TEENAGER Matt Crowell is keeping his fingers crossed that Wrexham's scheduled trip to Oldham Athletic tonight survives an afternoon pitch inspection.
The 19-year-old midfielder came through a gruelling test of character in the absence of the suspended Darren Ferguson during Saturday's 1-1 draw with Rushden & Diamonds as the Drag-ons played with three strikers.
Manager Denis Smith's switch heaped extra responsibility on Crowell and his partner Jim Whitley. But the youngster did well enough to become the sponsors' man of the match and he now hopes to retain his place in the side.
"Going into a game on the back of a 6-0 defeat is not ideal," he said. "But you can't pick and choose your matches, and I was glad to have the chance of playing.
"The gaffer told myself and Jim that our job was to keep it simple and break things up in there. It was certainly a scrappy game because we didn't get the ball down and play it like we can.
"I was reasonably pleased with my performance, though. I'd like to think I'll be involved against Oldham because I feel it's time for me to kick on. A run of games in the first team would help me do that because I think there's more to come if I'm holding down a regular first-team spot."
Smith, who has high hopes for the Wales under-21 international, knows only too well that Crowell has an eye for a goal and the youngster was unlucky with one long-range effort against Rushden which the goalkeeper turned away for a corner.
"I thought it was going to sneak in at the post," said Crowell.
"So I was a bit disappointed with that and, if I'm honest, I might have tried to get forward a bit more at other times in the game. But overall, it went well. Fingers crossed, I can get myself involved now as we look to inject a bit more into our promotion push."
With Ferguson and central defender Dennis Lawrence available tonight following their one-match bans, the Racecourse boss is anxious to avoid a postponement, even though Brian Carey and Lee Jones both missed train-ing yesterday through illness.
And he hinted that Crowell had done enough to warrant another run-out at Boundary Park as Wrexham revert to the 3-5-2 formation which has brought them eight victories on their travels.
"The one thing about Matt is that he's always likely to score from midfield and he was unlucky on Saturday," said Smith.
"He was probably playing a deeper role than he is used to because we had only two men in there against Rushden's three. So it was a big challenge for him and one he came through well. His set-plays were a bit disappointing at times but generally he played okay.
"He kept the ball moving and forced the keeper into a good save and he showed the quality I know he's got. But it's always a bit of a gamble blooding youngsters, especially in what was a big game for us.
"There was a time when you could give kids an opportunity at this stage of the season. But with three points at stake every game and given our position in the league, it's sometimes asking a lot for kids to do a man's job.
"But to be fair to Matt, he's earned his chance. When he's played in the first team he's never let me down."
Smith admitted Wrexham's lack of goals was now becoming a concern, even though his side are continuing to make clear-cut chances.
"We had opportunities in the first half at Bournemouth and again on Saturday," he said.
"Forwards are buzzing when they are scoring goals but it's different when they are not. We need to put together a run of results now if we are going to push on to the play-offs.
"We've had little spells of four or five games during the season but now we need something like 10. We can't expect to keep clean sheets in every game, although I'd settle for that.
The reality is that we have probably scored fewer goals than most teams in the league this season."
Oldham, who lost 1-0 at Bournemouth at the weekend, will be without striker Jermaine Johnson who has returned to Bolton Wanderers at the conclusion of his loan spell.
Caretaker player-boss John Sheridan is likely to name himself in an otherwise unchanged squad.
* THE latest in a series of fund-raiser s for former Wrexham defender Phil Hardy's testimonial year is being staged this week.
A race night has been organised at Llay Welfare Miners' Institute, near Wrexham on Friday evening (8pm).
Entrance is free and organisers are hoping for a good turnout in support of the ex- Republic of Ireland U21 international, who played more than 400 games during a 10-year spell with the Racecourse club.