WREXHAM'S inability to convert the goalscoring chances that come their way has been the major difference between this season's campaign and the last. And yet again they paid the price for that missing ingredient on Saturday.
On this occasion it was Chris Armstrong who squandered two inviting opportunities to possibly turn the game in the Dragons' favour after they had gone into the interval 2-1 down.
Those misses dictated the pattern of the remainder of the game, United taking heart from their good fortune and Wrexham wondering what else could possibly go wrong for them.
Home substitute Scott McGleish provided the answer, adding a third goal within five minutes of making his entrance to condemn Denis Smith's patched-up side to a fourth consecutive defeat.
The Racecourse boss, with some justification, later pointed out that the absence through injury and suspension of six established first-team players had taken its toll, but ever-present Chris Llewellyn claimed afterwards that the players had let Smith down.
"We've struggled for numbers in the last couple of games but we've had the likes of Craig Morgan and Matt Crowell coming in and I thought we could have done a bit better today," he said.
"At half time the boss told us to have a look at ourselves. We played a different system at the start but it didn't work out and so we changed again. But the main thing is that we need to go out there and apply ourselves a bit better.
"We weren't at the races in the first half but we played a bit better in the second. We created a couple of chances but if you don't take them you are going to get punished."
Llewellyn, who played in midfield to accommodate the inclusion of Hector Sam alongside Armstrong, said there could be no excuses, especially after Smith insisted the squad travel to Essex on Friday evening rather than save around £1,500 on hotel costs with a one-day round trip.
"We're disappointed because the gaffer worked hard for us to come down yesterday," he added. "We'll have to repay him at Oldham on Tuesday night now."
The visit to Boundary Park tomorrow looks likely to come too early for ham-string injury victims Carlos Edwards and Jim Whitley, but Wrexham will be hoping that Darren Ferguson and Brian Carey are available because the team's lack of experience on Saturday was glaringly obvious.
Smith opted for a 4-5-1 line-up from the start - reckoning that to be the best use of his limited resources - but the visitors quickly reverted to the more familiar 3-5-2 as United dominated the opening 45 minutes.
Time and again midfielder Gavin Johnson found himself with acres of space in which to operate down the right-hand side and his team-mate Kemal Izzet also saw plenty of the ball as the home side controlled the tempo.
And they took advantage of uncertainty in the Wrexham penalty area to take a 15th-minute lead. A corner was only partially cleared, Izzet played the ball back into the crowd and Welsh under-21 international Gareth Williams struck a clean shot past Mike Ingham.
But the visitors were trailing for only three minutes after Dennis Lawrence moved forward to receive a throw-in. He knocked the ball to the far post where fellow Trinidadian Sam was lurking to steer a header between goalkeeper Simon Brown and his post.
It was, as United manager Phil Parkinson later observed, a rare moment of indecision from his players.
"Wrexham weren' t going to make life easy but we got an earlyish goal before we just switched off from their throw and they were back in it," he said.
"It was disappointing to give the lad a free header in the box because I felt it was the only time in the first half we lacked concentration."
If Parkinson needed to get a message through to his players from the touchline, it was taken on board by central defenders Alan White and Wayne Brown. They stuck close to Armstrong and Sam, as well as posing problems in the other penalty area from set-piece situations.
Johnson might have done better with one effort which flashed across the face of Ingham's goal before White almost scored a freakish goal as a Lawrence clearance cannoned into him and rebounded just wide of the net.
Armstrong led a brief counter-attack and opted to go it alone rather than pick out either Llewellyn or Sam in advanced positions. However the balance of play was heavily weighted in United's favour but neither Izzet nor Craig Fagan were able to get the better of Ingham.
But their pressure told in the final minute of the first period, Greg Halford being presented with a simple close-range header when Joe Keith's cross was helped on by Johnson.
Even so, Wrexham might have gone in on level terms but for a fine near-post save from Brown, who turned Armstrong's angled shot for a corner.
That chance was created by Sam, whose confidence was evident from the restart. His 55th-minute pass and a stumble by Halford gave Armstrong an inviting chance but the striker scuffed his shot and Brown's block was tidied up by his namesake, Wayne.
Five minutes later, Sam squirmed his way down the right and laid the ball in for Armstrong, whose first-time effort ballooned over the crossbar.
Such opportunities did not come along very often and as the ball sailed over the small enclosure sparsely populated by visiting fans, so too did Wrexham's hopes of getting back into contention.
McGleish applied the coup-de-grace nine minutes from time, beating Ingham at the second attempt after Keith's pass had split the defence wide open. And the United striker went close to a spectacular second with a diving header - again from Keith's delivery - which fortunately flew straight at the Wrexham keeper.
The visitors' afternoon was then summed up when Brown was stranded on the edge of the penalty area and his goal left invitingly unattended. Steve Thomas saw the opportunity but his execution was, to be honest, simply woeful.