By Gerry PrewettIn a season of many firsts for Bristol Rovers their visit to Wrexham on Tuesday evening will be their 22nd visit to the Racecourse Ground. It’s not a ground that has been very lucrative for Gas teams in the past. In the 21 games the home team has won 14, there have been 4 draws and just 3 Rovers victories.
Currently in 12th spot the Dragons are 8 points behind Rovers. They have had very patchy form this season and until their 3-1 victory over Aldershot at the weekend they had picked up just 2 points from 4 games.
In that game a former loanee Dan Holman cut in from the right before firing home from outside the box to give Aldershot the lead on 14 minutes.
12 minutes later Mark Carrington levelled with a composed finish.
The second half was just three minutes old when Andy Bishop put the Welshmen Wit19 minutes left substitute Louis Moult converted a penalty after Bishop was tripped. Top scorer Moult praised the manner of the Dragons’ win, “It’s a massive three points, but it’s not just that, it’s the manner of the three points which is important.”
“I don’t think they’ve really made our goalkeeper work and if you look back at that it could have been four or five one. There’s one near the end where I’ve set Carrington up and we’re talking fractions away from another goal.”
“So we’ve had a few chances, but 3-1 is a good result and we’re all delighted with that.”
Moult is at a lot loss to understand just how Kevin Wilkin’s men have managed to go so long without a win, “We can’t really put our finger on the bad run other than bad luck really, I think everyone can see we’ve had a bit of that.
“Think of my sending off against Altrincham. If we’d have kept 11 players on the pitch there we’d have strolled to a win. But of course you make your own luck too. But if we keep putting performances in like that, which has carried on from the second half display against Kidderminster...
“It’s down to the endeavor from the boys, the tempo and the workrate which we’ve put in today – well, we got our rewards.”
“I can’t really think about my couple of months, it’s been a bit weird. But as long as I keep scoring goals and we keep getting the points then I’m happy. I definitely wanted the penalty. I always say if I win it, then I want to take it. I’ve won it and I’ve managed to slot it home, thankfully.”
Looking back at the history of Wrexham, the club was formed by members of the Wrexham Cricket Club, who wanted a sporting activity for the winter months, on 28th September 1872 during a meeting held at the Turf Hotel.
In 1921 Wrexham were elected to the newly formed Third Division North of the Football League. Their first League game was against Hartlepool United at the Racecourse in front of 8,000 spectators. Playing in blue shirts Wrexham slumped to a 0-2 defeat. The following week Wrexham gained revenge when they traveled to Hartlepool and came away with a 1-0 victory.
Having spent their entire history in Division Three North with a best ever finish of 2nd in 1932/33 the Robins just made it into the newly formed 3rd Division for the 1958/59 season. However their tenure lasted just two seasons as they finished 23rd at the end of the 1959/60 season.
Performances improved following the appointment of Ken Barnes as player manager. He led Wrexham to promotion in his first season, 1961/62 and oversaw a 10-1 trouncing of Hartlepool United, the club's record League victory. Unfortunately Wrexham were relegated again two years later and at the end of the 1965/66 season they finished 92nd in the Football League.
The arrival of John Neal at the club saw an upswing in Wrexham's fortunes. In 1969/70 he led them to promotion and two years later he led them into European football for the first time. The Robins first European match was against FC Zurich and resulted in a 3-2 aggregate win for the Welsh club.
In the 1973-74 season Wrexham made it to the FA Cup quarter-finals before losing 1-0 to First Division Burnley. Two years later Wrexham made it to the quarter-finals of the European Cup Winners Cup before losing to the eventual winners, Anderlecht.
At the end of the 1977 season John Neal left the club to join Chelsea and was replaced by Arfon Griffiths. Griffiths brought Dixie McNeil, Dai Davies and Les Cartwright to the club strengthening the team to such an extent that it stormed to the Third Division Championship for the 1977/78 season, reached the last eight of, the FA Cup and the League Cup, as well as winning the Welsh Cup.
Wrexham enjoyed four seasons in the Second Division before consecutive relegations plummeted them back to the bottom division. In 1989/89 they lost out to Orient in the Fourth Division Play-off Final. In January 1992 Wrexham became a household name when they indulged in their greatest ever piece of giant killing courtesy of an FA Cup victory over reigning League Champions Arsenal.
1992-93 season saw the Robins finish second in Division Three. They spent nine years in the higher division before relegation in 2001/02 saw them once again return to the basement of the League. However the Robins bounced straight back up after finishing third. Off-field problems had an inevitable knock-on effect and last season they once gain found themselves dropping back down to the bottom Division.
Recently, the club has been dogged with problems, including the chairman Alex Hamilton attempting to get them evicted from their stadium so that he could sell it for development purposes, a saga involving the dubious sale of the Racecourse Ground to a separate company owned by Hamilton immediately after he became the club's chairman. In the summer of 2004 Hamilton gave the club a years' notice to quit the ground.
On 3 December 2004 the club was placed in financial administration by the High Court in Manchester; owing £2,600,000, including £800,000 to the Inland Revenue in unpaid taxes. Wrexham became the first League club to suffer a ten-point deduction under the new rule for being placed in Administration, dropping them from the middle of the League One table to the relegation zone.
Despite their financial troubles, Wrexham went on to win the 2004-05 LDV Vans Trophy by defeating Southend United 2-0 after extra time, in Wrexham's first appearance in Cardiff's Millennium Stadium. It was Southend's second consecutive defeat in the LDV Vans Trophy final.
Amazingly, Wrexham still had an outside chance of escaping the drop in the 2004-05 season after an end-of-season winning streak; however, their faint hopes of staying up ended with a 2-1 home loss to Brentford on 3 May 2005. The 10-point deduction proved decisive in determining Wrexham's fate, as the club finished with 43 points compared to 20th-placed Milton Keynes Dons' 51.
In October 2005 Birmingham High Court decided that Mr. Hamilton's company CrucialMove had improperly acquired the freehold of the ground. Mr. Hamilton then took this to the Appeal Court in London and it ruled on 14 March 2006 that the stadium must remain in the hands of the club's administrators. On 30 April 2006 the Administrators reached an agreement with local car dealer Neville Dickens, subject to agreement by the shareholders and creditors (which was achieved on 30 May), for Mr. Dickens to take over the club. Had the club still been in Administration on 3 June then it would have automatically been expelled from the League.
Looking at the history of games between the two clubs, somewhat surprisingly they don’t go back very far. Wrexham were usually confined to the lower divisions and Rovers played in the Third Division South, whilst the Robins were in the Third Division North.
In fact the first match between the two teams was on 1 September 1962 and Wrexham ran out 5-2 winners in front of a very respectable 11,519 at the Racecourse Ground. The following season Rovers got their revenge with Alfie Biggs and Johnny Brown goals securing a 2-1 victory.
Whilst Rovers next four visits saw only two goals difference between the two teams, Wrexham won 2 and there were two draws. That second defeat on 2 February 1974 ended Rovers 32 game unbeaten record. It was the famous “Smash and Grab” season when Rovers swept all before them. But they didn’t get anything at Wrexham! Arfon Griffiths being the Dragons scorer on the day.
It was another five years before Rovers next traveled to the Racecourse Ground, but things had changed; two consecutive single goal victories. Perhaps Rovers were going to start enjoying their trips to North Wales!
Unfortunately that victory on 10 November 1979, where Dixie McNeil scored a penalty for the home team and Steve White and Phil Bater for the away team, was over 35 years ago and the last time Rovers came away with all the points. Ten defeats and two draws are all that they’ve had to show for the journey. Eight of Rovers last nine visits have ended in single goal defeats for Rovers, the last game ended in a 2-0 defeat with Chris Llewellyn and Tom Craddock on the scoresheet.
Wrexham goalkeeper Daniel Bachmann says he is fit for the game on Tuesday after he had been expected to be out for at least three months with a torn medial collateral ligament in his knee. The Austrian Under-21 international, on loan from Stoke City, collided with the frame of the goal during the 2-1 defeat at Torquay in October. He said, "It's up to the manager, I've been training with Stoke the last week or so and getting back to full fitness. I'm ready to play."
Speaking after the Aldershot game Kevin Wilkins said, "I'm delighted for all the boys that have shown a real character to get through after a difficult start and a thoroughly deserved win. It pleases me again Andy (Bishop) has got on the score sheet and [Louis] Moult has got off the bench and got on the scoresheet.”
"Overall the lads have dug in and shown that character and hopefully we will show it again on Tuesday and win that game as well."