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Russell returns

VETERAN Kevin Russell returns to the Wrexham line-up at Queens Park Rangers this afternoon for the first time since last October.

VETERAN Kevin Russell returns to the Wrexham line-up at Queens Park Rangers this afternoon for the first time since last October.

The 35-year-old midfield player, now right-hand man to manager Denis Smith, makes his comeback to cover for the absence through suspension of Darren Ferguson and is the only change from the side which beat Wigan Athletic 2-0 last weekend.

That result extended the Dragons' unbeaten run to four matches and Smith is banking on Russell to bring to bear the experience he has gained over more than 17 years to get him through the 90 minutes at Loftus Road.

"I told Kev last Saturday there was a chance he would play tomorrow," said Smith. "He's the most natural replacement for Darren and can do the same jobs.

"He's worked this week and come through it well, even though he is probably not at the level he would like to be, because there is a big difference between coaching and training."

Russell, himself, admitted that it was something of a gamble, but said: "I'm looking forward to the game but my fitness is not what it could be and I'm hoping my experience will get me through the game.

"In an ideal world we wouldn't take the chance, but the gaffer feels that there is little option because he wants someone to sit in there and keep things ticking over."

Russell is well aware that Wrexham need to maintain the momentum built up in recent weeks if they are to climb away from the relegation zone and he added: "It's a pretty big game for us at Loftus Road and I'm going to have to use my brain as much as my legs.

"However, with the way the lads have been playing recently, I'm sure we will be OK. Ideally we could do with winning either tomorrow or at Brighton next Saturday and a result against QPR would really set us up for the next one."

With Ferguson missing for only one game, Russell does not expect to remain in the side, saying: "I think I'll only play if I'm needed. It's difficult to try and combine the roles of coaching and playing and obviously coaching is where my future lies.

"I don't particularly want to be playing reserve team football either on a regular basis because that simply deprives a younger lad of the chance to show what he can do. We want to bring the kids through because that's important for the future of the club."

Smith has resisted the temptation to make further changes, even though that means players like Brian Carey, Lee Trundle and Kevin Sharp are likely to be on the bench. New signing Dan Bennett also travelled with the squad.

"I wouldn't have changed anything from last week if it had not been forced on me," he said. "I've got plenty of options and there's little to choose between, say, Lee Trundle and Michael Blackwood.

"Both of them have their different strengths and you don't know what you are going to get from either of them but both have the ability to change the game.

"Those sort of decisions are what managers are paid for. The more good decisions you make, the better supporters like you. Fans can always make a better decision than the manager after a game when it's been lost."

Although QPR lost the corresponding fixture at the Racecourse in what was Smith's first game in charge, the Dragons' boss believes the pressure will be on the home side, who are seeking to establish themselves as play-off contenders.

"They are a big club and their fans will expect them to beat us but everyone who has watched us recently is aware that we can give any team problems. The expectation is all on them and if we can quieten their fans it could work against them."

His Loftus Road counterpart, Ian Holloway, is also aware of the dangers. Yesterday he said: "It's a game we could do with winning, but if we don't, it doesn't mean it's all over. What we have to do is win enough of our remaining games and it is all still to play for.

"We have to get on a winning streak and it shouldn't take much because the performances in our last few games weren't poor at all. In fact, we should comfortably have won our last three games."

WREXHAM (probable): Rovde; Whitley, Roberts, Lawrence, Holmes; Phillips, Russell, Thomas; Sam, Faulconbridge, Blackwood. Subs (from): Rogers, Carey, Sharp, Trundle, Edwards, Chalk, Bennett.


David Holmes
Chief News Reporter
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