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Fragile Dragons' revival up in smoke

THE optimism of Wrexham fans, based on a recent run of good performances that had been better than results suggested, evaporated rapidly at the Racecourse on Saturday.

THE optimism of Wrexham fans, based on a recent run of good performances that had been better than results suggested, evaporated rapidly at the Racecourse on Saturday.

Wrexham manager Denis Smith was visibly hurt and annoyed that his players were booed off the pitch at the end of a chastening 90 minutes, which demonstrated just how fragile the shoots of recovery are, as well as reminding everyone that there are no easy games in the battle to avoid relegation.

Opponents Chesterfield, to be fair, were good value for the three points that make their situation a lot healthier this morning while Smith and his men will be counting the cost of a contest in which circumstances conspired to pile on the problems.

On two occasions, striker Craig Faulconbridge was denied a goal when his efforts struck the woodwork and the Red Dragons also lost goalkeeper Marius Rovde and defender Shaun Holmes to injuries, which are likely to keep them out of action for a substantial spell.

And the goal which ultimately decided the game was not without controversy, the home side claiming that on a different day with different officials, it would have been disallowed for offside.

The irony, which will not have been lost on Wrexham regulars, is that referee, Ray Olivier, is the same man who once famously ruled out an Andy Morrell effort at Wycombe, when he mistakenly took a steward's fluorescent jacket for a linesman's flag.

Smith, though, took the defeat on the chin, declining to make excuses and admitting that his players had failed to come to terms, let alone cope, with Chesterfield's determination to choke the creativity out of the game.

Apart from the first few minutes, they were all over Wrexham like a rash, muzzling the midfield trio of Darren Ferguson, Steve Thomas and Wayne Phillips, who were given no time on the ball and forced deeper and deeper as the game unfolded. And, having set up their platform, the visitors used the pace of Roger Willis and Glynn Hurst to good effect, the latter in particular proving to be a major thorn.

Chesterfield boss Dave Rushbury could not have been more pleased with the performance, which leaves the Derbyshire club just two wins from safety.

"We've played well in our last few games, just as Wrexham have done, and not got our just desserts but today we did," he said. "I read on the internet site that Denis (Smith) had said they could only score from set-pieces at the moment and, to be fair they hit the post and the bar from set-pieces.

"I didn't think it was a great game but it was a massive three points for us and unfortunately it was not that way for Wrexham. I was happy with the first half and I knew the goal was coming but I feel for them."

Sympathy, though, is not what is going to keep Wrexham in the second division and Smith must be worried that his side are finding it difficult to create goalscoring chances from open play.

Chesterfield 'keeper Nathan Abbey, not the best in the second division, was rarely put under pressure and some of the failure for that lies with wide men Michael Blackwood and Hector Sam.

Neither got behind their opponents regularly enough to deliver the sort of crosses that Faulconbridge is capable of converting and, when the opportunities did arise, there was too often a distinct lack of quality in the final ball.

As early as the fourth minute, Wrexham's leading marksman got above defenders to steer a Jim Whitley cross just wide of the target before Marcus Ebdon, Chesterfield's busiest player, burst through to threaten Rovde until Thomas got back to make a timely challenge.

With the home side conceding possession too easily and failing to find teammates with passes, Chesterfield saw plenty of the ball and produced chances for Mark Allott and Roger Willis to break the deadlock, but there was little in the way of goalmouth action until ten minutes before the break.

Thomas flighted a free-kick into the penalty box, where Faulconbridge again outjumped his marker, his header bouncing back off a post and hitting colleague Dennis Lawrence on the knee before trickling wide. On another day the rebound might have gone in but Chesterfield wasted little time in reaping the benefit of their good fortune.

Two minutes before the break, a mixup between Ferguson and Blackwood gifted the ball to Ian Breckin, who spotted Hurst's run from deep and picked him out. Lawrence and Shaun Pejic appealed in vain that Willis and Stuart Howson were dawdling back from offside positions and Hurst ran on to beat Rovde with a confident chip from 20 yards.

Wrexham could not help but improve in the second half and Abbey was tested twice in the space of a couple of minutes by Sam and Thomas, whose quick reactions then nearly punished a poor clearance. The goalkeeper was stranded in no-man's land but Breckin was in the right place to head away the midfielder's firmly-struck effort from 40 yards.

Chesterfield again owed their thanks to the woodwork when Faulconbridge rose to thump Ferguson's corner against the crossbar after 63 minutes, a missed chance that seemed to sum up the home side's inability to convert pressure into something more tangible, and their increasingly desperate efforts to get back into the game merely left holes at the back for their opponents to exploit.

Rovde made a fine save with his feet from Hurst and a timely challenge from Whitley denied substitute Jamie Burt before the Norwegian 'keeper limped off with a hamstring injury.

Replacement David Walsh made one excellent stop, diving to his left to turn away Allott's curling effort, as the visitors once again tightened their grip on the game and Wrexham simply had no answer, much to the frustration of the crowd, many of whom had cheered the players to the rooftops only four days previously at the end of the 1-1 draw with Tranmere Rovers.

WREXHAM: Rovde (Walsh 74); Whitley, Pejic, Lawrence, Holmes (Sharp 31); Phillips, Ferguson, Thomas; Sam, Faulconbridge, Blackwood (Trundle 58). Subs: Edwards, Bennett.

CHESTERFIELD: Abbey; Breckin, O'Hare, Allott, Innes (Parrish 74), Ebdon, Willis (Burt 60), Hurst, Booty, Howson, Payne. Subs: Blatherwick, Richmond, Williams.

BOOKINGS: Chesterfield's Howson and Ebdon.

REFEREE: Ray Olivier (Sutton Coldfield). ATTENDANCE: 3,328.


David Holmes
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