INJURY-HIT Wrexham were unable to get their play-off bandwagon back on the road at Vale Park on Saturday.
Reeling from defeats to Plymouth and Tranmere, the Dragons' chances of averting a third successive loss were dealt a blow when injury and suspension left manager Denis Smith with only 14 senior professionals at his disposal.
The versatility of Jim Whitley was given a fresh test in the middle of the Dragons' back three and Matt Crowell replaced the suspended Darren Ferguson as the fulcrum of the team.
And it was Crowell who came closest to salvaging a point with a 25-yarder that was touched against the post by Vale goalkeeper Jonathan Brain.
The Wales under-21 international admitted the defeat was hard to take.
'It was disappointing because we had some opportunities to score, but it was one of those games when neither side looked like getting a goal until it happened for them,' he said.
'It's hit our play-off hopes, but we've got to keep going while there is still a chance.'
Crowell's near-miss came just minutes after Michael Cummins had put Vale ahead in the 51st minute of a match which produced few chances of note.
Wrexham's man-of-the-match, Whitley, who just shaded defensive partner Dennis Lawrence for the honour, said playing in central defence was something of a novel experience.
He said: 'It was a new position for me, but I've played the game long enough now to know how to adapt and, the goal apart, I thought we did quite well at the back.'
There was not much to choose between the sides, although Vale's front two of Steve Brooker and Steve McPhee looked livelier throughout than Wrexham's Chris Llewellyn and Chris Armstrong.
McPhee's flick on 25 minutes gave Billy Paynter an opportunity which was superbly blocked by goalkeeper Mike Ingham and Brooker should have done better with a close-range header before Wrexham had two chances in the final four minutes of the first half.
Armstrong, though, steered the ball wide from Paul Barrett's centre and, when Paul Edwards drove in a cross from the opposite flank, Llewellyn was denied at full stretch by Brain.
The home side's breakthrough was simplicity itself. Cummins, running unmarked from deep on to McPhee's pass, beat Ingham with ease.
On the balance of play, it was probably just about deserved, even though it provoked a strong reaction from the Dragons.
Six minutes later, Steve Thomas touched a free-kick to Crowell, but Brain somehow managed to get a finger on the shot, deflecting it via the woodwork for a corner.
Wrexham had one final glimmer of hope two minutes from time when space opened up in front of Thomas, but his curling shot was met comfortably by Brain.
Wrexham: Ingham, Roberts (Spender 68), Whit-ley, Lawrence, C Edwards, Thomas (Holmes 82), Crowell, Barrett (L Jones 65), P Edwards, Armstrong, Llewellyn. Subs: Whitefield, Mackin. Referee: Colin Webster.