TOURNAMENT sponsor AXA brought the FA Cup to Wrexham's Racecourse Ground yesterday in a public relations exercise to remind everyone that the world's most famous knockout competition is up and running again with the first round proper being staged this coming weekend.
But just how long Wrexham will be involved in the annual ritual is a moot point. The Dragons face a potential banana skin at Vauxhall Conference outfit, Hereford United, next Sunday and Graham Turner's part-timers will fancy their chances of causing an upset against Denis Smith's side, whose 3-0 reverse at Bournemouth on Saturday registered their fifth straight defeat.
The demands of television, which will provide a £100,000 windfall for the cash-strapped Second Division club, mean Wrexham will be without striker Lee Trundle at Edgar Street as the player serves a one-match suspension that would not have come into effect had the game been played 24 hours earlier.
But that is possibly the least of Smith's problems following a lack-lustre display on the South Coast against opponents who were obviously keen to celebrate the
opening of their new £6.5m Fitness First Stadium on a winning note. Bournemouth, though, must have been delighted that Wrexham produced the sort of performance that bore all the hallmarks of a club in freefall to the Third Division.
Four days earlier at Reading a spirited and largely disciplined display suggested that the rock-bottom Dragons were in a somewhat false position, but those illusions were emphatically dispelled as the home side cantered to an embarrassingly easy victory.
And Wrexham captain Brian Carey was at something of a loss to explain it. "In the first half our performance was not acceptable and that's where we've lost the game because we had enought chances ourselves," he said afterwards.
"We gave them a couple of goals in the first half and we weren't good enough. There's a lack of confidence certainly but we need to make sure we are right for every game.
"I don't know what it was today but there has to be a reason. We did pretty well at Reading on Tuesday, despite the result, and we have to keep things on an even keel, instead of going up and down all the time.
"But we can only stick at it and keep going. The games are coming thick and fast and they are all difficult so the main thing is that we stick together as a team and we have to be strong."
The writing was on the wall for Wrexham only 10 minutes into the game, and that after Craig Faulconbridge headed a decent chance wide and Hector Sam produced a typically maddening run that promised more than it ultimately delivered.
Once Brian Feeney got into his stride the home side looked a compact outfit, the midfielder displaying a keen turn of pace and constantly menacing the Wrexham rearguard. He set up Derek Holmes in the 11th minute, Carey doing well to block the shot, and then went solo, winning a tackle on halway and advancing to the edge of the penalty area before firing wide.
Faulconbridge saw his fine header from Kevin Sharp's centre saved at full stretch by Gareth Stewart, but it was an all-too-rare occurrence as Wrexham were forced back into their own half.
Feeney was unfortunate not to win a penalty when he was caught by David Walsh's attempted block, full-back Steve Purches was not far away with a curling shot from distance and Bournemouth's Holmes was let down by his close control from Wade Elliott's cross, giving the Wrexham 'keeper time to again charge down his closerange effort.
The inevitable breakthrough came after 29 minutes and Feeney was its architect, skating past Shaun Holmes on the left before pulling the ball back for the unmarked Brian Stock to slot the ball home. The busy midfielder had run 20 yards unchallenged to fill the space and the Wrexham defenders looked accusingly up the field at colleagues who had failed to track back.
The lack of conviction and low selfconfidence in the visitors' ranks was exemplified by Bournemouth's second goal, which arrived in the added time before the break, with another midfield man, Jamie Hayter, inflicting the damage.
He waltzed and weaved his way past three totally ineffectual challenges before smashing the ball past Walsh and Wrexham were left seeking a minor miracle to salvage something.
They needed an early second-half response but the normally lethal Trundle fired high following a precise pass from half-time replacement, Steve Thomas.
Sam, by now wearing outsized red and white woollen gloves, continued to flatter to deceive before being replaced by Andy Morrell and Trundle, always closely policed, too often took too much on his shoulders and found himself being crowded out.
And Faulconbridge, who had the beating of the Bournemouth defence in the air, rarely received the service he required, despite the introduction of Michael Blackwood for the largely anonymous Paul Barrett.
The home side were able to play well within themselves, knocking the ball around confidently, and their third goal after 63 minutes was a textbook set-piece, Jason Tindall meeting Hayter's corner on the 18-yard line to drive a superb volley into the roof of the net.
To their credit, the visitors did not surrender but their efforts going forward lacked any real conviction and Trundle, who can usually be relied upon to at least hit the target, failed to trouble Stewart on a couple of occasions.
Even when they thought they had scored, Carey beating the 'keeper with a low shot after 68 minutes, Wrexham were frustrated by an offside flag against Keith Hill.
BOURNEMOUTH: Stewart; Purches, Howe, Feeney (Narada, 75; sub O'Connor,
83), Fletcher, Hayter, Elliott, Tindall, Broadhurst, Stock (Hughes, 65), D Holmes. Subs: Eribenne, Kandol. WREXHAM: Walsh; Whitley, Hill, Carey, S Holmes (Thomas, 45); Sam (Morrell,
68), Chalk, Barrett (Blackwood, 45); Trundle, Faulconbridge. Subs: Rogers, Roberts. Bookings: Bournemouth's Fletcher; Wrexham's Sharp and Chalk. Referee: Clive Penton (East Sussex).