Kevin Russell

Memory Match – 15-02-97

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.

15-02-97

Birmingham City v Wrexham

FA Cup Fourth Round

St Andrews

Result: 1-3

Birmingham City: Bennett, Brown, Johnson, Bruce, Ablett (Bowen), Holland, Devlin, Legg, Furlong, Horne, Limpar (Newell)

Goalscorer: Bruce (57)

Wrexham: Marriott, McGregor, Brace, Hughes, Humes, Carey, Chalk (Brammer), Russell, Connolly, Watkin, Ward

Goalscorers: Hughes (51), Humes (61), Connolly (90)

Attendance: 21,511

Cup fever hit Wrexham during the 1996/97 season, but if you told supporters that this would be the case after 66 minutes of our first round clash with Colwyn Bay at the Racecourse, few would have believed you. At the time we where trailing 0-1 and look to be heading for a humiliating exit. Thankfully, Bryan Hughes slammed home an equaliser after 76 minutes to force a replay, which we won 2-0.

Following this fortunate victory we never looked back. The second round saw Scunthorpe United take us to a replay after a 2-2 draw at the Racecourse. We finally dispatched the Ironmen after a 2-3 thriller at Glanford Park. The third round saw us entertain West Ham United on a snow covered pitch.  The match ended 1-1 and yet again we were involved in a replay.  A large Wrexham following saw Kevin Russell strike the only goal of the game as we marched on to the fourth round. After a 2-4 victory at London Road against Peterborough United we were drawn against Birmingham City at St Andrews.

Birmingham lost 3-0 at home to Portsmouth in Division One the previous weekend while Wrexham polished off Posh for the second time in a week at London Road thanks to the only goal of the game from Bryan Hughes.  We remained the underdogs, of course, but we wanted to avoid the humiliation we suffered on our last visit to St Andrews when we lost a Second Division game 5-2, the only bright spot of that afternoon was Gary Bennett’s 100th goal for the club.

On this occasion, Wrexham were not in the mood to crash out of the Cup after coming so far. In the early stages, their confident approach play was pinning the Blues back, but Steve Bruce marshalled the opposition defence with expertise and snuffed out any danger.

Bruce pushed forward for set pieces and actually opened the scoring for the home side on 37 minutes when he volleyed home a corner.

After weathering an early storm in the second half, our white-shirted heroes levelled when Bryan Hughes thumped home a header from a Peter Ward free-kick. Soon after, Paul Devlin was sent-off after a scandalous challenge on Martyn Chalk and the Town made full use of their extra man when Tony Hughes headed home a corner on 61 minutes.

City manager Trevor Francis introduced Jason Bowen and Mike Newell to the action in an attempt to force an equaliser but Wrexham defended deeply and forced a third in the final moments when Brian Carey found Karl Connolly with a delightful through ball. Winning the race with defender Michael Johnston, King Karl shot under the advancing goalkeeper – Ian Bennett – and the ball went in off the post.

We had reached the last eight of the FA Cup for the second time in our history.

“Despite going a goal behind, the players still had great belief in their own abilities and I was still confident that we would score,” said manager Brian Flynn.

“Our performance through the full match was all I could ask for and provided we were able to continue at that level, and then the chances were going to come. Once we got that equaliser, you felt there was only going to be one winner.

“It was probably our best display during my time as manager and to happen on such a stage was very satisfying.”

***

Our Cup run finally ground to a halt at the quarter-final stage with a humdrum 1-0 defeat against Chesterfield at Saltergate. This is still to painful to discuss as it was a case of being so close, yet so far…

 

 

Memory Match – 25-08-03

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 I would like to compile all the columns into a book that will reflect the rich history of my beloved football club.

25-08-03

Sheffield Wednesday v Wrexham

League Division Two

Hillsborough

Result: 2-3

Sheffield Wednesday: Tidman, Geary (Owusu), Barry-Murphy, D. Smith, Lee, Evans (P. Smith), Cooke, McLaren, Holt, Kuqi, Qunn

Goalscorers: Quinn (2), P. Smith (79)

Wrexham: Dibble, C. Edwards, Pejic, Ferguson, Lawrence, Carey, Barrett, Llewellyn, Sam (Jones), Thomas, P. Edwards (Holmes)

Goalscorers: Lawrence (40), Llewellyn (53), C. Edwards (64)

Attendance: 24,478

Despite a first round exit in the League Cup – thanks to a 2-0 defeat against Crewe Alexandra at Gresty Road – we were still unbeaten in the league as we travelled to Hillsborough to take on Sheffield Wednesday.  After being promoted the previous season, we continued our fine form at this higher level to extend our unbeaten run to 18 matches.

Roared on by 2,000 travelling fans, the afternoon started badly when Paul McLaren headed down for Alan Quinn to score from outside the penalty area with a dipping shot after two minutes. Maybe Wrexham goalkeeper Andy Dibble could’ve done better, but he was forgiven by supporters as it was the first goal he had conceded in seven matches. The previous Saturday had seen Dibble equal a club record of six successive clean sheets – previously held solely by Gordon Livsey.

Seemingly in control, Wednesday striker Grant Holt stuck the ball past Dibble from former Wrexham loanee Terry Cooke’s free-kick in the 28th minute, only to have his effort disallowed for a foul in a crowded penalty area. Moments later Shefki Kuqi saw a shot blocked at the expense of a corner.

Wrexham were struggling to cope with the strength and pace of the home side’s two strikers and Holt muscled himself another opportunity, his shot flashing dangerously across the face of the goal.

Minutes later, Kuqi overpowered Shaun Pejic but Dibble spread himself well to prevent what would surely have been the final nail in Wrexham’s coffin, even at such an early stage of the game, as the visitors were forced to defend desperately.

Six minutes before the break though, the visitors were back on terms. Our hero was Dennis Lawrence, who had scored the winner in our previous match against Brentford. In an almost carbon-copy re-run, he went forward to meet Ferguson’s corner and his downward header found the net.

Wrexham snatched an unlikely lead in the 53rd minute through Chris Llewellyn. The former Norwich City striker breaking from half-way before linking with Paul Edwards and taking the return pass to curl a superb shot beyond Ola Tidman from 20 yards.

Wrexham went further ahead in the 64th minute thanks to a fine solo goal from Carlos Edwards, who cut in from the right to drive the ball low into the bottom corner of the net.

Wednesday were on the ropes but they didn’t give up without a fight. The Owls suddenly regained their composure and confidence to battle on for the final gut-wrenching 11 minutes. Alan Quinn’s cross was punched away by Dibble for substitute Paul Smith, whose toe-poked effort struck a post and went in off the unfortunate Brian Carey.

This was the last significant action of an entertaining afternoon that saw the Reds gain a valuable three points.

***

Assistant manager Kevin Russell said: “We weathered the storm in the first half when they put us under a lot of pressure.

“We dug in to the game and we had our fair share of chances in the second half we controlled the game with an excellent performance.”

“We couldn’t have had a worse start, but it just shows you how much character we’ve got in the squad at the moment.

“We’ve got a very small squad, a vey young squad, but the one thing about it is that we are hard to beat. We are a tight unit and today I thought they were very, very good.”

***

The win took the Dragons up to second place in the league table – with the same number of points as leaders Barnsley and with only goal-difference separating them.  Unfortunately our early season promise did not last, although we finished the season in a respectable 13th position.

Memory Match – 07-04-90

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.

07-04-90

Wrexham v Maidstone United

League Division Four

Racecourse Ground

Result: 4-2 

Wrexham: O’Keefe, Salathiel, Kennedy, Reck, Beaumont, Youds, Preece (Armstrong), Thackeray, Sertori, Worthington, Bowden

Goalscorers: Youds (4), Worthington (6, 75), Sertori (85)

Maidstone United: Johns, Barton, Rumble, Berry, Golley, Roast, Pritchard, Elsey, Charlery, Butler, Lillis (Gall)

Goalscorer: Butler (9, 57)

Attendance: 2,806

 

After the heartbreak of defeat in the 1988/89 Division Four Play-Off final, Wrexham struggled to bounce back. Preparations for the new season were difficult with Kevin Russell joining Leicester City for £175,000, and Charlton Athletic paying £100,000 for Mike Salmon.

Replacements were signed in the form of Vince O’Keefe on a free transfer from Blackburn Rovers, Gary Worthington joined from Darlington at a price of £15,000, Sean Reck was snapped up from Oxford United for £35,000 and Robbie Barnes signed from Manchester City on a free transfer. However, these new arrivals failed to gel and a poor start to the season saw a frustrated Dixie McNeil resign at the end of October with the team struggling near the foot of the table.

Enter Brian Flynn. Things got even worse before they got better as the new man in charge won only one of his opening 18 League matches. Relegation to the Conference looked a real possibility before centre-half Eddie Youds was loaned from Everton and the club stumped up £30,000 for Mark Sertori from Lincoln City to kick start a revival based on a new 3-5-2 formation.

The new-look Robins seemed to be making little progress when all of a sudden they won five games on the trot and hauled themselves off the bottom of the table. After a couple of blips on the road against Aldershot and Cambridge United that left us in 22nd position, it was time for promotion-chasing Maidstone United to visit the Racecourse.

Wrexham profited from home advantage and made a blistering start with two goals in the opening seven minutes. Eddie Youds was first off the mark with a belter from a Sean Reck free-kick before Gary Worthington ended a fine five-man move by calmly lifting the ball over the advancing Nicky Johns in the Maidstone goal.

However, it wasn’t long before the visitors – unbeaten in five – got back into the game. Ken Charlery eased past Alan Kennedy and delivered a cross that was met by the head of Jason Lillis who saw the ball crash against the crossbar. Steve Butler reacted to the rebound before Vince O’Keefe and Youds to keep the game alive with his head.

The Stones were now in the ascendency with Warren Barton and Karl Elsey running the show. O’Keefe reacted well to keep out a deflected Charlery shot at his near post and we were lucky to maintain our lead after a speculative Reck back pass fell ideally for Butler who was denied an equaliser by an in-form O’Keefe.

It was only a matter of time though and on 57 minutes Butler got the better of our Warwickshire-born shot stopper for his second of the afternoon after good work from Elsey and Barton.

With only a handful of games remaining to decide which team would be relegated to the Conference, Wrexham could not afford to settle for a point. The Robins had to dig deep and were rewarded when Worthington restored the lead after Mark Sertori had failed to control a perfect through ball from Jon Bowden.

The high flyers were not giving up without a fight and O’Keefe was on call again to deny substitute Mark Gall before Sertori sealed a vital victory with a shot on the turn after Chris Armstrong had headed down a Reck free-kick.

***

Wrexham won a further three League games that season and finished the campaign in 21st spot. The club that fell through the trap door that season was Colchester United…

Memory Match – 10-08-95

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.

10-08-95

Wrexham v Petrolul Ploiesti

European Cup Winner’s Cup First Round First Leg

Racecourse Ground

Result: 0-0

Wrexham: Marriott, Brace, Hardy, Phillips, Hunter, Jones, Futcher, Owen, Connolly, Watkin, Durkan

Petrolul Ploiesti: Preda, Chirita, Leahu, Balaceanu, Grigore, Rachita, Pirlog, Abaluta, Zafiris, Zmoleanu, Toader

Attendance: 4,308

 

The summer of 1995 was a particularly turbulent one at the Racecourse with plenty of transfer activity. The biggest shock was the departure of 47-goal striker Gary Bennett to Tranmere Rovers for £300,000.  There was no doubt that his predatory instincts would be missed after hitting 109 goals in 160 appearances, but manager Brian Flynn moved quickly to create a new-look outfit by signing Peter Ward from Stockport County for £60,000, former favourite Kevin Russell rejoined from Notts County for £60,000 and winger Craig Skinner was captured in a £50,000 deal from Plymouth Argyle.

After lifting the Welsh Cup at Cardiff Arms Park, this was to be Wrexham’s last-ever campaign in Europe due to the fact that the club plied its trade in the English Football League. The good folk at UEFA had suddenly decided that teams that did not play in the national league of the country of origin would no longer be able to compete for the relevant national cup – in our case the Welsh Cup.

Flynn said: “The atmosphere on European nights is always something special. This is such a shame that the politics of football looks like denying us the chance of savouring it again in the future.”

Wrexham were drawn against the little known Romanian side Petrolul Ploiesti who had qualified by beating Rapid Bucharest 5-3 on penalties in the Romanian Cup final, after a 1-1 draw. This would a tough test for the Reds as they were hampered by more red tape and bureaucracy. UEFA’s ‘four foreign players’ ruling, meant we had to play without Peter Ward, Kevin Russell, Tony Humes, Craig Skinner and Bryan Hughes.

As a matter of note, Mel Pejic made his debut as the club’s physio for this game.

Petrolul may have been technically superior and kept possession of the ball for long periods, but Wrexham matched them in endeavour and flashes of excellent football. In deed, Wrexham could easily have gone ahead after only three minutes when a Karl Connolly corner found young Stephen Futcher unmarked at the far post, but his header went just wide of the mark.

Later Waynne Phillips went close and late in the first half both Connolly and Kieron Durkan put chances just wide.

Andy Marriott was in great form making several crucial saves to keep the stalemate going into the second leg in Romania.  All we needed was an early goal over there…

***

The second leg was played in 90-degree heat at the Ilie Oana Stadium, but the Robins put this out of their minds and fought tooth and nail. However, the Welsh side’s resilience was finally broken on the hour when Zmoleanu swung over a corner kick and Mihai Pirlog powerfully headed home.

Flynn said of his team: “They were a credit to club and country, but above all they did themselves proud. It was always going to be hard against a side like Ploiesti with the restrictions that we had – I thought we were magnificent.”

Petrolul were eliminated in the next round by Rapid Vienna.

***

In 2013/14, Ploiesti were eliminated in the Europa League play-off round by Swansea City – 3-6 on aggregate.

***

In February 2015, Petrolul Ploiesti became insolvent. In the summer of 2016 the club was dissolved, but fans and club legends re-founded and enrolled it in Liga IV – the fourth level of the Romanian football league system.

Memory match – 15-08-15

d TownThroughout the 2015/16 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.

15-08-87

Torquay United v Wrexham

 Barclays League Division Four

Plainmoor

 Result: 6-1

TORQUAY UNITED: Allen, McNichol, Kelly, Haslegrave (Musker), Cole, Impey, Gardiner, Lloyd, McLoughlin, Loram (Nardiello), Dobson

Goalscorers: McLoughlin 29, 63, Dobson 38, 62, 71, Cole 58

 WREXHAM: Salmon, Salathiel, Hinnigan, Williams, Cooke (Buxton), Jones, Carter, Hunter, Steel, Russell, Cunnington

Goalscorer: Carter 18

 Attendance: 1,817

 

It was a new-look Wrexham side that kicked-off the 1987/88 season following a hectic close season that saw the departure of Barry Horne (£70,000 to Portsmouth), Mike Conroy (Released), Nick Hencher (Released), Steve Charles (£15,000 to Mansfield Town), Chris Pearce (£4,000 to Burnley) and Paul Comstive (£8,000 to Burnley).

Dixie McNeil worked tirelessly to sign adequate replacements and brought in Kevin Russell (£10,000 from Portsmouth), Mike Carter (Free from Hereford), Jon Bowden (£12,500 from Port Vale), Joe Hinnigan (Free from Gillingham), Mike Salmon (£18,000 from Bolton Wanderers) and Geoff Hunter (Free from Port Vale).

However, the marquee signing came a few days before the opening game of the season when McNeil re-signed Joey Jones for £7,000 from Huddersfield Town, after he’d turned down an offer to join Swansea City.

“I always wanted to come back to Wrexham, but I hope people will not think I have just returned to play out the rest of my career. I want to win things.”

Subsequently, it was with high hopes that the Robins travelled to the English Riviera to take on a Torquay side that only escaped relegation to the Conference on the final day of the previous season on goal difference. The South Coast club had since appointed a new manager in Cyril Knowles – former Spurs player and ex-Darlington boss – and were hoping that this would herald a new dawn.

“It’s a very difficult game for us. They will obviously be out to get off to a flying start, but it is essential that we also make a good start,” said manager McNeil.

“The first 10 games are vital for both the team and fans because it can give you a cushion against the odd setback. I’m very optimistic about our chances for the new season, especially with Joey Jones back at the Racecourse.

“The new lads have only played a handful of competitive games together, but there have been signs that we will have a good side once the season gets underway.”

Everything seemed to be going to plan when Mike Carter gave the visitors the lead from eight yards on 18 minutes, but that was as good it got as Torquay quickly found their stride. Goals from Alan McLoughlin (29) and Alan Dobson (38) gave the Gulls a half-time lead, but worse was to follow after the break as David Cole (58), Dobson (62) and McLoughlin (63) netted three goals in five minutes. To rub salt into the wounds, Dobson secured his hat-trick on 71 minutes.

“Without a shadow of a doubt we were a shambles,” blasted McNeil.

“We were totally overrun and never got into the game. I don’t mind getting beaten but to go down 6-1 in your first game of the season and loose three goals in five minutes is wrong. I was sick watching the goals going in; I just couldn’t believe it.”

  ***

At least the Red Army didn’t travel en masse to Plainmoor as Torquay had decided to ban all visiting fans.

A United spokesman said that they have never had any trouble from Wrexham fans in the past but had to bring in the ban to cut police costs.

“We are a holiday resort and fans tend to make a weekend of it and there has been trouble. We have a moral responsibility to local people so a membership only scheme has been introduced,” said the spokesman.