CHRISTMAS came early for Hartlepool United on Saturday as they were gifted a sackful of goals at the Racecourse and repaid Wrexham's generosity by inflicting the worst home defeat of Denis Smith's three-year reign.
The Dragons boss and his players have worked hard in recent months to counter the damaging off-field evidence of a club in crisis, but two defensively naive performances in a week suggest they are struggling to cope with the additional pressure piled on them by the recent 10-point penalty.
Smith's assertion that, with a fully fit squad, Wrexham are too good to go down is not the message being sent out to the other League One clubs. Successive heavy defeats seem to indicate the festive programme promises to be more a test of confidence in the camp than he would have liked.
Although the late withdrawal due to sickness of midfield enforcer Scott Green was an unwanted pre-match setback, the line-up beaten 3-0 at Milton Keynes the previous week was reinforced by the return of captain Darren Ferguson and utility man Jim Whitley.
But, with hindsight, Whitley - who took over from teenage wing-back Simon Spender - might have been better deployed alongside his skipper in the engine room where another youngster, Levi Mackin, struggled to make an impact.
Saturday's display in the opening 45 minutes was a shambles, it was particularly traumatic for young defender Craig Morgan, who had been given only his second start of the season in place of the suspended Shaun Pejic. The Wales Under-21 international had one of those afternoons when he suffered unduly from major cause-and-effect errors, which altered the fluctuating first-half fortunes of both teams.
The rot set in after just eight minutes when United, in the shape of leading scorer Adam Boyd, broke down the right. The striker somehow squeezed past his marker and looked up to see an unmarked Ritchie Humphreys well-placed to side-foot his subsequent pass past Andy Dibble.
Two minutes later Morgan was the closest defender to Anthony Sweeney, whose shot on the turn took a deflection off the defender, though on that occasion the goalkeeper was well-placed to turn the ball over.
But there was more embarrassment for the hosts in the 18th minute when Sweeney, with a great first-touch from Joel Porter's early ball, dissected the space between Morgan and Steve Roberts and drove a powerful effort through Dibble's outstretched hands for 2-0.
Despite the scoreline, Wrexham were enjoying greater possession and fought their way back into contention within seven minutes. Ferguson's free-kick was flicked to the back post by Dennis Lawrence and Morgan's controlled header into the six-yard box was turned in by Juan Ugarte for his first league goal at the Racecourse.
Three minutes later the lively Spaniard went close again, but Chris Westwood was in the right place to complete a goal-line clearance and the visitors rocked their opponents with two breakaway goals in as many minutes.
The unfortunate Morgan was at fault for Porter's 35th-minute strike, dallying over-long on the ball and all too easily robbed by Boyd. He put his team-mate into acres of unguarded space to finish. Almost immediately afterwards Whitley slipped on the greasy surface and Humphreys was able to run on and put the fourth goal on a plate for Boyd.
The home side needed an early second-half response but it was Pool who had the first opportunity, Hugh Robertson firing a 25-yard free kick just wide.
The Dragons, with Andy Holt a tireless worker on the left flank, generally huffed and puffed to little effect against opposition who closed ranks in front of their penalty area. Hector Sam, anonymous in the opening period, livened up and, after Chris Llewellyn headed too high from his cross, the Trinidad international turned well but saw his goal-bound shot deflected for a corner.
Lawrence rose well to meet Ferguson's flag-kick, but Australian goalkeeper Demetrios Konstantopolous managed to hold the ball on the line. And Michael Nelson's well-timed challenge denied Ugarte after 62 minutes, Holt's shot from the rebound again being saved.
That was the sum total of Wrexham's threat, underlining their lack of confidence in front of the target and put into even sharper focus by Hartlepool's fifth goal on 72 minutes. Bangor-born striker Eifion Williams muscled Morgan off the ball and Sweeney notched up his second.
Wrexham: Dibble, Morgan, Roberts, Lawrence, Whitley (Spender 77), Mackin, Ferguson (Mark Jones 77), Llewellyn, Holt, Ugarte (Armstrong 67), Sam. Subs: Michael Jones, Smith.
Hartlepool United: Konstantopolous, Ross, Westwood, Nelson, Robertson, Sweeney, Tinkler, Porter (Appleby 58), Humphreys, Boyd (Strachan 88), Williams (Istead 90). Subs: Brackstone, Provett.
Referee: Paul Danson. Attendance: 3,582.