It's a basic fact of football life that if you don't take chances you get punished, and Wrexham started the season paying the price for failing to take that lesson on board.While constant pressure in the second half yielded nothing but a series of missed opportunities, Julian Joachim showed Wrexham's terrific travelling army what they were missing up front as he gave a typical example of his finishing power, putting the game out of reach with a superb second Darlington goal which left the away fans green with envy.
The first half started cagily. Darlington enjoyed more possession, but what danger there was occurred in their penalty area. A Neil Roberts flick from Anthony Williams' kick sent the industrious Chris Llewellyn round the back of the Darlington defence and his pull-back evaded the keeper and was agonisingly just out of reach of Michael Proctor. Then Eifion Williams went close to marking his debut with a goal; a long throw was headed to the edge of the area and Mark Jones' powerful but off-target shot was deflected goalwards by the debutant. Unfortunately it flew straight at the keeper; a yard either side and he would have had no chance, as Williams' head-in-hands reaction indicated.
At the other end Shaun Pejic and Richard Hope were looking rock-solid against the awkward pairing of Tommy Wright and Pawel Abbott. Early on Pejic had to leave the pitch after being whacked in the face and Wright would eventually be booked for using his elbow once too often, but they were unable to unsettle the defensive duo, with Hope terrific in the air.As the half looked to be petering out Darlington's only attacking moment of note had come when a corner was headed back into the goalmouth by Steve Foster to his fellow centre-back Ian Miller, but in trying to force the ball through the crowd he could only deflect it weakly to Anthony Williams.
However, the docile nature of the game was shattered in the 38th minute: Keith McBride broke play up in the centre of the pitch and as Abbott got behind Hope on the right, the midfielder ran into the box. When Abbott cross, McBride nipped undetected between Simon Spender and Pejic and glanced an unmarked header past Williams from ten yards.Wrexham responded well, and within a minute came the first controversial moment of the game. Llewellyn again got round Austin and once more delivered a cross which cut out the keeper. Eifion Williams rose six yards out and looked certain to head the ball into the net until Tim Ryan shoved him in the back but referee Keith Evans, taking charge of his first Football League game, waved away the vociferous calls for a penalty and thus spared himself the necessity of delivering a red card-temporarily.
Rather than dwell on the decision, Wrexham started the second half at a high tempo. A fine piece of patient play down the left ended in Valentine crossing for Proctor to head just over the bar from ten yards before a second controversial decision denied the Dragons. A long ball over the top sent the onside Llewellyn clear on goal, but the linesman erroneously flagged for Proctor who, though offside, was not interfering with play. As Proctor had kept up with Llewellyn to leave both Wrexham players facing the keeper, a goal would surely have accrued.
Nonetheless, the game appeared to take a decisive turn in Wrexham's favour in the 62nd minute. Another flick-on by Roberts, who caused constant problems in the air and typically bore his rough treatment without complaint, sent Proctor clear but as he rounded the onrushing Andy Oakes the keeper scythed him down a yard outside the box. Pandemonium ensued as players clustered round. Oakes was eventually shown an inevitable red card but the referee then had to sort out some argy-bargy between Valentine and Ryan, the Wrexham man lucky to survive as he had already been booked. And all this time nobody seemed to be clear on whether a penalty had been given or not! Eventually the game was ready for resumption and Proctor's well-placed free kick looked destined for the top left corner until David Stockdale, the replacement keeper, leapt high to paw it clear, making a fine save which he had no right to manage considering his sudden entry into the fray.
The red card seemed to galvanise Darlington if anything, and Dave Penney's decision to leave two men up front and send Joachim into attack from his original post on the wing worked wonders. Foster ought to have done better than slash a shot over from fifteen yards before, with eighteen minutes left, Wrexham went further behind.
The goal was a fine effort by Joachim who ran at pace at Hope before lashing an unstoppable drive into the top right corner, Williams rooted to the spot for the second time.The game was not lost yet though. Matty Done, just on before the goal, stretched Darlington's defence and although the creative Jones went off after failing to shake off a blow to the knee-he still looked uncomfortable as he was leaving the ground-Wrexham created enough chances in the closing minutes to at least salvage a point from the game.
First Llewellyn latched onto a through ball and rolled an enticing cross-shot which just eluded Roberts and went a foot wide of the far post. Then Llewellyn whipped in a free kick which landed perfectly on Danny Williams' head six yards out, but inexplicably the midfielder planted his free header back across goal and narrowly wide.Next it was the unlikely figure of Pejic to come close to scoring, powering a header from a Done corner towards the bottom left corner of the goal only to be denied by a second fine save from the sub goalie.
Even as time ran out Wrexham still had time for two more chances, both squandered by Proctor. In the last minute he ran clear but, with Marc Williams unmarked in the middle, played a poor ball to him which was intercepted by the lone defender, and then when a corner was nodded down to him by Hope, he headed straight at the keeper from six yards.The final whistle blew to delight of the home fans, but Wrexham were left to rue their missed chances; ring any bells?
Referee: Keith Evans
Misc: Wrexham's first defeat at Darlington's new ground; Eifion Williams and Richard Hope's Wrexham debuts; Keith Evans' first game as a Football League referee