The Boxing Day clash between National League title rivals Wrexham and Salford turned out to be a late contender of mine for game of the year. My team – the fan-owned club from North Wales – put five goals past the billionaire-owned Salford City and inflicted the Ammies’ third straight defeat in the process. I honestly couldn’t believe what I watched at the Racecourse Ground and it put us just a point off league leaders Leyton Orient.
After the 5-1 win, Wrexham secured a much harder victory over Solihull Moors by a single goal, while Salford continued their poor form with a last-minute 3-2 reverse at Barrow. It left further distance between the teams in the table heading into their New Year’s Day re-match. The girlfriend and I headed to the outskirts of Manchester to see if the Dragons could pile further misery on their affluent opponents and, possibly, go top of the division.
Since being taken over in 2014, Salford have won promotion three times thanks to heavy investment from Singapore billionaire Peter Lim and the Class Of 92’s Ryan Giggs, Nicky Butt, Paul Scholes and the Neville brothers. The added cash has also seen their Moor Lane ground redeveloped into the Peninsula Stadium and, although I’ve been a critic of Salford’s rapid rise, I can’t deny that their new stadium was very nice to visit.
Entering as a home fan undercover because the away end was sold out, we enjoyed the fan zone outside the ground which was full of shipment containers that had been converted into bars and eating facilities. That was pretty cool and I also liked the mix of terraced and seated stands inside the ground as well. The stewards, meanwhile, gave us an extra boost when they let us and other Wrexham fans into the away end. I thought that was a sensible decision, as there would have been many Wrexham fans in amongst Salford’s home supporters and it seemed a lot safer to manage.
The Ginger Ninja
Having the opportunity to stand with over 1,400 fans from North Wales set us up for a great away day. However, things began to slowly take a turn for the worse when we took our position behind the goal.
The low sun setting on the other side of the stadium was a nuisance to start off with but then quickly became a hindrance. The Wrexham team were playing with the sun in their eyes too and that factor, along with an uneven pitch and Salford’s defensive tactics, seemed to put them off their usual fluid passing game.
Our first half showing was abysmal. Many of our players looked sluggish, there was no energy in midfield to win second balls and Salford were able to break quickly with only the backline to beat. Rob Lainton kept us in contention with a couple of saves but Matt Green eventually found the bottom corner mid-way through the half.
Ben Tollitt came on for us after the break and I felt like a very valuable point could still be won. But, despite having a lot of possession, our crosses weren’t dangerous enough and the Salford back five early dealt with our pressure before they struck against the run of play mid-way through the second half.
I’d been seeing gingers all day from Shrewsbury to Crewe to Manchester Piccadilly. I just knew Salford’s ginger ninja, Rory Gaffney, would be the one to screw us over. And so it proved.
His shot on the turn was excellent, to be fair. It made me yearn for a similar striker in our team. Someone who could take early strikes, hit the target, set up play and score goals. I really believe the reason for Salford’s recent bad run was because they dropped Gaffney. He is the man that makes things tick in their forward-line.
Bury New Road
As if getting beat wasn’t enough, we had to walk an hour back from Salford to Manchester Piccadilly on one of the country’s most desolate and disgusting roads having already done the same journey to get to the ground. Some of the wonderful sights we encountered on Bury New Road included a smashed up bus stop, the front bumper of a Honda Civic and countless numbers of plastic coffee cup lids. The place is such a dive that the pavement has built-in instructions and warnings about dropping litter.
But, credit where it’s due, there was also a fantastically-named takeaway called ‘Naan Sense’ that we walked past twice. So it wasn’t all bad.
There weren’t many positive things to take away from my groundhop at Salford. I missed out on seeing legends of the game such as Sir Alex Ferguson, Gary Neville and Robbie Savage(!). All of which I also failed to spot despite them being about 100 metres away from us.
The result was, of course, the biggest disappointment. But I think it was softened by the six points we gained over Christmas to close the gap at the top. Plus, with Salford playing Leyton Orient next, both teams could drop points and we could be the new favourites to go top with our game in hand. All we can do is win the next game and see where we are. And if we could sign our own deadly assassin up front soon, that would be nice too… whatever hair colour they have.