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 Rochdale
Canon League Division Four
Wrexham: Wardle, King, Cunnington, Hunt, Coleman, Keay, Arkwright, Muldoon (Edwards), Baker, Gregory, Heath
Goalscorers: Arkwright (32, 81), Hunt (44), Gregory (60), Edwards (88)
Rochdale: Conroy, Oates, Chapman, Farrell, Higgins (s/o), Williams, Thompson, Hamilton, Johnson, Allatt, Greenhoff
Goalscorer: Johnson (51)
Following consecutive relegations, surely this was the season that things would start to improve? One thing for sure, things couldn’t get much worse…
Our opening fixture in the basement was against Doncaster Rovers at a sweltering hot Belle Vue. Wrexham certainly received a half-time roasting and ended up losing 3-0 with a performance that was described as ‘wretched’, ‘ineffective’ and ‘an embarrassment’ by Ron Chaloner in the Leader. Oh dear. Where did we go from here?
Well, we travelled to Vale Park for the first leg of a Milk Cup clash with Port Vale and, despite an improved performance, lost 3-1. This was followed by our first home game of the season. Peterborough United were the opponents and a patchy performance ended in a 2-2 draw that was witnessed by only 1,680 fans – our lowest-ever League attendance and the smallest gate of the day in the entire League.
Things could only get better and so it proved as Jimmy Greenhoff brought his Rochdale side to the Racecourse. There was little suggestion of the treat in store for Reds fans when Shaun Cunnington misplaced a back-pass that could’ve ended in calamity but for the vigilance of new loan signing Phil Coleman.
Ian Arkwright opened the scoring spectacularly from 20 yards after 32 minutes. Things got worse for Rochdale on 41 minutes when Andy Higgins was sent off for a second bookable offence after tripping Arkwright. On the stroke of half-time, David Gregory’s superb pass put Simon Hunt clear on goal and he calmly doubled our advantage.
Rochdale rolled up their sleeves in the second half and Steve Johnson sparked a revival when he collected Peter Farrell’s pass, beat Jack Keay and fired home under Bob Wardle’s body. This was the start of a tricky period, but when Gregory headed home Shaun Cunnington’s crossed on the hour it was all over bar the shouting.
There were nine minutes remaining when Arkwright rounded Steve Conroy to score the fourth and the fifth goal was claimed by substitute Andy Edwards on 88 minutes with a neat shot.
Bobby Roberts was obviously pleased but he wasn’t getting carried away: “We played a lot better and competed a lot better. We were a wee bit rocky for a spell but sometimes you get that against ten men.
“We looked a bit nervous after Rochdale scored. Some may lack a bit of confidence at times but when we got the third goal we were comfortable. There were five cracking goals there tonight and there was some very good football.
“If we can keep knocking in goals, people will want to see us.”
Wrexham’s win took them to ninth place in the Fourth Division table, but this was about as good as it got. As the season dragged on it soon became clear that this performance against Rochdale was a one-off and we finished the season in a lowly 20th position.
On the bright side, we did qualify for Europe by reaching the Welsh Cup final, signed Jim Steel from Port Vale for £10,000 and escaped having to apply for re-election on the final day of the season with a 5-1 home win over Tranmere Rovers.
However on the flip side, attendances didn’t really improve, we lost 10 home games in the league to equal the club’s worst ever record from 1963/64, we lost Eddie Niedzwiecki to Chelsea for a bargain £45,000 and Bobby Roberts was forced to play in goal during a Welsh Cup tie against Worcester.
On the whole, it really was a season to forget…