Football: Wrexham restore romance

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The Independent Online
Jubilant Wrexham supporters turned St Andrews into a sea of Welsh flags after Brian Flynn's inspired team ensured that the Second Division will be doubly represented in the quarter-finals of an FA Cup strewn with high-profile casualties.

Still propelled by the impetus of their third-round victory over Premiership West Ham, Wrexham came from behind to add a First Division scalp to their collection, overturning a half-time deficit with two goals in the space of 10 minutes early in the second period, then putting the outcome beyond doubt with a third goal in stoppage time.

In defence of Birmingham, their position was made especially difficult when striker Paul Devlin was sent off shortly before Wrexham's second goal, a seemingly harsh decision by referee Martin Bodenham that handed Wrexham, who were already proving themselves capable of stretching their opponents, a definite advantage.

But, even when 11 faced 11, the home side had shown little sign of being good enough to take a grip on the tie. Their manager, Trevor Francis, said that the dismissal "changed the course of the game" but there had been nothing to support his claim that Birmingham "would not have lost" had Devlin stayed on.

Wrexham, looking forward to only the third quarter-final appearance in their 125-year history, had splendid defenders in Brian Carey, Tony Humes and Mark McGregor and a mobile midfield in which Bryan Hughes and Peter Ward out-manoeuvred Welsh international Barry Horne and England Under- 21 prospect Chris Holland. In addition, Martyn Chalk and Kevin Russell provided a potent threat on the flanks.

Birmingham's veteran captain Steve Bruce, twice a Cup winner with Manchester United, saw a header saved by goalkeeper Andy Marriott, but until Bruce blasted the First Division side ahead from a 37th-minute corner, the first half had been largely tit-for-tat.

Indeed, had Birmingham imagined they could take control on the strength of Bruce's first goal in their colours, they were mistaken. Within five minutes of the restart, Wrexham were level; by the hour, they were in front. A foul on Hughes earned a yellow card for Andy Legg but the resulting free-kick punished Birmingham more. Ward drove in a cross from the right which was met powerfully by the head of Hughes at the far post.

The picture quickly became worse for Birmingham, when referee Bodenham decided Devlin's high challenge on Chalk warranted a red card. While Devlin's team-mates were trying to readjust, they conceded a second goal. After a Ward cross had spun behind off the head of Paul Furlong, Chalk's corner found Humes and his downward header flashed past Ian Bennett.

Birmingham responded with sustained pressure but were rarely able to pose a significant threat and when Carey launched a long clearance in stoppage time, Karl Connolly shrugged off a challenge by Michael Johnson before poking the ball home to spark joyful celebrations among the 4,000 Welsh supporters.

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