Football: Mighty day for Flynn's `little club'

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The Independent Online
Birmingham City 1 Wrexham 3

The Cup excitement must seem endless for Brian Flynn, whose Wrexham team have played eight games to reach the quarter-finals. But, even at the height of Saturday's euphoria, he still remembered the lines they taught him at managerial kindergarten.

"We have done fantastic to get where we have in the competition," he said, "but the most important thing is still the League."

You knew what he was talking about, however improbable it sounded with the champagne corks still popping over Wrexham's appearance in the sixth- round draw for only the third time. Flynn's target is a place in the First Division and it would not be the first time the Cup has turned into a fatal distraction.

Were it not for the Cup, however, such ambitions might be no more realistic than the fantasy of going to Wembley. Five years ago, the Welsh club, then in the old Fourth Division, knocked out Arsenal in the third round and won a replay with West Ham in the fourth. To a large extent, it was the revenue from those games that enabled Flynn to start building his present side.

Only four members of Saturday's team cost money and it was evidently well spent. Brian Carey (pounds 100,000 from Leicester) and skipper Tony Humes (pounds 30,000 from Ipswich) formed a defensive core that withstood everything Birmingham could muster in a frenzied last half-hour. Behind them, the pounds 200,000 former Burnley goalkeeper, Andy Marriott, was flawless.

They provided security and from midfield came creativity, the combination of Peter Ward, 32, a free transfer from Stockport, and the home-grown 20-year-old, Bryan Hughes, out- performing Birmingham's partnership of Welsh international Barry Horne and England under-21 prospect, Chris Holland.

Hughes matches industry with imagination and has the goalscorer's knack also. Saturday's equalising header was his sixth in this season's competition and another for the video scrapbook, to go with the one against West Ham at the Racecourse Ground in round three.

"Beating West Ham was fairytale stuff," Flynn said afterwards. "But this was even better in terms of performance. I am sure you will agree we were a credit to the Second Division."

Even Trevor Francis did not argue with that, his plea of mitigation following the 56th-minute dismissal of striker Paul Devlin sounding hollow.

"They are a good passing team and made the extra man count. From then on, they were the better side," he said. "Although we hadn't been dominating, I felt we were in control but the sending-off changed the whole course of the game."

It did not look like that. Wrexham looked to have more in the armoury even before Devlin was harshly dismissed for a high, but not vicious, challenge on Martyn Chalk, with the score 1-1.

Birmingham were buckling. Hughes had scored within five minutes of the restart and Humes added the second on the hour, beating Ian Bennett at the near post with a header from 12 yards. Thereafter, Wrexham's task was straightforward, a matter of defending in depth and looking for the killer touch on the break, which Karl Connolly provided in stoppage time.

"With us and Chesterfield in the quarter-finals and Stockport in the semi-finals of the Coca-Cola Cup, perhaps it is one of those years for the little clubs," Flynn said. Perhaps, also, it will be Wrexham's year in the League. The last time they came this far in the Cup, losing to Arsenal in 1978, they were Third Division champions.

Goals: Bruce (37) 1-0; Hughes (50) 1-1; Humes (60) 1-2; Connolly (90) 1-3.

Birmingham City (4-3-3): Bennett; Brown, Bruce, Ablett (Bowen, 85), Johnson; Horne, Holland, Legg; Limpar (Newell, 64), Devlin, Furlong. Substitute not used: Hunt.

Wrexham (4-4-2): Marriott; McGregor, Carey, Humes, Brace; Chalk (Brammer, 89), Hughes, Ward, Russell; Watkin, Connolly. Substitutes not used: Jones, Morris.

Referee: M Bodenham (Cornwall).

Sending-off: Birmingham Devlin. Bookings: Birmingham Ablett, Legg, Newell; Wrexham Chalk, Ward.

Man of the match: Hughes. Attendance: 21,511.

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