The Giant Killers

Every F A cup giant killing since 1888

All time greatest F A cup giant killings

Number 3

 

Wrexham 2-1 Arsenal

Third Round: Saturday January 4th 1992

The Racecourse Ground, Wrexham

Attendance: 13,343

Scorers: Tony Adams {44}, Mickey Thomas {82}, Steve Watkin {84}

 

Boutros Boutros-Ghali became Secretary General of  the United Nations, Recession gripped Britain with 4,000 people losing their jobs in the first week of the year, Sue Johnston appeared in Television serial "Goodbye Cruel World"  Dustin Hoffman took the title role opposite Robin Williams {Peter Pan} and Julia Roberts {Tinkerbell} in the family fantasy adventure "Hook" and Queen topped the UK charts with "These Are The Days Of Our Lives"

Brian Flynn was in charge of struggling Fourth Division Wrexham, a side that the previous season had only been able to remain as members of The Football League by virtue of the the Champions of the Football Conference having their ground rejected as being not of a standard good enough for the Football League. Without the means to improve their squad, The Welshman continued to struggle in Division Four, despite a reasonably good home record, which had kept them off the bottom of the table as the season moved into the Christmas period. A 5-2 victory over non League Winsford had been an entertaining entry to the cup before a much tougher task in defeating Telford, a regular Non League slayer of the League's basement clubs put Wrexham's name in the hat for the third round. To be drawn at home to the current Champions, Arsenal stood out as the highlight of the draw and proved an early Christmas present for fans who queued for their ticket to the biggest game at The Racecourse in years.

George Graham's Arsenal came out of the Christmas period a bit the worse for wear with no wins over the festive season and their hopes of retaining their title very much in tatters. They travelled to Wales knowing that for them the cup represented their only real hope of a trophy, for which the bookmakers selected them as their 5/1 favourites to lift in May.

For many Wrexham fans a pop at Arsenal was something that came with an added edge dating back fourteen years to a controversial quarter final meeting in 1978 when the Wrexham faithful had felt the referee, as much as anything else, had contributed to their defeat to the Gunners and denied them a place in a semi final against a side lower down the League than they were. Some stretched this to a feeling that '78 was the year Wrexham could have gone to Wembley and they had been robbed. More level headed fans pointed out that Wrexham themselves had been very fortunate to play Arsenal in the first place after a very controversial last gasp equaliser in their fifth round tie. Swings and roundabouts, which helped fuel the hype of a tie that needed very little as Christmas became New Year's and the days counted down to Saturday.

A crowd of over 13,000 was packed into the ramshackle ground, including a healthy 4,000 contingent of Arsenal fans, who travelled in fine voice to pack themselves behind one of the goals. Their team consisted of ten players who had been regulars in winning the title the previous season. David Seaman, Lee Dixon, Nigel Winterburn, Tony Adams, David Rocastle, Alan Smith and Paul Merson were all regular England Internationals along with Irish International David O'Leary, the latter being the only Arsenal survivor of the 1978 cup tie. They entered the field in what surely must take the crown as the ugliest Football shirt ever to be associated with the F A Cup. A dreadful sickly yellow number that resembled something a child had been let loose on with an assortment of crayons. Certainly not a shirt that Arsenal would want any memorable moment, good or bad to occur to give rise to Television revisiting it years later.

The Wrexham dressing room by contrast was made up of the usual combination of promising youth and players in the twilight of their careers. Teenager, Phil Hardy was the baby of the group, though only just, in a dressing room that also contained twenty year old duo Gareth Owen and Steve Watkin twenty-one year olds, Wayne Phillips and Karl Connolly and the former F A Youth cup winner, Andy Thackeray, who, also at twenty-one, had been released by Manchester City. Brian Carey was on loan from Manchester United, having never been able to get a game at Old Trafford while Mark Sertori was already an established regular at The Racecourse. Keeper, Vince O'Keefe had been around many clubs in the lower divisions while the experience from the big time came from thirty-six year old former Chelsea and Wales midfielder, Gordon Davies and the flawed genius of thirty-seven year old Mickey Thomas. Thomas was the only survivor of the Wrexham side of '78 but had enjoyed a roller coaster ride of a Football career in the years since that would, and indeed did, fill a colourful biography. Manchester United had secured Thomas' talents, which earned him a place in their cup final side of 1979, a game they lost to Arsenal. But Thomas had something of a self destruct button off the field and his antics led to him being shown the door to a path of short stays at other clubs, most notably Chelsea where he later claimed to have entertained women in the dressing room at night. Now he was back where it all began with this almost certainly set to be his final big game in the spotlight.

Thomas had been brought back to The Racecourse by his former Welsh International team mate, Brian Flynn, who was in his first management job after a top flight career at Burnley and Leeds where his cup highlight had been one losing semi final appearance for The Clarets. While Flynn picked a reasonably young side he kept the highly experienced former Liverpool stalwart, Joey Jones on the bench and indeed the Wrexham sub was the only player named in the thirteens of either side who had a European Cup Winner's medal.

The game kicked off on a dry crisp winters afternoon with Arsenal quickly into the attack towards the goal where their fans were congregated and within ninety seconds they should have been in front.  Paul Merson's corner was flicked on at the near post by David O'Leary to be met by Alan Smith whose header bounced off the advancing O'Keefe and then back off Smith and towards goal before being hacked off the line.

Paul Merson quickly became the man pulling Arsenal's strings and when he cut in from the byline to lay on a great chance for Carter after four minutes, Arsenal again looked certain to take the lead before Carter hurried his shot off target. Two real scares within the first five minutes and the relentless waves of Arsenal attacks created many a worried frown on the faces of the 9,000 Wrexham faithful in the stands.

An incisive cross from Kevin Campbell was begging for an Arsenal boot to steer the ball home before another hurried Wrexham clearance prevented disater once again but ten minutes became twenty, became thirty and Arsenal's dominance did not materialise into an opening goal and they almost paid a heavy price for it.

Campbell's lacklustre pass back into his own half was picked up by Steve Watkin. His cross went to Connolly who chipped the ball back into the box, Phillips' flick on was brought under control by Owen who had the goal at his mercy from eight yards out but fired inches wide of David Seaman's goal.

Wrexham should have taken the lead and within minutes Arsenal had made them pay when the rampaging Merson got the better of Sertori and placed the ball back into the heart of the penalty area for a stretching Alan Smith to slide the Gunners into the lead. Nobody could argue that Arsenal didn't deserve it but coming, as it did, a minute before the interval did strike the home fans and neutrals as a cruel blow to be delivered.

Undaunted Wrexham came very near to striking back straight from the restart when a probing ball into the box was flicked on by Davies to Watkin who nipped in to beat the onrushing Seaman to the ball but was sufficiently put off by the Arsenal keeper to lob his effort high and wide of goal.

Brian Flynn demanded that his players show Arsenal much less respect in the second half and they rose to the call, giving the visitors far less time on the ball in a much scrappier period of the game. Chances became few as Arsenal played to contain the home side, seemingly content that their goal lead should be sufficient to earn a place in the fourth round, though it was still they who came closest to scoring when Winterburn's cross come shot lashed off the underside of the bar and clear. At the other end Wrexham's best chance came when a Thomas through ball found Davies on the right who slid a teasing ball to Thackeray on the edge of the box. He lashed in a fine strike that Seamen could only parry with Davies first to it but his shot was gathered well by the keeper. Then it was Arsenal's turn again when Merson put Campbell in behind the Wrexham defence but the striker chose to cut back onto his favoured right foot before lashing in a shot well saved by O'Keefe's legs.

The clock ticked past the eightieth minute and the first few fans began to make their way towards the exits, thinking more of beating the full time rush than any late drama. After all their Fourth Division team would no doubt be lauded for a gallant performance in defeat if Arsenal didn't score a second goal. Then another high ball towards the area was met by Davies and O'Leary with the linesman feeling that the Irish defender had climbed on the Welshman. Wrexham had a freekick right on the edge of the penalty area and a fantastic chance to level the game. The noise around The Racecourse gradually diminished as thousands around the ground held their breath as Mickey Thomas placed the ball and stepped back as two Wrexham team mates took their place in the Arsenal wall. Everything was timed to perfection for the former cup finalist whose took three confident strides before unleashing a rasping drive that sailed trhough the now gaping hole in the Arsenal wall, occupied only a second earlier by two red shirts, before continuing like an arrow past the dive of the beaten David Seaman and stopping only when ball met net, high in the top corner of the goal. The Racecourse erupted  with a small pitch invasion by delighted fans to signal what now looked like a potentially famous draw. The clock ticked on into the eighty-third minute as Arsenal kicked off.

The Gunners still lacked that spark which had lit up the opening exchanges as they perhaps settled for a replay back at Highbury where they would surely be certain of victory. Then a lazy Arsenal pass, which gave Wrexham a throw on the half way line suddenly raised the noise levels once more as the ball was hooked forward for Davies to chase. He slid the ball into the box for the waiting Steve Watkin and while Tony Adams was able to rush in and block the initial pass, he couldn't regain his balance quickly enough to complete a clearance. Watkin siezed on the ball first to lash it past defender and keeper to put Wrexham in front.

Wrexham had moved from being eight minutes away from exiting the cup to being six minutes away from one of the greatest cupsets of all time. Arsenal still had time but their body language told it's own story as their leg weary players made their way to restart the game. Arsenal did most of the attacking in the closing moments in a desperate bid to try and save the tie and in the final minute they thought they had. David Seaman launched a free kick from the halfway line with every other player in the Wrexham penalty area. The ball pinged around the area before Jimmy Carter fired it into the net but the linesman's flag had long sinced gone up for offside, although in the excitement most hadn't noticed. The Arsenal player's relief quickly turned to protest but referee, Kevin Breen was unmoved and two minutes later he blew the final whistle to confirm perhaps the greatest day in Wrexham's history.

The Welshmen were rewarded with a day out in London in round four at struggling First Division West Ham United where the cup run continued in an exciting game. The Fourth Division outfit came from behind twice, having found two West Ham corners too hot to defend as Wayne Phillips and Lee Jones, the latter an unused sub in the Arsenal game, earned a replay at The Racecourse.

The crowd for the replay was even bigger than that for the Artsenal game with 17,000 packed in to see if Wrexham could book a trip to Second Division Sunderland in round five. Wrexham were the better side for long periods against the Hammers but yet again came undone at a corner, which proved to be the only goal of the game.

Arsenal's poor form continued after the cup tie with no wins in their next four games, though they recovered sufficiently to finish the season in fourth place.

Wrexham meanwhile continued on a much more stable course, which ended with a satifying fourteenth place finish and a promotion of sorts when the old Division Four was renamed Division Three with the creation of the Premier League. Even better followed in 1993 when Wrexham won proper promotion to the third tier.  Vince O'Keefe had retired at the end of 1992 and Gordon Davies and Andy Thackeray had moved on but Phil Hardy, who had been named player of the year in that team and celebrated along with team mates Mark Sertori, Gareth Owen, Karl Connolly, Steve Watkin and Wayne Phillips with these players forming the backbone of the side who also went on to win the Welsh F A Cup in 1995 before they gradually moved on to other lower division clubs or non league Football. Loan player Brian Carey was the one member of the team who did go on to play in the big time. having failed to get a game at Manchester United, he was sold at the end of the season to Leicester, helping them gain promotion to the Premier League. By 1996 Carey was back at The Racecourse though, continuing an association with the club that saw him take over as manager in 2007. Mark Sertori also made it to the Premier League albeit in quite a different fashion when he became a sports masseur, filling that role at 2012 League Champions, Manchester City and the England National team. One player stood out from his team mates, and yet again it was his activities off the firle that kept him in the public eye.

Mickey Thomas was the man given the credit for inspiring Wrexham's comeback with his well struck free kick but his retirement in 1993 was enforced by, of all people, The Police, when he was arrested on suspicion of money laundering. Thomas was later sentenced to eighteen months as a guest of Her Majesty, which gave him time to plan a future as a popular after dinner speaker as well as a pundit on the TV station of his former club, Manchester United. Thomas himself later quipped that he was getting paid the same money as Roy Keane of Manchester United until the Police found his printer. 


Wrexham: 1:Vince O'Keefe, 2:Andy Thackeray, 3:Phil Hardy, 4:Brian Carey, 5:Mickey Thomas, 6:Mark Sertori, 7:Gordon Davies, 8:Gareth Owen, 9:Karl Connolly, 10:Steve Watkin, 11:Wayne Phillips
 
Arsenal:1:David Seaman, 2;Lee Dixon, 3:Nigel Winterburn, 4:David Hillier, 5:David O'Leary, 6:Tony Adams, 7:David Rocastle, 8:Kevin Campbell, 9:Alan Smith, 10:Paul Merson, 11:Jimmy Carter {Replaced by 12:Perry Groves}