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Out-gunned and out-played

WREXHAM were out-gunned and largely out-played by Welsh rivals Cardiff City at the Racecourse yesterday in going down to a second successive league defeat that keeps them rooted firmly in the bottom four of the second division.

WREXHAM were out-gunned and largely out-played by Welsh rivals Cardiff City at the Racecourse yesterday in going down to a second successive league defeat that keeps them rooted firmly in the bottom four of the second division.

Despite grabbing an early lead, the home side were unable to prevent the visitors from taking control of the contest from the time they scored their 33rd-minute equaliser and the largest home crowd of the season were resigned to the outcome long before the final whistle.

Pre-match forecasts had suggested the battle would be won or lost in midfield and that's how it proved. Cardiff skipper Graham Kavanagh directed operations and the hard-working Willie Boland won some crucial possession, the pair outshining their Wrexham counterparts Darren Ferguson and Steve Thomas, neither of whom were at their best.

And the Dragons rarely managed to build up a sufficient amount of pressure on their opponents, whose defence has in the past proved susceptible. But Spencer Prior and Danny Gabbidon, although kept on their toes throughout, were rarely outfought or outflanked by the home side's Lee Trundle and Craig Faulconbridge.

If Wrexham needed any confirmation that Robert Earnshaw's pace could be lethal, it came in only the third minute when the Welsh under-21 international latched on to Jason Bowen's through ball.

Goalkeeper David Walsh came and failed to beat his opponent to the ball but Earnshaw's hooked effort was cleared by the covering Steve Roberts and the home side stunned the large South Wales contingent of supporters by taking the lead in what was virtually their first attack.

Much of the credit must go to new acquisition, Kevin Sharp on his debut for the Dragons, who sprinted down the left to take Michael Blackwood's pass before hitting a deep cross, which was flicked on by Faulconbridge for Carlos Edwards to drill a low shot past Neil Alexander.

Two minutes later, Sharp was forward again, this time picking out Edwards, who returned the compliment for Faulconbridge, but the Cardiff keeper was well behind his effort.

The visitors then broke at speed and Andy Legg found Boland for a long-range strike that Walsh did well to hold, going down to his left. As was to be expected in the first league clash between the sides for three years, no quarter was asked or given and Cardif pair, Bowen and Legg, were booked in quick succession.

But the Bluebirds were gaining the upper hand in midfield, where Kavanagh was at the heart of everything, and Earnshaw, looking suspiciously offside wasted a good opportunity, driving the ball hard across the penalty area before the equaliser came after 33 minutes.

Wrexham defender Roberts seemed to be under no pressure when he was somehow dispossessed by Paul Brayson on the right and the midfielder laid the ball into the path of Gavin Gordon for an easy finish. And, as Wrexham looked at themselves they might have gone further behind but Earnshaw was foiled by Walsh's feet.

The physical nature of the battle took its toll, first on Bowen, who had limped off a minute before his side's goal, and then Gordon, who made way for Leo Fortune-West five minutes before the break.

And it was in the time added for the changes that Cardiff went ahead, Kavanagh conjuring up from nothing a superb 30-yard shot that rocketed into the Wrexham net off the crossbar.

But there was still time for Wrexham to twice go close to levelling the match again.

Blackwood had a shot turned for a corner by Alexander and, when the Cardiff defence failed to clear the ball, the keeper came to their rescue again, pushing Trundle's effort around a post.

The two opponents resumed their duel from the restart, Trundle turning well on a Darren Ferguson free-kick but dragging his shot slightly, enabling Alexander to get down, and Cardiff hit back swiftly, Brayson having a shot blocked by Walsh at the other end, before they scored what appeared to be a killer goal after 55 minutes.

A Legg corner was headed back at the far post by Spencer Prior and Fortune-West pounced to hit a rising shot past Walsh from close-in. And the visitors might well have put another nail in Wrexham's coffin within two minutes, when Brayson twisted and turned past Roberts. But Walsh made a fine blocking save and the Cardiff player hit the rebound wide.

Racecourse boss Denis Smith made a double substitution on the hour, Hector Sam and Brian Carey coming on for Edwards and Roberts, and the Wrexham skipper rose well to a corner but was unable to direct his header goalwards before Sam broke on the right, his cross being turned behind by Kavanagh.

Given the circumstances, it was no surprise that the home side threw caution to the winds in their search for a lifeline, but Cardiff seeming happy enough to defend their two-goal advantage, managed comfortably to handle Wrexham's best efforts, which were best summed up by Trundle spurning a first-time opportunity to shoot before losing the ball.

The Dragons' striker almost made amends with an imaginative overhead kick from 20 yards which dipped just over Alexander's crossbar and the keeper dealt comfortably with Blackwood's bid for a late consolation.

WREXHAM: Walsh; Whitley, Roberts (Carey, 60), Hill, Sharp; Edwards (Sam,60), Thomas, Ferguson, Blackwood; Trundle, Faulconbridge (Morrell, 73). Subs: Whitfield, Chalk.

CARDIFF CITY: Alexander; Weston (Young, 78), Prior, Gabbidon, Legg; Boland, Kavanagh, Bowen; Earnshaw, Gordon (Fortune-West, 40), Bowen (Hamilton, 32). Subs: Maxwell, Collins.

BOOKINGS: Wrexham's Sharp, Hill and Trundle; Cardiff's Legg, Bowen, Gordon, Kavanagh and Weston.

REFEREE: Scott Mathieson (Stockport).



David Holmes
Chief News Reporter
David Norbury
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