Tuesday 24th March, 1998 – Wrexham 2 v 2 Swansea City (AET) – Wrexham win 5-4 on penalties – Quarter-Final FAW Trophy
ROGER Freestone went from hero to villain in a split second last night as Swansea lost their grip on the richest prize in Welsh sport.
The normally reliable goalkeeper defied Wrexham almost single-handed before committing the schoolboy howler which offered Brian Flynn’s team an unlikely route into the semi-finals of the BBC-sponsored FAW Invitation Cup.
“It’s my fault. No-one else is to blame. Goalkeepers are supposed to make saves, not mistakes,” admitted Freestone.
There were just 15 minutes left of a thrilling contest Swansea looked capable of winning, courtesy of the first of Julian Alsop’s two goals, when Dave Brammer unleashed a dipping shot from 25 yards.
Freestone got right behind the ball, but it somehow squirted under his legs and over the line.
“I seemed to have it covered, but the next thing I was looking back and the ball was in the net. I cannot really remember what happened. It just seemed to go through my legs,” he explained.
Unfortunately for Freestone, TV captured his agony and will be jogging his memory from time to time – possibly even on a future Question of Sport.
Freestone’s error opened the way for a Wrexham recovery which had seemed so unlikely after he had produced a string of saves — four before his crucial blunder, the best from central defender Brian Carey.
Brammer’s equaliser stretched an absorbing cup-tie into extra time before two more goals produced the perfect penalty finish for TV, but not for those of a nervous disposition.
Not even Alsop’s equaliser six minutes from the end of overtime could ease the pain Freestone felt. To cap a night of mixed emotions for the distraught goalkeeper no-one wanted to blame for Swansea’s exit he missed a penalty in the shoot-out.
After skipper Keith Walker had watched Mark Cartwright push the first spot kick onto the post Richie Appleby, Matthew Bound, Nick Cusack and Charlie Hartfield all succeeded to leave the teams locked on 4-4 after the first round of penalties.When it came down to sudden death Julian Alsop hobbled forward only for Freestone to take the responsibility for which the big striker was greatly relieved.
In the past Freestone has proved himself no mean performer when taking penalties, but when Cartwright saved it and Mark McGregor scored his Swansea joy turned quickly to despair.
But there were no recriminations after a top quality performance which brought out Swansea’s best qualities against slick passing opponents who could well be playing in the First Division next season.
“I was delighted by our performance, disappointed by the result,” said Alan Cork.
“People say we play long ball stuff, and the boys get frustrated by that. We matched them in everything and I was impressed by the way we passed the ball.”
The Swansea manager, already planning ahead for next season, had good cause to be encouraged by the confident way his players took the game to Wrexham.
Cusack and Hartfield probed intelligently in midfield, Damian Lacey and Appleby produced a stream of accurate crosses, while Alsop and teenager Danny Barwood worked tirelessly against a defence which rarely concedes many goals.
Appleby, Kristian O’Leary and Matthew Bound went close and Hartfield forced a save from Cartwright before Swansea snatched the lead on the hour when Alsop met Lacey’s far post cross with a looping header.
Freestone’s heroics, allied to disciplined defending from Bound, Keith Walker and O’Leary, kept Swansea’s noses in front until the goalkeeper offered Wrexham a way back.
Freestone recovered his composure with saves from Craig Skinner and Steve Basham to send the match into extra time where Wrexham looked the more likely winners after sloppy Swansea defending allowed Mark Wilson the opportunity to put Wrexham in front for the first time.
Swansea sent on teenage striker Carl Mainwaring in the last period of extra time as they reverted to a more attacking formation, but it was the earlier introduction of midfielder Dave O’Gorman which provided the creative thrust.
The lively O’Gorman delivered a marvellous low cross into the heart of the goalmouth and Alsop, who was already limping from an earlier challenge, hooked in the equaliser.
When it’s down to penalties it’s always something of a lottery, but Swansea had no cause to leave the Racecourse with their heads bowed. If they needed a lift Brian Flynn provided it.
“Swansea’s performance did not surprise me. Welsh derbies between the clubs over the years have always tended to bring out the best, but I felt for Roger Freestone,” said Flynn.
“He denied us with five or six saves before that slip and the penalty miss.”
This report was kindly reproduced courtesy of the South Wales Evening Post