Wrexham 0 Chester 0
WHEN you are stuck in the mire a lifeline can take many forms and Wrexham’s 0-0 draw with neighbours Chester City at the Racecourse yesterday saw them climb out of the League Two relegation places, albeit on goal difference above Boston United.
Given the situation in which the Dragons found themselves ahead of the High Noon showdown, the hard-earned point was more than welcome, yet the overall performance of Brian Carey’s side against their fiercest rivals posed just as many questions as answers.
By matching City’s 3-5-2 line-up, Wrexham restricted their opponents to just one clear-cut chance.
But for a team that is desperately searching for a first goal in more than four hours of football, their own single inviting attempt to break the deadlock was scant consolation from an overall performance that was undoubtedly more encouraging than that at Peterborough eight days previously.
With the plethora of new faces recruited in recent weeks and Wrexham’s ranks further reinforced by the arrival of Jeff Whitley on Friday, Carey’s options have obviously improved. Yet it remains to be seen whether he is able to find a winning combination from within his squad during the 14 games that will decide their Football League fortunes.
There is little time for a considered view, with a visit to Grimsby Town in prospect tomorrow, but the Racecourse boss could not be faulted for his post –match optimism.
“It’s positive that we have come out of the bottom two but we have to keep moving in the right direction,” he said afterwards.
“I can’t fault any effort today but the quality died a bit in the second half and we just have to keep at it.
“It was an improvement on the last two performances. It was there for us in the first half but I felt we fell into the trap after the break by giving away too many free-kicks and inviting the pressure back on us.
“It was a decent performance overall but the first goal was always going to change it and unfortunately it didn’t come.
“I was quite pleased defensively because we changed the shape and the formation, while we had about seven players missing and the youngsters who came in did quite well, which augurs well for the future of the club, but the thing is we need the results right now.
“I went to see Grimsby yesterday so I know what they are all about, but our performance today gives us something to build on and we did okay.”
Without the injured Neil Roberts and Shaun Pejic and also missing the suspended Mark Jones, the Dragons line-up stood out for its lack of experience as teenagers Gareth Evans and Andrew Fleming were drafted in for their first taste of the cross-border battle.
But Carey’s bold selection was reinforced by a bench comprising no less than four attacking players alongside goalkeeper Mike Ingham, underlining his determination to end a depressing sequence of results.
For their part, the visitors – seeking revenge for a Deva Stadium defeat back in August – came into the game as favourites, having won four of their last five games on the road.
The early exchanges, though, went with Wrexham, Fleming snapping into a sixth-minute tackle to set up fellow midfielder Robbie Garrett, whose 20-yard effort gave keeper John Danby a comfortable first touch of the ball.
It set the pattern for the opening 45 minutes, City finding themselves on the back foot for prolonged spells, punctuated by the odd testing moment for the home side’s defence.
Kevin Sandwith curled a free-kick over John Ruddy’s crossbar and Simon Yeo outstripped Mike Williams for a shot which caused the keeper no problems, but the momentum was largely with the Dragons.
And they deserved better fortune than they got in the 26th minute when City skipper Roberto Martinez hauled down Garrett to earn the first caution of the afternoon from referee Richard Beeby.
Scott Barron’s free-kick was met by Chris Llewellyn, whose header beat Danby but rebounded back from the bar, and as Wrexham attempted to turn the screw, Phil Bolland and Sean Hessey were also booked.
As ever in these encounters, there were individual battles all around the pitch and City boss Mark Wright must have been disappointed to see his players, by and large, coming off second best.
But the visitors’ defensive line held firm, helped it must be said by some poor set-piece deliveries from Fleming, who seemed to be an unlikely choice for such an important role given his rookie status.
There was little discernible change to the pattern as the second half got under way, although Wrexham’s resolve was tested when they had to defend two corners in quick succession in front of the 1,700-strong travelling army of fans.
And the tension on the sidelines began to take its toll on both sets of players whose anxiety was evident in the hurried and scrambled exchanges and the fear of making a costly mistake.
Fleming, who had done extremely well during the afternoon, made way in the 63rd minute for new striker Michael Carvill, whose first meaningful contribution saw him evade three opponents to deliver a cross that was inches too high for the waiting Llewellyn to convert.
City’s first change shortly afterwards meant a debut for striker Alex Meechan, who signed from Forest Green Rovers last month, with Lee Steele making way, and almost immediately the visitors carved out their best chance of the match.
Another fine free-kick delivery picked out former Racecourse defender Paul Linwood, but his powerful header was parried by Ruddy, whose reactions were first class and Mike Williams was able to complete the clearance.
With frustration beginning to simmer, there was another flurry of yellow cards from Mr Beeby and City’s greater experience and strength saw them increasingly take control of the key areas.
It was Wrexham’s turn to defend with determination, yet they weathered the storm to mount a last-ditch assault. Llewellyn drove wide from 20 yards and substitute Marc Williams, on for McEvilly, forced Danby into a full-length save.
Linwood became the sixth City player cautioned in added time for a foul on the teenage striker – which could land the club in trouble with the game’s authorities – but Wrexham were unable to take advantage of the free-kick to break the stalemate.