RACECOURSE newcomer Juan Ugarte's decisive contribution to Wrexham's 2-0 win over Stockport County on Tuesday evening makes him a genuine contender for his league debut against League One pace-setters Luton Town on Saturday.
But Dragons boss Denis Smith, although delighted by the Spanish striker's LDV Vans Trophy cameo after coming on as a second-half substitute for Hector Sam, said it was too early to make a definitive judgement on the former Real Sociedad reserve.
The 24-year old non-contract signing helped turn the tide for the under-siege Dragons, who were defending a 1-0 lead, as he won the corner from which midfielder Danny Williams scored a comfort-zone second goal.
Ugarte also scored last night as Wrexham's reserves went down 4-1 to Stock-port at Edgeley Park. The second-string were losing 3-0 when he pulled one back with a shot from 18 yards that seared into the back of the net, and his performance lifted the side as they attempted a second-half fight-back.
"He delivered without question, because he had three strikes at goal and the corner came from a great shot which their keeper saved well," said Smith after Ugarte's part in Tuesday's cup victory.
"I'm delighted with what he's done, but I'm always very reluctant to judge on initial appearances because I've seen it happen so often and then players disappear. I believe Hector Sam scored six goals in six games when he first came here and that will take some matching.
"Juan has looked very good in training but there's a difference in match situations. Tonight his runs and his move-ment were very good but whether he can do it for 90 minutes, we'll have to see.
"And it makes a difference if the opposition are not pushing for a goal. But what he has proved is that he is capable of hitting the target and he's not done himself any harm with his performance. I'm delighted with him and he's giving me another option for the weekend."
Ugarte said the most important thing was that Wrexham had won the game, but admitted he was disappointed not to have scored.
"I thought my shot was going in but their goalkeeper made a fine save for the corner which brought the second goal," he said. "I enjoyed my time on the field and we'll have to wait and see whether I'll be involved on Saturday.
The win against Stockport, which extended Wrexham's unbeaten run to seven matches, has taken them into the northern quarterfinals of the competition, the draw for which will be made on Saturday morning. Smith said he was pleased with the overall performance.
"It was very professional considering I had just 12 senior players available and we were in control throughout the first half," he said..
"We had a bit of a blip in the second half when if they had got one back it could have been interesting, but the substitutions gave us the lift we needed."
* THE Professional Footballers Association are working with Wrexham in a bid to ease the club's financial worries.
Officials from the PFA will continue to monitor the situation with players' representative Brian Carey.
PFA chief executive Gordon Taylor said: "We have been dealing with this kind of situation for the last three years with a lot of clubs.
"Wrexham are a club we have helped and will continue to help. Hopefully the matter will get sorted out."