AT the end of a week during which Wrexham manager Denis Smith warned of numerous twists and turns to negotiate before the final league tables are published in May, results around the country seemed to confirm his prediction.

Relegation-threatened Torquay United overcame promotion hopefuls Wycombe Wanderers in their own back yard, Rushden & Diamonds enhanced their survival prospects with a similarly unlikely victory over Leyton Orient and Barnet did the Racecourse side a favour by scrapping for a draw at Peterborough.

Meanwhile Smith, who put football before family by travelling to Spotland despite the death earlier in the day of his older brother, watched his players bounce back from a midweek setback at Macclesfield to notch up what was only their third succcess on the road this season.

More importantly, perhaps, having previously failed to defend a 2-0 lead at both Mansfield and Moss Rose, Smith's side kept their shape, their discipline and their nerve to prove to that what has been a pretty dismal away record is not yet beyond redemption.

Matt Derbyshire's sixth goal in seven games was enough to secure the win, which saw the Dragons close to within six points of the final playoff place with two games in hand, one of which is tomorrow's visit to Cheltenham.

With the on-loan Blackburn teenager in their ranks a goal is never far away, but consistency at the back has been Wrexham's Achilles heel so nothing less than another solid defensive performance will be needed at Whaddon Road if their challenge is to be maintained.

Consistency at League Two level is a rare commodity, as Smith and his fellow managers know only too well.

Macclesfield, well beaten by Roch-dale the previous weekend, stunned Wrexham with their gutsy fightback on Tuesday, while Spotland boss Steve Parkin could not believe the change in fortunes experienced by his players.

"We were disappointing from minute one, we conceded a bad goal and after that we never looked like getting back in the game," he said on Saturday.

"We never threatened the Wrexham keeper, we never competed in midfield and we dropped far too deep as a defence, so in terms of everything that could go wrong it did go wrong.

"It was a particularly disappointing performance and on the day Wrexham thoroughly deserved to win.

"It upsets me as manager because I saw a very different performance seven days ago at Macclesfield.

"If we'd had a run of games playing like this I could understand it, but in the space of seven days we've gone from really good to really bad and that's very difficult to deal with as manager."

Parkin's mood was not improved by the fact that Rochdale played out the final 30 minutes with 10 men following the dismissal of Wrexham loan signing Dave Bayliss for two bookable offences.

Both fouls owed more to misjudgement than malice, but Parkin had little sympathy for the defender.

"I think sometimes these games have a twist, particularly for someone playing against his own club," he added. "I had a chat with Dave before the game to make sure he was happy about playing and I mentioned he should not do anything rash.

"But it was a poor challenge by someone who had already got a yellow card and he didn't stay on his feet. Bad tackle or not, I don't think he's got any complaints because he's played enough games now to know he should have done better."

Wrexham's afternoon got off to a less than auspicious start when Jim Whitley limped off the field with a hip injury after just seven minutes to be replaced by Levi Mackin and they struggled initially to cope with a tricky surface composed more of sand than grass.

It meant the early chances fell to the home side, Ernie Cooksey and Ricky Lambert both squandering decent opportunities to at least test visiting keeper Mike Ingham.

But wing-back Andy Holt made light of the conditions, regularly pushing forward to support his strikers and it needed a fine interception from Simon Ramsden cutting out a Sam Williams centre to deny him a shot on goal in the 17th minute.

Another miss by Lambert, who failed to punish Ingham's inability to hold a cross two minutes later, emphasised the anxiety evident in both camps, but Derbyshire kept his nerve to poach the 19th-minute winner, fashioned jointly by Holt and Williams.

The Aston Villa youngster chased down a long kick from his keeper and back-heeled it for Holt to swing the ball towards the far post where Derbyshire appeared to have delayed too long before swivelling to drive a cross-shot from six yards past Matthew Gilks.

Given recent history few would have expected the scoreline to remain unchanged for 70 minutes and Wrexham's reluctance to close down Chris Dagnall when he ran from halfway only to fire harmlessly over the bar was hardly encouraging.

Similarly, a clumsy challenge by Shaun Pejic on Iysden Christie gave Lambert a set-piece opportunity, but defender Gary Jones volleyed wide of Ingham's goal before Wrexham went close to a second goal eight minutes before the break, Gilks turning Derbyshire's effort over the bar.

But the turning point of the game came on the hour when Lambert whipped in a free-kick from the left and Christie's close-range header was superbly parried by Ingham to preserve Wrexham's lead.

Two minutes later, Bayliss made his premature departure as a result of clipping Derbyshire's ankle, but the Dragons still could not afford to relax, especially when defensive mainstay Danny Williams was forced off with an ankle injury 18 minutes from the end.

A mistake by the otherwise steady Mackin spelled danger in the 82nd minute, but Dagnall took his chance too early and Ingham was able to make a comfortable save before Wrexham had their openings to put the result beyond doubt.

A fine through-ball from Mark Jones put Derbyshire clear to go round Gilks, but Ramsden was back to make the goal-line clearance and the ball rebounded to the young striker, who saw his second effort hit the post.

Derbyshire was out of luck again in added time when, after beating Ramsden for pace, he fired across the face of goal, although a simple sideways pass to unmarked team-mate Williams might have produced a better outcome.

But no-one in another sizeable away following was complaining when the final whistle blew seconds later.


* Andy Holt

* Solid in defence and always looking to get forward


Mike Ingham's second-half save

ROCHDALE : Gilks; Ramsden, Bayliss, McArdle, Gallimore; Cooksey (Warner 37), G Jones (Kitchen 82), Doolan (Brown 74), Dagnall; Lambert, Christie. Subs: Boardman, Cartwright. SENT OFF: Bayliss (two cautions).

BOOKED: Doolan.

WREXHAM : Ingham; Pejic, D Williams (M Williams 69), Lawrence; Bennett, Mark Jones, Whitley (Mackin 7), Crowell, Holt; Derbyshire, S Williams. Subs: Michael Jones, Walters, Done.

BOOKED: Bennett, S Williams.

REFEREE: Mike Russell (Herts)

ATT : 2,856

NEXT MATCH : Cheltenham (a), tomorrow, 7.45pm