GOALKEEPER Kristian Rogers returns to second division action for Wrexham for the first time in almost three months at Stoke City this afternoon, getting the nod ahead of team-mate David Walsh.
The abrupt departure on Thursday of Norwegian keeper Marius Rovde to return home to play for Lillestrom gives the 21-year-old understudy an unexpected opportunity to strengthen his claims for a new contract at the Racecourse.
"Marius had an offer that was too good to refuse but the speed with which it happened came as a surprise to everyone here," said Rogers. "And with our relegation already confirmed, it will not make a huge difference and it presents me with a chance to show what I can do."
Prior to Rovde's arrival in February, Rogers was sharing goalkeeping duties with former Wales under-21 international Walsh and manager Denis Smith spoke with both players before announcing his preference for the Britannia Stadium clash.
"It's a difficult game," admitted Rogers. "In a funny sort of way I'm hoping I have plenty to do but, obviously, I don't want to be that busy. But, given the fact that we are down, it should be one of those matches where we can go out as a team and enjoy it.
"There's no pressure on us now and it's a great place to play, especially in front of what should be a very big crowd. Obviously, the fact that I'm out of contract at the end of the season is something that's in my mind but I'm not alone in that.
"It's a difficult time for a number of the lads who are waiting to find out what's going to happen but, nerve-wracking though it is, tomorrow's game is an opportunity for me to impress on a big stage and I'm looking forward to it."
Rovde's departure and injuries to striker Lee Jones and midfielder Paul Barrett could force Racecourse boss Smith into three changes from the side which won 5-0 against Cambridge United last Saturday.
"It sums up our season, really," he said. "Two days ago I thought I would be in a position to say 'same again'. Then the goalkeeper disappears, the lad who has come in and scored five goals is struggling with injury and one of my best midfield players last week couldn't train today either."
Steve Thomas, fully recovered from a groin strain, stands by to replace Barrett, who has a thigh strain, while Trinidad international Hector Sam will partner Andy Morrell up front if Jones fails to come through a fitness test this morning.
Lee Trundle completes a two-match ban today but the club's leading goalscorer Craig Faulconbridge, who is set to leave the Racecourse at the end of the season, has not even been considered. Dropped last weekend, he has been receiving treatment for a hip injury but a clearly disappointed Dragons boss admitted he was at a loss to explain how it was incurred.
Asked if his players would be playing for pride today, Smith said: "In any walk of life, if people don't have pride in their performance, they have a problem and I get very frustrated when I see it.
"There's going to be a huge crowd tomorrow and it should be a fabulous stage for them but they have to go out there and do it for themselves. And if you want to be a winner in life you have to be motivated and do everything in your power to make it happen."
No-one ever doubted that of Smith, a stalwart at Stoke City during his playing career and a lifelong fan of his hometown club. But he admits to a conflict of interest between his burning desire to win every match in which he is involved and his hope that the Potters ultimately book their spot in the second division play-offs.
"I can't win tomorrow," he said. "I want Stoke City to win promotion to the first division but on the other hand I want to win this game as a matter of personal pride.
"I was bitterly disappointed they beat us 1-0 at the Racecourse because we produced a very, very good performance and deserved to win the game."
WREXHAM (from): Rogers, Whitley, Holmes, Pejic, Lawrence, Bennett, Phillips, Ferguson, Barrett, Jones, Morrell, Walsh, Sam, Morgan, Edwards, Sharp, Thomas, Chalk.