THE Racecourse Ground might have seen York City fall at the first hurdle in this season’s FA Cup, but few at Bootham Crescent will mind should Gary Mills’ men finish first past the post come the end of the league campaign in April.
Promotion to the Football League remains the priority for both of the teams that met in north Wales at the weekend and, in that respect, when Wrexham and City had the misfortune of being paired together for Saturday’s fourth qualifying round tie, the following weekend’s league meeting between the Blue Square Bet Premier title rivals was always going to be of greater importance.
City, in particular, will be keen to avoid an eight-point gap opening up at the top of the table should the Dragons leave North Yorkshire with maximum points on Bonfire Night.
So, while nobody ever wants to miss out on a spot of Cup glory and David McGurk was clearly distressed after his 81st-minute own goal sent Wrexham through to the first round proper, the current impressive squad of players might just benefit from the removal of one potential distraction in their bid for championship success.
Not that the bristling Mills – a born winner – welcomed an early exit.
Making seven changes to a starting line-up that had stayed constant for the previous six games, the City manager’s pre-match claim that he would not necessarily be weakening the side carried some credence.
From the recalled players, McGurk, Daniel Parslow and Lanre Oyebanjo can all put forward strong cases for their inclusions in the back four, while Jamie Reed’s goal potential always makes him a popular starting choice among City supporters.
Adriano Moké’s recent sparkling cameo outings from the bench, meanwhile, warranted a first XI place even allowing for Mills’ rotation policy, while Michael Potts and Liam Henderson, both handed their full debuts, have shown previous promise in their fleeting substitute appearances.
It cannot be denied, however, that the absence of City’s two best footballers – the injured Jason Walker and the rested Andre Boucaud – contributed to a display that was not as free- flowing as observers have come to expect from Mills’ team.
The pair’s willingness to receive possession and ability to retain it should not be under-estimated when examining City’s success so far in 2011/12 and the hosts will be a different proposition if both are restored to the team this weekend.
Who Mills retains from Saturday’s match remains to be seen.
Right-back Oyebanjo clearly needed 90 minutes following his hamstring injury, while it would be unfair to judge the dependable McGurk and Parslow on the evidence of this outing alone.
On the wing, Moké did not really address questions about his ability to start games as effectively as he does when being used as a second-half substitute.
The Glenn Hoddle Academy graduate also displayed rash naivety when he needlessly conceded the free-kick that led to the Dragons breaking the deadlock.
City will certainly need to avoid providing the league leaders with as many opportunities to deliver dead balls into their penalty box when the two teams meet again.
Opening goalscorer Nat Knight-Percival illustrated his aerial threat with a 50th-minute header and, while Wrexham also boast the likes of fellow centre-back Mark Creighton and strikers Mathias Pogba and Danny Wright, they will never be short of muscle and height in opposition penalty boxes.
Former Dragon Reed, meanwhile, struggled to impose himself on proceedings from the flanks prior to being substituted midway through the second period, while Potts worked hard to impress and displayed moments of genuine quality but, at times, rushed his passes and lost the ball.
Perhaps the most encouraging performance of the afternoon came from Henderson, who arguably had the biggest boots to fill as Walker’s replacement in the lone central striking role.
The former Watford forward was easily contained by the intimidating Creighton in the first half but, after the interval, provided an effective target for his City team-mates, dropping deeper to receive the ball and becoming the fulcrum for his side’s attacks.
Despite a willingness to shoot from range, however, he could not claim his first senior goal in 56 outings.
Earlier, during a forgettable first half, the visitors’ only opportunities fell to a player who has now failed to net in 117 matches since scoring both goals in a 2-0 win for previous club Lincoln against Accrington Stanley back in April 2009.
Midfielder Scott Kerr, made skipper for the day in Chris Smith’s absence, failed to convert any of his three edge-of-the-box chances during the opening 45 minutes, volleying wide with the first, mis-hitting a bobbling effort straight at home ’keeper Joslain Mayebi from the second and slicing his final attempt out for a throw-in.
Wrexham fared little better at the opposite end of the pitch although had convincing appeals for a penalty turned down when Oyebanjo appeared to trip Jake Speight after eight minutes.
Knight-Percival, meanwhile, headed wide from a Curtis Obeng cross and City ’keeper Michael Ingham was called into action for the first time on 42 minutes when he saved from Speight after Pogba had beaten Parslow in the air.
After the break, the Dragons breathed some life into the tie by forging in front.
Moké snapped at the ankles of home midfielder Jay Harris close to the corner flag and gave away a free-kick that was delivered into the penalty box by Joe Clarke for Knight-Percival to head powerfully past Ingham from eight yards.
The visitors drew level, however, on 58 minutes when referee Jez Simpson pulled back play after Potts was clattered late by Wrexham midfielder Johnny Hunt 20 yards from goal.
McLaughlin then stepped up to curl in the subsequent free-kick around Mayebi’s wall and into the home ’keeper’s bottom right-hand corner.
On the hour, Henderson saw a 25-yard strike deflect wide off Hunt’s head and his curling shot was saved low to his right by Mayebi.
The 21-year-old striker also drove high and wide with an ambitious 30-yard effort before caretaker home boss Andy Morrell made an inspired substitution, introducing himself into the action.
Just four minutes later, the 37-year-old veteran retrieved an overhit cross to the far post, beating Parslow to the ball before drilling a low centre into the visitors’ six-yard box, which McGurk sliced past Ingham with Wright waiting to tap-in behind him.
City’s efforts to earn a replay included first sending Parslow up field and later Ingham but, following a Chambers free-kick saved by Mayebi, the hosts went closest to adding to the scoreline.
Neil Ashton and Wright both tested Ingham in the closing stages as City tasted defeat for the first time in seven matches.
Wrexham 2, (Knight-Percival 50; McGurk og 81) York City 1 (McLaughlin 58)
York City: Michael Ingham 7, Lanre Oyebanjo 6, David McGurk 6, Daniel Parslow 6, James Meredith 7, Scott Kerr 7, Michael Potts 6, Paddy McLaughlin 8, Jamie Reed 6, Liam Henderson 7, Adriano Moké 6.
Subs: Ashley Chambers 6 (for Moké, 68), Matty Blair 6 (for Reed, 68), Jon Challinor (for Potts, 77). Not used: Musselwhite, Smith, Boucaud, Fyfield.
Key: 10 – Faultless; 9 – Outstanding; 8 – Excellent; 7 – Good; 6 – Average; 5 – Below par; 4 – Poor; 3 – Dud; 2 – Hopeless; 1 – Retire.
Star man: McLaughlin – another fine goal, positive on the ball throughout.
Wrexham: Joslain Mayebi, Curtis Obeng, Mark Creighton, Nat Knight-Percival, Neil Ashton, Jay Harris (Lee Fowler, 82), Joe Clarke, Johnny Hunt, Adrian Cieslewicz, Mathias Pogba (Andy Morrell, 77), Jake Speight (Danny Wright, 70).
Subs not used: Chris Maxwell, Leon Clowes, Glen Little, Chris Westwood.
Booked: Parslow 15, McGurk 22, Moké 25, Reed 27, Speight 32, Pogba 41, McLaughlin 70.
Shots on target: Wrexham 4, City 4.
Shots off target: Wrexham 7, City 5.
Corners: Wrexham 5, City 3.
Offsides: Wrexham 1, City 2.
Fouls conceded: Wrexham 16, City 14.
Referee: Jez Simpson (Carnforth). Rating: over-zealous in his cautions for Moké and Pogba.
Cross of the match: Morrell’s centre for the winner was hit so well McGurk could not adjust his feet in time to avoid an own goal.
Head to head Liam Henderson v Mark Creighton
Having been a vital cog in the Oxford team that won promotion to the League two seasons ago, Creighton is proving a key member of Wrexham’s challenge this season, which is based on the division’s best defensive record.
When in close combat with Creighton, as he was for much of the first half, 21-year-oid Henderson was dominated by the uncompromising centre-back.
City’s full debutant did, however, enjoy a better second period when he showed greater mobility to link up play as everything his team-mates threw up to him stuck. Would benefit from a goal though.