THERE were worrying signs aplenty as Wrexham's promising early-season league form took a serious nosedive at Victoria Park.
It wasn't just that Hartlepool scored four times or that three crucial points were dropped. Rather, it was the manner of the defeat and the disappointing nature of the performance.
The defending was loose throughout and even though the home side took their goals superbly, you did get the impression that the Wrexham back line were giving the opposition strikers far too much time and space.
Individually, Roberts, Bennett and Pejic all have their attributes, but there are times when this combination (average age: 22) does look slightly shaky. My feeling is that the three youngsters are a bit too "nice" and, without going over the top, need to add a little bit of "nastiness" to their game. Their role-model should be someone like Tony Humes: in his day, a very hard and mean defender.
On Saturday afternoon, I really felt that Wrexham needed a wise old head at the back, somebody with a bit of nous and experience. After all, they were up against the league leaders away from home, and everyone knew it would be a big test.
There were also problems up front. Morrell has worked so hard this season that he is beginning to look jaded, and it was no surprise to anyone when Smith replaced him with Trundle at half-time.
And then there was Sam. He was his usual unpredictable self when he came on as substitute, and fluffed a wonderful opportunity late on with only the goalkeeper to beat. This was a case of déjà vu because the Trinidadian had failed to convert a similar one-on-one chance seven days previously in the dying minutes of the Leyton Orient game.
There is a fine line between success and failure at this level, and with the top half of the table already getting clogged up with promotion-chasing sides, misses like these could be very costly indeed.
There was one other interesting occurrence. Smith sent his troops out for the second half a good two minutes before the game was due to re-start. The no-nonsense manager was obviously very unhappy with his side's first-half display, and had presumably given his team a severe rocket in the dressing room. Unfortunately for him and the travelling faithful, it didn't get that much better after the break.
With only one league win in the last 33 days, one might have expected the Dragons to have dropped into no man's land after the Hartlepool game, but remarkably they are still only a point off the play-off positions and only six off the summit of the third division.
This tells me that the clubs in the top half of the table are all very much of a muchness. Now, in the space of four days, Wrexham (in 10th spot) will lock horns with the two teams immediately below them in the table:
Lincoln (11th) and York (12th). A six-point haul is not just desirable but essential if the promotion campaign is to get back on track.