Throughout the 2017/18 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.
This is the third successive season that I have been writing the Memory Match column. Indeed, when I have written a Memory Match for every Football League season that Wrexham AFC enjoyed, I would like to compile all the columns into a book that will reflect the rich history of my beloved football club.
Wrexham v Real Zaragoza
European Cup Winner’s Second Round (2nd leg)
Wrexham: Pearce, Salathiel, Cunnington, Williams, Cooke, Comstive, Massey, Horne, Steel, Charles, Emson, (Buxton)
Goalscorers: Massey 102, Buxton 106
Real Zaragoza: Cedrun, Casuco, Fraile, Blesa, Julia, Guerri, Senor, Herrera, Pineda, (Carlos 108), Ayneto, (Yanez 81), Sosa
Goalscorers: Yanez 98, 104
After securing a 0-0 draw at La Romareda, the Robins had a big opportunity to finish off the job at the Racecourse. Before moving on to focus on the second leg of this European tie, I want to underline the enormity of our achievement in Spain which is often overlooked in the history books.
Real Zaragoza had beaten Barcelona in the Spanish Cup final and had overcome AS Roma on penalties in the previous round. This was a seemingly impossible tie for Fourth Division strugglers and Dixie McNeil’s men deserve enormous credit for their performance.
McNeil said: “It was truly magnificent, and the lads responded to the occasion with a display that must rank as one of the greatest in the clubs history. They played with skill and commitment and would have been the envy of many a First Division side.”
Moving on to our mammoth task in the second leg and we knew we were in for a sterner test than we had experienced in the first round against Maltese side FC Zurrieq. We had destroyed them 0-3 in Malta and confirmed our progress with a 4-0 victory at home.
The Spanish side were low on confidence as they had experienced a bad start to their season and had sent a ‘spy’ over from Spain to watch us hammer Aldershot 3-0 in our last home encounter before the European clash. Roman Fernandez said: “A cold, wet night like this will be a tremendous advantage to Wrexham.” Wrexham supporters were praying for inclement weather.
In front of the biggest crowd since hosting West Ham United in January 1981, the Reds made a shaky start to the match but soon settled. In fact, they almost took the lead when Steel’s firm header clipped the bar. Paul Comstive came close with a flying header that forced an agile save from visiting goalkeeper Andoni Cedrun.
Shortly after half-time, Chris Pearce was also forced into action when he made a super save to deny Sosa. This apart, Pearce had an extremely quiet evening as Wrexham continued to push forward. The visitors were grateful to Cedrun for denying Mike Williams and when Comstive did beat him with a header, the ball cannoned back off the crossbar.
With the game now in extra-time the introduction of substitutes proved to be decisive as it was Yanez who broke the deadlock when Senor sent him clear to beat Pearce. This away goal meant Wrexham now needed two goals to win the tie and hopes were raised when Steve Massey equalised.
The game was now really opening up as tiredness set in, but just two minutes later the unmarked Yanez found himself room on the right to score what looked to be the decisive goal from a Sosa cross. When have you ever known Wrexham and their supporters to give up, though? Substitute Steve Buxton pulled one back moments later to set up a frantic finale that included a wonder save by Cedrun to deny Steve Massey.
Dixie McNeil put on a brave face: “I am disappointed to say the least, but not with the lads. They played magnificently and did themselves proud. It was two defensive lapses that gave them the goals, but had not been for their goalkeeper, I am sure we would have won through to the quarter-finals.”
Star man Paul Comstive said: “I thought all through the game we were in with a good chance of winning. They did everything they could to keep us out and in the end it was their keeper who beat us. Apart from their goals, they hardly troubled us all night.”