TWO penalties in seven minutes of added time – one of them missed – ensured a dramatic finale at the Racecourse last night as Wrexham just managed to preserve their unbeaten home league record under manager Dean Saunders.
Substitute Patrick Suffo earned a point for the Dragons with the second spot kick after leading goalscorer Jefferson Louis had seen his saved by goalkeeper Ryan Clark in a stormy match that brought bookings for six Northwich players.
But in a contest they should have won at a canter, the home side were the authors of their own misfortune and paid heavily for defensive errors that saw all three of the visitors’ second-half goals coming from corners.
The early exchanges were very much in accordance with the form book, the promotion-chasing Dragons bossing proceedings in all areas of the pitch against their relegation-battling opponents.
A sustained passage of possession and some patient play brought the home side’s opening opportunity inside five minutes when Marc Williams shook off Steve Robinson’s challenge to force a finger-tip save from Ryan Clark for the game’s first corner.
Three minutes later Jefferson Louis’ technique failed to match his strength on the ball, an airshot from 18 yards clearly amusing the fans. But the miss could have proved costly when the visitors forced an 11th minute corner from which Simon Grand was unmarked to steer a header over the bar.
Wrexham were quickly back on the front foot and Nathan Fairhurst’s effort from 18 yards brought another, but more comfortable, save from the Vics’ keeper.
Clark was helpless, however, when Nathan Woolfe, recalled at the expense of Ryan Flynn, curled a 20-yard free kick against the crossbar and then felled team-mate Steve Evans with his venomous follow-up.
Unable to keep pace with the Dragons, the visitors were repeatedly pulled up by referee Tony Harrington for fouls and the official’s reluctance to reach for his cards did little to change the situation.
But former Racecourse midfielder Matty Crowell and Vics’ captain Simon Grand were eventually cautioned before the break, although several of their colleagues were treated extremely leniently, much to the frustration of the Wrexham players.
Mr Harrington also turned down a home penalty claim when Woolfe’s free kick cannoned into the defensive wall, but it would not have mattered had Steve Evans been able to prod home from close range as the action continued.
The one-way traffic continued from the restart with Jon Brown’s fierce free kick being turned behind by Clark for a corner that saw the visitors temporarily down to 10 men when Grand was injured in a collision with Evans before substitute Matt Bailey was deployed.
The Racecourse crowd grew increasingly impatient as Wrexham struggled to rediscover the fluency that had underpinned their first-half superiority and the visitors were not slow to take advantage.
And a set-piece corner in the 59th minute brought them the lead, Bailey heading in from Elam’s corner in a repeat of their only first half chance.
But the home side were back on terms 2within the space of five minutes. Dean Lodge made it a hat-trick of cautions for the visitors with a foul on Brown, who got up to deliver the free kick. Louis thought he had scored with a fine header but Clark managed to push the ball onto the post and was unfortunate that Evans arrived quickest to force it over the line.
It was the defender’s second goal of the season – his other came against Oxford United way back in August – but it did nothing to temper the Vics’ ambition.
Home substitute Ryan Flynn almost made an immediate impact when put through by Marc Williams, but the keeper was off his line quickly to block, and Williams then headed wide at the near post.
The striker, who had proved a handful throughout, unsuccessfully claimed a penalty when pushed by Bailey, a free kick instead being given on the edge of the area.
But Williams gained his revenge, poking home the rebound when Clark was unable to hold Brown’s shot to put the Dragons ahead in the 78th minute.
Again, though, the home side were undone by defensive frailty, another Elam corner producing the 83rd minute equaliser which on this occasion was claimed by Robinson.
And within three minutes Vics did it again, Bailey grabbing his second of the game with a towering header that comprehensively beat Gavin Ward.
But the visitors threw away a first win since October, let down in the time added on by the indiscipline that they had displayed throughout.