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Haunting finish to a thriller

IF Wrexham fail to win their relegation battle by a narrow margin at the end of the season, they will merely have to look back at the final 17 minutes of Saturday's match against Swindon Town to find one of the reasons for their demise.

IF Wrexham fail to win their relegation battle by a narrow margin at the end of the season, they will merely have to look back at the final 17 minutes of Saturday's match against Swindon Town to find one of the reasons for their demise.

It was in the 73rd minute of the game that the tide, which has not been in their favour in recent matches, seemingly turned for them.

Visiting goalkeeper Bart Griemink, who had, up to that point, been Swindon's star man, completely missed a Steve Thomas free-kick and gave Brian Carey the simplest of chances, which he accepted, to put the Red Dragons into an apparently unassailable 2-0 lead.

It was no more than Denis Smith's side deserved after taming both the elements and the opposition on an afternoon when the result was infinitely more important than the performance, but the final quarter of the game, which should have been nothing more than a formality, turned into a nightmare as Swindon hit back strongly.

Within a minute of Carey's goal - scored on his 300th appearance for the Racecourse club - the visitors reduced the deficit with a goal from substitute Guiliano Grazioli and in a frantic finish, Swindon skipper Alan Reeves headed the equaliser in the second of five minutes of added time.

Ironically, it was visiting boss Andy King who later highlighted Wrexham's achilles heel as he sought to explain the remarkable turnaround in Town's fortunes.

"I know why we have to do it the hard way, because at 2-0 down the pressure was off my players," he claimed. "All the good teams play under that pressure and we don't do that at the moment."

The pressure certainly got to the home side who, having coped admirably with everything previously thrown at them, conceded the initiative that had been with them for the best part of the game and paid a heavy price.

What made their surrender even more difficult to comprehend was the manner in which they responded to that late blow from Reeves. The final three minutes saw them camped in Swindon's half as they carved out a further three good opportunities to have snatched victory from the jaws of what felt like a defeat.

The paintwork in the Wrexham dressing room must have been blistered by the fury of Smith's immediate inquest because the manager could barely restrain his anger in the post-match interviews.

He knew more than anyone that the win, which was there for the taking, would have been a huge moralebooster ahead of tomorrow's trip to fellow relegation candidates Bury, who did themselves a power of good with a 1-0 success at Blackpool.

In at least one change for the Gigg Lane clash, Norwegian goalkeeper Marius Rovde will take over from Kristian Rogers between the posts.

Red tape denied the new loan signing a Racecourse debut but Smith will be hoping that his presence provides added strength and stature at the back.

Although Rogers could not be blamed for Saturday's capitulation, the lack of communication between goalkeeper and back four was in evidence on a couple of occasions, with the youngster failing to come for one catchable cross before slicing a clearance straight to Swindon's Andy Gurney, who almost took advantage with a speculative shot from fully 40 yards.

But Wrexham had the lion's share of the firsthalf chances despite playing into a strong, gusting wind.

Hector Sam miskicked from a few yards out after efforts from Steve Thomas and Carey unsettled the visitors' defence, defender Sol Davis made the first of several vital clearances when Lee Trundle whipped in a low cross and Griemink made a fine save to push away a powerful drive from Thomas.

Soon afterwards, from a corner, Craig Faulconbridge rose above everyone to win the ball but Davis was wellplaced near the post to head it away to safety.

However, in his first start of the year after injury, the Wrexham striker made no mistake with his second opening, which came on the half-hour, from a long punt from the back. Faulconbridge held off his marker to drill a well-placed shot beyond Griemink to notch his ninth goal of the season.

Five minutes later, the home side won a penalty when Eric Sabin handled a Steve Roberts' cross but, although Thomas struck the ball well and true, Griemink somehow flung himself to his right to push the ball away. It was Wrexham's fourth spot-kick miss of the season, a statistic that could yet come back to haunt them.

Swindon, who had barely been in the hunt, then survived a flashing header from Sam and Trundle's shot was deflected safely into the arms of the 'keeper before a slip by Roberts gave Sabin a brief opening, which was as quickly closed off as Carey got back to cover.

The home side looked likely to make better use of the wind at their backs from the restart with Carey seeing a shot blocked before Trundle somehow failed to connect with the ball from close range after the Wrexham captain headed on a Darren Ferguson corner.

The Swindon 'keeper got the better of Thomas again, finger-tipping the midfielder's curling shot away for another corner, and the visitors briefly threatened through Danny Invincible, who unsuccessfully claimed a penalty when he was brought down by Carey.

The loss through injury after 64 minutes of Jim Whitley was a blow for the home side, because the full-back had played a key role in stifling the threat posed by the pacy Sabin, yet it hardly seemed important when Carey headed home the second goal.

But the off-pitch celebrations had not died down before Swindon were back in the hunt. Sabin did the initial damage with a powerful run and shot, which Rogers did well to parry, but there was a distinct lack of cover as Grazioli snapped up the rebound.

Back came Wrexham and, when Griemink's misjudgement stranded him on the edge of the penalty area, Faulconbridge lobbed the ball over the keeper but held his head in his hands as it rebounded off the upright.

There was a cup-tie atmosphere as both sides went for broke and Grazioli twice got the better of the home defence, forcing a save from Rogers before shaking the frame of the goal from 25 yards.

As the match went into added time Swindon were on top and when Rogers parried another

Sabin shot, which Carey hacked behind for a corner, Reeves came forward to meet

Bobby Howe's flag-kick with an unstoppable header for 2-2.

The Wrexham players lifted themselves off the floor for one last assault which saw Trundle's shot saved by

Griemink with his legs, a Carlos Edwards effort deflected for a corner and Faulconbridge's header, from a Ferguson delivery, cleared off the line for a second time by Davis.


David Holmes
Chief News Reporter
David Norbury
Mike Fuller
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