Throughout the 2016/17 football season I will be contributing to the Wrexham AFC matchday programme. I will be penning a feature called Memory Match, a look back at classic Wrexham games from the past that I will share in this blog over the coming months.
Wrexham v Watford
League Division Three
Wrexham: Lloyd, Jones, Fogg, Evans, May, Whittle, Tinnion, Sutton, Davies, Smallman, Griffiths
Goalscorers: Smallman 25, 44, Whittle 26, 31, Davies 45
Watford: Rankin, Craker, Williams, Joslyn, Keen, Goodeve, Bond, Jenkins, Mayes, Scullion (Bristow), Downes
Goalscorer: Joslyn 55
When writing about a John Neal side of the Seventies there are certain words that usually feature, such as “giantkillers” and “Europe”. However, neither of these words could be used in connection with 1974-75, which failed to explode into the expected promotion charge. Instead, during a season of transition we had to settle for a few sparks of hope in an ultimately disappointing campaign.
After losing to Stourbridge in the previous season’s Welsh Cup semi-final, there were no memorable European encounters while Fourth Division sides Crewe Alexandra (1-2) and Mansfield Town (3-1) knocked us out of the League and FA Cups respectively – both at the first round stage.
Prior to this featured game against mid-table rivals Watford, the Leader spoke about how victory was vital for 12th placed Wrexham to keep in touch with the promotion-chasing pack. Manager Neal was in an optimistic frame of mind: “What we need is a good run. We have dropped a few silly points which would have put us among the front runners, but we have been working hard on trying to sort out one or two little problems we have had.”
Goals were what we needed and the players responded to their pep talk by putting on their shooting boots. Wrexham scored five goals in a remarkable first half. The avalanche started in the 25th minute when Dave Smallman sent a glancing header past Watford goalkeeper Andy Rankin after Arfon Griffiths floated a free kick into the box.
Less than a minute later, Wrexham doubled their lead. Griffiths sent Smallman away down the left and his cross was knocked back across the box by Brian Tinnion for Graham Whittle to turn on a sixpence and shoot low into the corner of the goal.
Watford were all over the place. Whittle grabbed the third after good work from Smallman and Geoff Davies allowed him to score from 12 yards. The rampant Reds were in awesome form and Smallman almost notched another soon after, but he headed a Tinnion cross onto the bar. Not to be denied, Smallman nodded home the fourth after a Griffiths header from a Tinnion corner had bounced off the bar.
On the stroke of half-time, Wrexham completed their five-star show when Smallman ran free of the beleaguered Watford defence and crossed for Davies to slot home.
The Robins eased up in the second half and allowed the Hornets to score a consolation goal after 55 minutes when Roger Joslyn followed up after a shot by Bobby Downes had been blocked.
A jubilant John Neal said: “We hadn’t been putting away a big enough percentage of our chances in previous matches, but on Saturday we really tucked them in.”
After such a resounding victory our topsy-turvy season took a turn for the worse as we lost five and drew one of the next six games. In March, we beat Aldershot 4-0 thanks to a Dave Smallman hat-trick, but shortly after this treble the club – £50,000 in the red – accepted a club record fee of £75,000 from Everton manager Billy Bingham for the young marksman.
A distraught Neal said: “Wrexham have won, Everton have won, and the boy was won. I’m the loser because I hated to see him go.”
The campaign concluded with a 0-0 draw at Ewood Park against champions Blackburn Rovers that left us floating in 13th position.
Still, we managed to finish a largely forgettable season on a high after beating Cardiff City 5-2 over two legs to lift the Welsh Cup and earn another crack at European opposition.