7 January 2012
Over the last few seasons a lot of attention has been given in the media to the diminishing importance of the FA Cup. Attendances at the bigger clubs in the earlier stages of the competition are generally considerably lower than average league gates and many sides, including those from the lower reaches of the Premiership and the summit of the Championship, have succumbed to the temptation to rest key players on what was traditionally the most exciting day of the footballing calendar.
However, speak to anyone from Wrexham about their FA Cup 3rd Round tie at Championship side Brighton and Hove Albion and the main reaction is one of excitement and anticipation. Indeed for older supporters, the tie has brought back memories of the famous 1992 3rd Round cup tie between Wrexham and Arsenal at the Racecourse, when Mickey Thomas smashed a last minute free kick from the edge of the penalty box into the top left corner of the Arsenal goal to prepare the way for one of the great cup upsets.
Despite the importance of retaining their focus on promotion to the football league, which is still anything but guaranteed despite Wrexham enjoying one of their finest ever seasons. A comprehensive 4-0 victory over AFC Telford on New Year’s Day was their fifth successive win in the league, a feat they have accomplished no less than three times this season, and yet the Dragons have still only got a two point cushion over nearest rivals Fleetwood Town. Fleetwood produced a sensational performance to demolish Southport 6-0 despite playing the entire second half with 10 men after striker Richard Brodie was sent off in the 32nd minute.
There are two main reasons why Wrexham want to focus their attention on the FA Cup as well as the league. The first, as manager Andy Morrell acknowledges, is that it helps to raise the profile of the club, and with that potentially its income, particularly with the Brighton tie marking the 20th anniversary of the Arsenal win. This has been exemplified by the arrival of the BBC cameras and the recreation of the Mickey Thomas goal on the Colliers Park training ground, along with the traditional media captivation with 3rd Round Goliath and David ties.
The second reason, though, is that there is a genuine feeling in Wrexham that they can cause an upset. Whilst Brighton were on a relatively poor run of form prior to their victory over Championship leaders Southampton on Monday, Wrexham are becoming renowned for an almost invincible defence. The last 14 league matches have seen the Dragons keep 11 clean sheets and concede a miserly 3 goals. Only Darlington and Gateshead (twice) have managed to breach the Wrexham defence during this period, which stretches back to the start of October, and on all three occasions that Wrexham did actually concede, they still won. In addition to this, they also knocked decent York and Cambridge sides out of the FA Cup before producing one of the biggest upsets of this year’s competition with a 1-0 victory at League 1 Brentford.
Whilst Wrexham may currently be plying their trade in the Conference Premier Division, the club have the potential to be playing at a much higher level. The club took almost 2,000 fans to AFC Telford on Boxing Day and then produced a bumper home crowd of almost 6,000 for the return fixture on New Year’s Day. That level of support makes them the second best supported club in the Conference after Luton Town and the magic of the FA Cup means that Wrexham will be taking even more to Brighton than they did to Telford with confirmation on the Wrexham fans website RedPassion that over 2,000 tickets had been sold.
Whilst Brighton should have enough to get through this tie, Wrexham will put up a strong challenge and, if refereeing decisions and luck go their way, the Dragons might just have a chance of reliving the Arsenal upset of 20 years ago.
Prediction: Brighton & Hove Albion 2 Wrexham 1
Do you agree with the prediction? Why not answer the poll on the left hand side of this page and give your view on which Welsh sides will make the 4th Round.