A SEASON in which Wrexham have experienced more lows than highs plumbed new depths on Saturday as the Dragons crashed to a second home defeat in the space of five days and, as a result, dropped into the bottom division’s relegation zone for the first time in more than 15 years.
And if truth be told the reverse was no more than Brian Carey’s side deserved following what was their worst Racecourse performance in what has degenerated into a sorry campaign.
The result five games into the post-Denis Smith era means Carey is still waiting for that elusive first victory on his watch.
And he apologised to the club’s supporters at the conclusion of a chastening afternoon made all the more painful by the knowledge that the opposition barely had to break sweat as they strolled to three easy away points.
No one was more upset by the pitiful display than the rookie Wrexham boss, particularly since there had been encouraging signs in midweek against an in-form Stockport County outfit, and he admitted his caretaker role could come to an end sooner rather than later if the slump continues much longer.
“I can’t put up with much more than that,” he said afterwards.
“Generally the players have been up for it, but they are not robots and it was one of those days.
“We, and I mean people like Joey Jones and Steve Weaver as well, are having a right go because we have been here a long time and care passionately about the club.
“And I know deep down the players care too, but we can’t have much more of what we saw this afternoon.”
The likeable Irishman even gave the crowd the benefit of the doubt when he said his players had given the home fans nothing to latch on to, but the team’s obviously fragile confidence after a run of seven games without a win was not improved one jot by the abuse and derision that greeted every misplaced pass or unforced error.
Such intolerance is not a new phenomenon at the Racecourse, which has long been as fickle a venue for the home side as any in the country – if not more so – and its destructive effects tend to create a self-fulfilling climate of fear that if something is likely to go wrong it will.
To compliment this funereal atmosphere, Wrexham’s start was less than inspiring, and goalkeeper Mike Ingham, a Northern Ireland international who could well win another cap against Wales on Tuesday evening, should not escape blame for the lack of judgement that gifted Wycombe their opening goal after 23 minutes of what until then had been a pretty insipid contest.
He was clearly favourite to gather a Stefan Oakes free kick pitched into the penalty area, but his hesitation was punished when lofty defender Mike Williamson out-jumped Steve Evans to loop a header into an unguarded net.
No one in the assembled multitude of 3,600 would have been more annoyed than Ingham about his costly mistake, yet he was not allowed to forget it by the fans, who soon after mocked a sliced clearance into touch and greeted every remaining safely gathered ball with ironic applause.
Similarly Shaun Pejic’s early nerves were never going to be settled by the crowd’s impatience and the knock-on effect spread throughout the team, with even experienced players like Danny Williams, Ryan Valentine and Chris Llewellyn often afraid to take responsibility on the ball for fear of provoking the same reaction.
The latter two and central defender Evans are, like Ingham, deemed good enough – rightly or wrongly – to be involved at international level for their country this week, but their League Two status also suggests their ability is more susceptible to the doubt that comes with trying to please a critical audience.
And although Carey’s post-match opinion was that his players collectively endured a bad day at the office, he could also be forgiven for thinking that the traditional terrace chant, “you only sing when you’re winning” was coined with the Racecourse crowd in mind.
A goal down midway through the first half, the Dragons were possibly fortunate not to be out of the contest by the interval after Jermaine Easter struck a tame effort at Ingham before midfielder Tony Grant, on loan from Chelsea, thumped an inviting opportunity wide of the goal.
And it was a measure of how far the home side were off the pace that their first meaningful effort on goal came in the 43rd minute when Marc Williams met a Llewellyn knock-down with an ambitious volley that didn’t even trouble Wycombe goalkeeper Ricard Batista.
Llewellyn’s 51st-minute shot forced the Chairboys keeper into his first save of the afternoon, but another horrendous defensive error cost Wrexham dear within 60 seconds when Grant whipped in a cross towards Tommy Mooney that drew both Pejic and Lee Roche to the near post and left Easter completely free with time and space to lash the ball past Ingham.
Six minutes later, Wrexham’s fragility at the back was exposed once again but Scott Golbourne’s angled shot rebounded off the foot of a post and the home side’s frustration boiled over when Llewellyn, who had been lunging into tackles, was fortunate to receive just a caution for a two-footed challenge on Oakes.
The foul provoked a melee involving players from both sides and had a bizarre ending when Batista lashed the ball towards spectators in the stand and was shown a red card by referee Clive Oliver, who finished the afternoon with an additional five bookings.
But it also sparked the crowd and Wrexham responded with their best spell of the match. Substitute Lee McEvilly forced a save from replacement keeper Jamie Young and also drove a shot wide when Llewellyn was better placed.
But the visitors’ defence held firm, Williamson superbly denying McEvilly another opportunity with a precision tackle after Williams had summed up the home side’s frustration with a first-time volley that flew across the face of the goal.