Mel Pejic

Memory Match – 14-08-93

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.

14-08-93

Wrexham v Rotherham United

League Division Two

Racecourse Ground

Result: 3-3

Wrexham: Morris, Jones, Hardy, Brammer (Williams), Humes, Sertori, Bennett, Phillips, Connolly, Watkin, Cross (Paskin)

Goalscorers: Bennett (2 pen, 48 pen), Phillips (88)

Rotherham United: Mercer, Pickering, Jacobs, Banks, Richardson, Law, Hazel, Goodwin, Helliwell, Goater, Wilder

Goalscorers: Banks (22), Goater (75), Goodwin (89)

Attendance: 5,707

After winning promotion from the basement division as top home goalscorers, Wrexham showed little sign of bucking their prolific Racecourse form in a pulsating Second Division encounter. Without first team regulars Mel Pejic, Gareth Owen and Mike Lake, this would be a stern test of our credentials…

The Reds made the perfect start to life at this higher level after Gary Bennett dispatched a penalty after only two minutes. It was Psycho himself who was up-ended by Millers goalkeeper Billy Mercer following an inch-perfect free-kick from Tony Humes. Bennett made no mistake from the spot as he sent Mercer the wrong way to register the fastest goal of the new Football League season.

Brian Flynn’s men proceeded to dominate the opening 20 minutes. Karl Connolly was unfortunate to see a header skim the crossbar while Steve Watkin should have done better when he found himself with only the goalkeeper to beat.

The home side were made to pay for this as United were soon on level terms. Des Hazel turned Humes inside out and crossed for Ian Banks to volley home the equaliser even though Humes protested vehemently that the ball had crossed the line before Hazel centred.

Soon after, Bennett had a header ruled out for offside, but the Scouse goal machine didn’t have to wait long to double his tally when Wrexham were awarded a second spot kick. This time, visiting defender Nicky Law was the culprit when he needlessly handled a cross from Humes immediately after the break.

Rotherham proved resilient opponents though. They would not give up the fight and proceeded to bombard the Wrexham goal for a nail biting 20 minute period. Mark Morris was our hero when he produced an awesome double save, but our desperate defending could not prevent Shaun Goater from equalising in the 75th minute.

In the closing stages, Jon Cross wasted a late opportunity by shooting straight at Mercer and substitute Scott Williams wasn’t far off with a 25 yard drive. As supporters began to head for the exits, Karl Connolly produced a moment of pure magic to beat two defenders and set up Wayne Phillips who left Mercer helpless with a stunning strike from 15 yards.

Surely this was game over – unfortunately not. Shaun Goodwin had the last laugh when he volleyed home a late leveller to ensure the points were shared on an afternoon of breathless excitement.

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Flynn said afterwards: “We’ve got to improve on our marking. Mistakes will be really punished in this division. I’m glad we’ve got the first one under our belt and I am happy with a draw. Rotherham deserved the draw and I think they will be there or thereabouts at the end of the season.”

Rotherham United actually finished in a lowly 15th position while Wrexham ended the season in a comfortable mid-table 12th spot.

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It took us six games to record our first victory in the League – a 3-2 home win against league leaders Reading. There was little to celebrate in the cup competitions either as Walsall knocked us out of the FA Cup after a replay that was beamed nationwide to TV viewers.

Our fortunes in the League Cup were a little brighter as we disposed of Crewe Alexandra 4-3 on aggregate to set up a clash against Nottingham Forest. Another 3-3 draw – the second leg against Crewe also finished 3-3 – at the Racecourse saw Stan Collymore register a hat-trick, while he was also on target in the second leg which Forest won 3-1.

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…

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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.

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

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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.