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Wrexham fans delighted as manager gets stuck in

WREXHAM fans took Denis Smith to their hearts within the space of 90 incident-packed minutes against QPR which ended in a valuable win.

Wrexham 1   Queens Park Rangers 0

DENIS SMITH missed out on a romantic weekend in Paris with his wife when he went to Wrexham instead and took the manager's job.

But The Racecourse has already become the location for a new love affair, with Wrexham fans taking Smith to their hearts within the space of 90 incident-packed minutes.

After five straight defeats that left Wrexham one place off the bottom of Division Two, any win would have instantly catapulted Smith to hero status.

But Smith went much further than that from the moment he took the applause of a near 5,000 crowd - Wrexham's best since the opening day of a troubled season.

His sheer presence on the touchline, where his constant cajoling of players was in sharp contrast to predecessor Brian Flynn, who preferred to take a more dispassionate view from the stand.

No-one can dispute Flynn's commitment to a job that turned Wrexham from bottom flight cannon-fodder into a well-run club respected throughout the Football League.

But nothing grates with supporters more than a manager seen to be taking a back seat when things are going awry on the pitch. It's a safe bet that Smith will never face that accusation.

Two incidents, however, served to put Smith into Racecourse folklore before his first game in charge had ended in triumph.

The first, after 25 minutes, produced some pushing near the dug-out when Smith, thinking the ball was Wrexham's, was shoved by Queens Park Rangers midfielder Marcus Bignot, who was clearly as keen to get the game restarted.

If Bignot thought reclaiming possession from a 53-year-old long retired from playing would be easy then he was in for a rude awakening.

"I think he was too young to have seen me play," quipped Smith, the former central defender known for his ruthless streak during more than a decade at the top with Stoke City.

"But I thought it was our ball and only went to retrieve it."

Smith was also at the centre of the action with 20 minutes remaining as Wrexham, by now a man short because of Stephen Thomas's second yellow card, were stretching every sinew to defend the advantage given them by Michael Blackwood's first league goal.

When the ball was returned from the terrace, Smith attempted to lose a few seconds by heading it back there. But his action failed to find the funny side of referee Michael Ryan or Rangers counterpart Ian Holloway.

"That's my first header since I had the plate put in my neck 12 months ago," Smith said. "It might have been another I've got wrong. But I'm passionate about my football and I want the fans to be passionate about Wrexham.

"If the players continue to play the way they did here, then they deserve to have people passionate about them."

The Wrexham faithful, not usually among football's most vociferous supporters, were certainly stirred up to create an atmosphere that left Smith beaming.

Karl Connolly enjoyed a rapturous reception on his first return to his old stamping ground, but Rangers were disjointed up front against the commanding home centre-backs, on-loan Keith Hill and the outstanding Stephen Roberts, who fully deserved his man-of-the-match award.

Connolly was switched from left to right and back again but the service to Andy Thomson, the division's leading marksman, was scant and the best opening fell to young Leroy Griffiths, who misdirected his effort wide with the goal gaping.

Wrexham created more chances, even after Thomas's 62nd-minute dismissal, with the hard-working Lee Trundle and Craig Faulconbridge eager to shoot on sight.

Blackwood's winner came two minutes before half-time when Thomas, always excellent before his dismissal, found him with a sweet diagonal pass.

Blackwood slotted the ball through the legs of defender Aziz Ben Azkar and past the unsighted Chris Day.

Faulconbridge struck a post and brought an outstanding reflex save from Day as Wrexham proved their determination to secure only their second victory of the campaign.

"That's one win, and we now only need another 14 this season," said Smith.

"But if they're like that one I'll be dead. We've got to work like that every week and I've told the players that's the minimum standard from now on."

Yes, you get the feeling that there will be love and plenty of commitment at The Racecourse from now on.


David Holmes
Chief News Reporter
David Norbury
Mike Fuller
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