Battling Reds hold their own in feisty encounter

Reporter:

Richard Williams

WREXHAM could hold their heads high after securing a goalless draw against Premier League opponents Stoke City at The Racecourse on Friday night.

Although only a pre-season friendly, it was competitive encounter and tempers threatened to boil over at times and Stoke striker Ricardo Fuller was given his marching orders in the second half following a confrontation with Reds’ left-back Neil Ashton.

There was no doubt that the strong Stoke side containing plenty of well-known names had the quality that has made them no mugs on the Premier League stage.

Stoke had the better chances to break the deadlock but battling Wrexham never gave an inch.

Often put under pressure, Wrexham’s solid defence stood firm to keep Stoke at bay and the midfield fought for everything, although there was a lack of scoring opportunities that would have seen the Reds clinch an unlikely victory.

Manager Dean Saunders was understandably delighted with his side’s impressive performance ahead of the new Conference campaign which starts on Saturday with the visit of Cambridge United to The Racecourse.

That is when results count and although they won’t face teams of the standard of Stoke, Wrexham need to produce this kind of battling display on a regular basis.

As expected, Saunders named what will be close to his preferred starting eleven, although his line-up was missing Frank Sinclair who was not risked because of injury, and the Reds boss also included two trialists.

Centre-back Sinclair, nursing a calf problem, was left out as a precaution ahead but Saunders took the opportunity to take another look at midfielder Danny Racchi, without a club following his release by Bury at the end of last season, and there was also a place in the team for another trialist, centre-back Gavin Caines, a new arrival who is also a free agent after leaving Kidderminster Harriers.

Tony Pullis selected a near first-choice side with the likes of Flintshire-born duo Danny Collins and Ryan Shawcross, as well as Robert Huth, Rory Delap, Tuncay, Ricardo Fuller and Matty Etherington in from the start.

It was going to be a good test for Wrexham and they found themselves defending for their lives in the opening exchanges.

Tuncay played in attacking left-back Collins after just three minutes but his shot from six yards was superbly saved by goalkeeper Scott Shearer.

Wrexham also got their first taste of Delap’s dangerous long throw-in during the frantic opening but the ball was eventually cleared for a corner, while an unmarked Tuncay’s close range strike was ruled out for offside after he met Dean Whitehead’s cross.

Wrexham soon settled and began to come more into the game as the half progressed, and they almost took a tenth minute lead when Dean Keates delivered an excellent free-kick into the area but Nat Knight-Percival’s free header was well saved by keeper Asmir Begovic.

Racchi’s low drive was also gathered by Begovic, but Wrexham were kept on their toes when Stoke attacked and two successive blocks in the area by Neil Ashton prevented efforts from Collins troubling Shearer.

Saunders made one change for the start of the second half with another trialist, former Southend United defender Jean-Francois Christophe, replacing Declan Walker.

Excellent work by Ashton, who cleared a ball from under his crossbar following a Collins cross, prevented Stoke from taking the lead within a minute of the re-start.

Stoke were creating openings and Shawcross headed just over the bar from Liam Lawrence’s centre while Tuncay had a great opportunity to make it 1-0 when he latched on to Dean Whitehead’s through ball but fired wide with just Shearer to beat.

Saunders continued to make substitutions as the half progressed but it had turned into a scrappy affair since the break and although Wrexham were holding their own in general play, they had been unable to test Stoke’s replacement keeper, Thomas Sorensen.

However, Stoke were reduced to ten men after 73 minutes when Fuller appeared to strike Ashton in the face and referee Bryn Markham-Jones was given no alternative but to show a red card to the Jamaican striker.

But Wrexham had a lucky escape four minutes later when Lawrence played a short free-kick into the path of Tuncay whose powerful 30-yard drive struck the underside of the bar and the loose ball was cleared.

There was to be no Wrexham winner but it was a performance they could be pleased with.

WREXHAM (4-2-3-1): Shearer; Walker (Christophe 46), Blackburn, Caines, Ashton; Tolley, Keates; Racchi (Hunt 61), Brown (Smith 90), Knight-Percival; Mangan (Morrell 68). Subs not used: Maxwell, Taylor, Williams, Gall, Cornforth, Edwards, Cieslewicz, Baynes, Obeng.

STOKE CITY (4-4-2): Begovic (Sorensen 46); Huth, Shawcross, Higginbottom, Collins; Lawrence, Delap, Whitehead, Etherington (Sidibe 57); Fuller, Tuncay. Subs not used: Brunt, Headley, Cuvelier.
Referee: Bryn Markham-Jones.

Attendance: 1,619 (395 from Stoke).

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