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Ankle fear for Whitley

WREXHAM'S player of the season Jim Whitley is to see a specialist next week with a view to having minor ankle surgery during the summer.

WREXHAM'S player of the season Jim Whitley is to see a specialist next week with a view to having minor ankle surgery during the summer.

The 27-year-old utility player, who has been offered terms to stay with the Dragons in the third division from August, has been training twice-weekly with his team-mates since the end of the season.

But a long-standing condition, which is thought to be due to floating fragments just above his instep, is continuing to cause problems and a minor operation is on the cards.

Whitley, who joined Wrexham soon after manager Denis Smith was appointed in September, is one of eight players considering a contract offer from the club, but, like the others, is in no hurry to give the Dragons' boss an answer.

Smith, meanwhile, is looking forward to tomorrow's second division play-off final between his hometown club, Stoke City, and Brentford at the Millennium Stadium and had booked his ticket even before their semi-final extra-time victory over Cardiff City at Ninian Park.

Hoping it will be third time lucky for Stoke, who failed at the semi-final stage in each of the last two seasons, Smith said: "They are a big club and they need to be in the first division or it could all collapse like a pack of cards."

His biggest fear, however, is a match-winning performance from Brentford captain Paul Evans, the Oswestry-born midfielder, whose performances this season have earned him international recognition.

The 27-year-old former Shrewsbury Town player was called up by Wales boss Mark Hughes as a late replacement ahead of the friendly international against the Czech Republic in March and won his first senior cap as a second-half substitute in the 0-0 draw.

Evans, who had a starring role in Brentford's 3-0 win against Wrexham at the Racecourse when Hughes was watching from the directors' box, is in the squad for the Wales v Germany friendly at the Millennium Stadium on Tuesday and Smith said his international career could hinge on the outcome of the play-off final.

"I've liked him ever since he was at Shrewsbury but it's a case of how high can he go?," he added. "There's only one way to find out and if he gets to play in the first division that will be another test for him.

"He has always looked a cut above the second division and he needs to be playing at a higher level so this is an important game for him. It's not easy to get into an international squad, so that's some achievement in itself."

Evans, whose Griffin Park contract ends this summer, would probably stay with Bees' boss Steve Coppell. But if Stoke win, Smith said he would not be surprised to see Evans move on in order to further his international ambitions.

"He will want to do well tomorrow and Brentford were one of the teams I was most impressed with this season. So I'm hoping they will have an off-day in Cardiff on Saturday," he said.

Southampton's Chirk-born goalkeeper Paul Jones and Nottingham Forest midfielder Andy Johnson, who has a rib injury, are the latest withdrawals from the Wales squad for Tuesday night.

Jones, the 35-year-old Wales No 1, had an operation on his right knee last week after twisting it in training and misses the final Premiership match against Newcastle United tomorrow.

"I've been told it's not worth trying to rush back and I'm certainly not going to push it," Jones told Southampton FC's official website. "I would have to be 100 per cent to play against Germany because I would not do anything which could risk setting me back for pre-season training."

Jones did not play against the Czech Republic with Hughes giving 45 minutes each to Grimsby's Danny Coyne and Darren Ward, of Nottingham Forest. Those two, together with Middlesbrough's Mark Crossley, who is currently on the bench at the Riverside Stadium, will be in contention to start against the Germans in what is their final friendly before heading to the World Cup finals.

Around 25,000 tickets have so far been sold for Tuesday's match but with tickets on sale until shortly before the evening kick-off, Welsh FA officials are hoping for a respectable attendance of around 35,000.


David Holmes
Chief News Reporter
David Norbury
Mike Fuller
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