Even the most optimistic Wrexham fan must be having a few doubts about the club’s continuing Football League status following Saturday’s abject showing at Macclesfield Town.
And the only potential silver lining from the Dragons’ 2-0 defeat at Moss Rose is the knowledge that the Silkmen will travel to Boston United this afternoon full of confidence that another victory would more or less guarantee their place in League Two next season.
The same cannot be said of the Dragons, who face Notts County at the Racecourse today, and they will be hoping that ex-Manchester United “Guv’nor” Paul Ince can galvanise his troops to secure the three points at York Street that should keep the Lincolnshire side in the bottom two, regardless of the outcome in North Wales.
Ince shares his Old Trafford links with Wrexham manager Brian Carey and, like the Irishman, is a newcomer to management, but there can be no question as to who has made the bigger initial impact.
The former England international has transformed Macclesfield from a side looking doomed before Christmas into a more than capable League Two outfit, while Carey, who was maybe an unwilling replacement for the sacked Denis Smith, still has plenty of work ahead in order to avoid the unthinkable.
Ince was not boasting afterwards when he claimed: “We should have been 4-0 up at the break.”
“It was a nice feeling when the board went up showing four minutes to play that we didn’t need to panic because we had that 2-0 lead,” he added.
“We are in the position now that if we go to Boston on Monday and get the three points we should be okay.”
His opposite number, meanwhile, had to face some uncomfortable questions over his team selection after Wales international defender Steve Evans, available again after a five-match ban, found himself named among the substitutes.
Carey opted instead to stick with loan signing veteran Richard Walker on the basis that Wrexham’s two clean sheets in the previous two matches deserved some reward.
And without the benefit of hindsight it was an understandable decision, but either due to naivety or stubbornness the manager’s refusal to acknowledge a mistake evident to virtually everyone within 15 minutes of the start was a huge blunder.
Walker simply could not cope with home striker Matty McNeil, who won almost everything in the air and linked up superbly with team-mates John Murphy and John Miles, who was the game’s outstanding player.
When Evans did finally take over from the Port Vale man with just over 20 minutes remaining Wrexham were 2-0 down and the outcome of the game was not in doubt.
And Evans’ duel with the awkward front-runner lasted just four minutes before Ince made his own change, sending Isaiah Rankin into the fray.
“McNeil and Murphy are a real handful and they have a something a bit special,” enthused the Macclesfield boss.
“We’ve now lost just one in 12 at this ground so it’s becoming a bit of a fortress and we can go to Boston with a bit of confidence.”
Despite the perceived wisdom that a manager always picks his best players and whatever his post-match private thoughts, Carey maintained he had been right to stick with Walker.
“In the previous couple of games we had two clean sheets so that’s the decision we made and that’s what we went with,” he said later.
“In hindsight it’s very easy to say things might have been different, but who knows?”
And in a probably unintentional under-statement, he added: “I think the defence found Macclesfield’s front two difficult to handle and that made it a difficult afternoon for us all round.”
Wrexham’s cause was not helped either by the absence through illness of midfielder Robbie Garrett, his central role filled to a much lesser effect by Mark Jones, who seems to be struggling with form and confidence.
His peripheral influence made life difficult for Jeff Whitley, who worked his socks off throughout, but the Dragons were also found wanting further up the field where both Lee McEvilly and Michael Proctor failed to dominate the home defence.
To be fair, the service to them was not the best, but Town goalkeeper Tommy Lee was called upon only twice during the game, which spoke volumes about the Dragons’ lack of punch.
Macclesfield overcame the loss of captain Danny Swailes during the warm-up, the big defender being stretchered off, but late stand-in Dave Morley proved a more than adequate replacement alongside the equally imposing Rob Scott.
And the pattern for the match was established early on as the home side monopolised both possession and territory, although the first genuine chance fell to the visitors after 20 minutes of sparring when Matty Done’s quickly-taken free kick gave Proctor the opportunity to turn Morley and force a near-post save from the keeper.
The scare prompted an immediate response from the Silkmen, Martin Bullock surging to the edge of the area to test Anthony Williams, the keeper diving to his left to turn the ball for a corner.
And they maintained their grip on proceedings as first Miles and then Bullock again were both denied by the woodwork, before eventually making the breakthrough after 34 minutes,
McNeil began and ended the sequence, muscling Walker off the ball to feed Miles, whose instant return pass left the striker with enough space to round Williams and tap home the opener.
Regrouping at the break Wrexham briefly showed signs that they might force their way back into contention with Simon Spender meeting a McEvilly flick-on at the far post to bring another save from Lee.
Done, too, began to find some space on the left, one fiercely driven cross proving too high for McEvilly, who was unable to keep his header on target, but Macclesfield delivered the coup de grace with 22 minutes still to play.
It was simply done, defender Carl Regan whipping the ball to the far post where on-loan striker Murphy, who has a penchant for scoring against the Dragons, rose unchallenged to give Williams no chance with his powerful header.
Unfortunately for Carey there was no last throw of the dice available, striker Marc Williams having already replaced Spender, and although Josh Johnson too was thrown into the action together with Evans, Macclesfield never looked anything other than the comfortable winners they were.