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Fighting spirit shines through

THE Racecourse regulars were in restless mood at half-time on Saturday, not at all impressed by the disjointed Wrexham performance they had witnessed in the opening 45 minutes.

THE Racecourse regulars were in restless mood at half-time on Saturday, not at all impressed by the disjointed Wrexham performance they had witnessed in the opening 45 minutes.

But Denis Smith's players won them over before the final whistle with a much-improved second-half showing against a Wycombe Wanderers side, who have ambitions to be among the contenders for a play-offs spot in three months' time.

There were long periods in the second 45 minutes when a stranger might have been forgiven for believing it was the home team who were pushing towards the top, instead of battling to fight their way out of the relegation zone and that augurs well for the Red Dragons, who hope to have both front-line strikers, Lee Trundle and Craig Falcounbridge in harness for next weekend's trip to Oldham Athletic.

A haul of just three goals in the past seven matches, two of them scored by midfield players, helps to explain why Wrexham are struggling to climb away from the foot of the table and manager Denis Smith must be hoping the return of his two leading goalscorers will complete the make-over of a side, which he believes is now looking more solid and effective with every game that passes.

Few spectators could have disagreed with the choice of central defender Steve Roberts as the game sponsors' Man of the Match. The 21-year-old has blossomed since he was given a regular first-team spot and his sterling performance was complemented by the reassuring presence of Jim Whitley and Brian Carey.

But the award could so easily have been claimed by the enigmatic Hector Sam, who delights and infuriates in equal measure. The Trinidad international has not been without his critics but is being given every chance by Smith to make himself another indispensable component of the side.

At times superb, at others exasperating, Sam missed a bucketful of chances at Colchester United last weekend and was only slightly less profligate on Saturday, but his unpredictability is what makes him such a difficult and potentially dangerous opponent.

He was certainly Wrexham's best attacking option on Saturday and displayed a repertoire of tricks to match his pace, only to be let down by a lack of composure where and when it mattered, in front of Martin Taylor's goal.

That the Wycombe keeper hardly made a save in the first half was evidence of the home side's lack of punch, despite Sam's mastery on the right flank and the unstinting hard work of Andy Morrell, whose snatched shot after just 19 seconds set the pattern for what was to follow.

Wycombe, with an away record not among the best in the second division, went close to snatching a seventh-minute lead when Keith Ryan fed the ball through to former Welsh under-21 international Stuart Roberts, whose shot beat Kristian Rogers, but was cleared off the line by the alert Whitley.

Wrexham's best chance of breaking the deadlock arrived nine minutes later when Carey met a Darren Ferguson corner Ð one of ten conceded by the visitors - but his header was deflected by Kenny Brown and the ball bounced to safety off the crossbar.

Genuine chances, however, were few and far between as the match developed into a midfield stand-off but Wrexham did themselves no favours by contriving to walk the ball into the net and too often playing an extra pass when a bolder and more direct approach might have been more appropriate.

Wycombe, at least, did make Rogers work, the keeper saving from Roberts again before Darren Currie went close with a long-range effort which skimmed just wide. And speed merchant Jermaine McSporran, for the most part well-contained by the home defence, got clear only once, forcing Rogers into another save on the stroke of half-time.

Whatever Smith and his assistant, Kevin Russell, said during the break, it had the desired effect as Wrexham came out in a completely different frame of mind. Taylor was quickly involved, cutting out a finely-judged through ball from Ferguson before finger-tipping a Wayne Phillips effort to safety following more excellent approach play from Sam.

The Trinidadian might have won the game in the 54th minute when he was picked out by Steve Thomas, but he let himself and his team-mates down with a hurriedly-taken first-time shot which flew wide of the target.

And he was involved in another pivotal incident five minutes later when he appeared to be hauled down in the penalty area as Wycombe defended desperately. It was the most valid of several penalty claims from the home side, none of which impressed referee Ray Olivier, by coincidence the same official who disallowed a perfectly good Wrexham goal at Wycombe last season when he confused a bright yellow jacket in the crowd for an offside flag.

The visitors were being forced to batten down the hatches as both Sam and Michael Blackwood fired in cross after cross and Thomas, who had scored a superb goal at Layer Road the previous Saturday, brought another save from Taylor after 73 minutes.

But for all their pressure, Wrexham could not afford to switch off at the back and Danny Bulman was allowed to get forward to hit a dipping shot, which caused Rogers a momentÕs worry before the ball cleared the crossbar by inches.

And both sides might have snatched victory in the closing stages, with Morrell seeing his header saved at full-length by Taylor before the visitors had two good chances. Substitute Sean Devine, making his first appearance for 20 months following a knee injury, got beyond Whitley but Shaun Holmes made up a lot of ground to tackle and the striker then set up Gavin Holligan, whose first-time shot on the turn looped too close for comfort to the frame of the goal.

Although it was not the result that Smith and Wrexham wanted, the Dragons' boss took some consolation from his side's first clean sheet since the 2-0 win at Cambridge United back in November. And it was also the first 0-0 scoreline recorded by Wrexham for 54 weeks, a run of 49 consecutive games.

WREXHAM: Rogers; Whitley, Roberts, Carey, Holmes; Phillips (Gibson 90), Thomas (Chalk 76), Ferguson, Blackwood (Edwards 68); Morrell, Sam. Subs: Walsh, Lawrence.

WYCOMBE WANDERERS: Taylor; Cousins, Carroll, Ryan (Holligan 63), Rogers; Roberts (Lee 81), Currie, Bulman, Brown; Simpson, McSporran (Devine 76). Subs: Osborn, Johnson.

Referee:Ray Olivier (Sutton Coldfield).

Attendance: 2,752.


David Holmes
Chief News Reporter
David Norbury
Mike Fuller
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