THE scoreline sticks in Wrexham gullets and so do some of the goals, including two penalties.

Referee Paul Rejer was the villain of the plot that blew up in Wrexham faces after they had taken an early lead through Stephen Thomas.

Rochdale equalised four minutes later through Lee McEvilly - and then the balloon went up as Dale scored two in two minutes.

Player-manager Paul Simpson's direct free-kick crept in for 2-1 and then the referee awarded the visitors a controversial penalty for a foul by Dennis Lawrence.

There was uproar as the ref ruled the foul was inside the box and, once the dust had settled, Simpson, who went on to score a hat-trick, made it 3-1 from the spot.

Wrexham strived manfully to put things right, but it fell apart in the second half.

The Dragons took a 13th-minute lead when Thomas thrashed home a low drive, but they came back to earth with a bump five minutes later.

Simpson's curling free- kick seemed to bob around in the box for ages before McEvilly spun to smash the ball home.

That knocked the confidence out of Wrexham and only a superbly timed tackle by Jim Whitley dispossessed Simpson as he raced through again, looking a certain scorer.

And while Wrexham were striving to regain their composure, Dale scored again when Simpson's free-kick crept in through a forest of legs.

And it got worse for Wrexham as dangerman Simpson swung over an inviting corner kick that Gareth Griffiths had time to turn on and beat Andy Dibble.

Wrexham's confidence was clearly dented and they desperately needed another goal before half-time - and when it came it was a spectacular effort.

Shaun Pejic powered the ball forward to Andy Morrell, who took it on in his stride before smashing a tremendous drive past 'keeper Neil Edwards.

Then came that controversial penalty amid a torrent of boos and chants of "cheat, cheat" from irate Wrexham fans.

Wrexham clearly had a mountain to climb after the break and Rochdale hit the woodwork when Matt Doughty's shot struck a post with Dibble struggling before Wrexham caved in again.

Pejic clearly fouled McEvilly and Simpson wrapped up his hat-trick by beating Dibble from 12 yards for 5-2.