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Rugby union: Battling Dragons eyeing tilt at trophy chance; WREXHAM .....3 LUTON TOWN ....2.

Byline: MARK CURRIE in Douglas

WREXHAM gave themselves a fighting chance of hanging on to the Isle of Man soccer festival trophy with an incident-packed win against Luton Town at the National Sports Centre last night.

It was the classic games of two halves for the Dragons, who rarely looked capable of penetrating the Luton defence in the first 45 minutes but then scored three second-half goals in the space of 15 minutes.

Having lost on penalties to Burnley on Sunday, Wrexham must now await the outcome of today's Burnley v Luton clash to find out their finishing position in the group.

Wrexham goalkeeper Andy Dibble, injured in Sunday's 3-3 draw with Burnley, sat out his side's second match in little more than 24 hours and was replaced by the Isle of Man's Kelvin Dawson, who plays his club football for Manx league champions Peel.

The Dragons started with a 3-4-3 lineup that included assistant manager Kevin Russell and the veteran was in the right place at the right time to clear a goalbound header off the line from Steve Howard after just seven minutes as newly-promoted Luton made a bright start. Steve Robinson and Matthew Spring both tried their luck from long range and were not too far away from testing Dawson, who had no chance when the Hatters took the lead after 17 minutes.

It came from a melee on the edge of the Wrexham penalty area and when the ball sat up for former Millwall midfielder Christophe Kenet, making his first appearance in Luton colours, the Belgian struck a crisp shot low into the corner of the net.

The Dragons, with Russell doing his best to dictate matters, responded in a positive manner and Lee Trundle, running from half-way, forced a respectable save from Carl Emberson before Andy Morrell set up an opening for Lee Jones, whose scuffed effort caused few problems for the Luton keeper.

Former Bristol City striker Tony Thorpe, back for a second spell at Kenilworth Road has always enjoyed playing against Wrexham and when he broke clear on the half-hour, Kinet spurned a golden opportunity to double his tally, firing wide from close-in.

There had been far fewer opportunities at the other end, the Luton defence coping comfortably with the threat posed by Trundle and Morrell, who worked hard for little reward and it was the second division side which looked more likely to score.

Dan Bennett did well to cut out a through ball as Thorpe waited to pull the trigger and his strike partner Howard went close to increasing the lead four minutes before the break, hitting a fierce shot into the side-netting.

But the game was turned on its head in the opening 15 minutes of the second half, a period which produced four goals. Trundle started the ball rolling with a 47th-minute equaliser that owed much to the clumsiness of Emberson, who failed to hold a back-header from David Bayliss giving the Wrexham man a simple tap-in.

Within two minutes, though, Luton restored their advantage thanks to a stunning finish from Steve Robinson after Dawson had done well to block Thorpe's close-range header.

It was the Trinidad connection which produced dividends for the Dragons, substitutes Carlos Edwards and Hector Sam both scoring in a five-minute purple patch. Edwards took a pass from his countryman and beat Emberson with a finely-judged chip into the far corner of the net after 54 minutes and, following another good save by Dawson from Thorpe, Sam netted his third goal of the week, with a powerful header from a cross by Shaun Holmes.

Luton then made several changes to their line-up and paid the price in terms of continuity as the game developed into something of ascrappy affair. With Brian Carey a commanding figure at the heart of the Wrexham defence, the Dragons held on for the victory that could yet secure them a place in Saturday's final. l CYMRU ALLIANCE hots Buckley Town slumped to a 4-1 defeat to Chester City in a friendly last night. Darren Williams had netted a deserved 63rd-minute equaliser for Town, but their Conference rivals proved too strong.

WREXHAM: Dawson; Pejic, Carey, Bennett; Russell, Phillips (C Edwards 45), Whitley (Holmes 45), P Edwards (Roberts 45); Jones (Sam, 45), Trundle, Morrell (Thomas, 55).

LUTON TOWN: Emberson; Nielson (Crowe 65), Kimble (Forbes 65), Perrett (Bayliss 36), Coyne; Spring, Robinson (Hillier 65), Nicholls (Hughes, 83), Kinet (Brkovic 70); Thorpe (Boyce 65), Howard (Fotiadis 79). REFEREE: M Stevens.

CAPTION(S):

GOAL: Lee Trundle (left) and Hector Sam (centre) scored for Wrexham last night
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Title Annotation:Sport
Publication:Daily Post (Liverpool, England)
Date:Jul 23, 2002
Words:761
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