardiff loan signing was 25 yards out, but he dropped his shoulder and hit the ball first time to completely wrong-foot Cambridge captain, Potter, and put the home side ahead
Almost from the restart, the visitors might have levelled when Robbie Wilmott’s low centre was met at the near post by Rendell. The striker’s instinctive flick eluded Gavin Ward, but somehow rolled across the face of the empty goal and to safety.
The war of contrition continued unabated, notable only for a double booking two minutes before the break when Fleming and former Wrexham defender Phil Bolland were both cautioned followin an ill-tempered clash.
The home side continued to soak up pressure as the second half got under way, but they might have doubled their lead after 52 minutes when Nathan Fairhurst’s shot from the edge of the area was only parried by Potter.
But the keeper recovered well to block a follow-up effort from Mike Williams and keep his side in the hunt.
Unfortunately for the visitors it proved a temporary reprieve as they conceded a second goal seven minutes later. This time it was Fleming who tried his luck from range, his shot being trapped by team-mate Marc Williams who managed to thread the ball to Louis for a close-range finish.
United were beginning to creak at the back and Wayne Hatswell was lucky not to concede a penalty for a blatant trip on Louis as Wrexham began to play with a little more flair and a great deal more confidence.
That it was not given was the first of a series of strange refereeing decisions with United’s frustration reflected in the growing ferocity of their tackles and further bookings for Hatswell and Daryl McMahon.
Brown went close to a spectacular third for the Dragons 12 minutes from time, racing clear of his marker to rattle the crossbar from 30 yards, but it didn’t really matter by then, even allowing for a glaring miss by United substitute Felino Jardim, who headed high from six yards.