WREXHAM boss Denis Smith has admitted that he took a calculated risk in playing club captain Darren Ferguson against Chester City on Sunday.
But the gamble paid off as the influential midfielder made a major contribution in securing the 2-1 victory that boosted the Racecourse club's hopes of mounting a late charge into the League Two play-offs.
Since picking up a hip injury nine weeks ago, Ferguson had played just 90 minutes of competitive football before returning to Sunday's starting line-up and remaining on the pitch to complete the full game.
Smith revealed he had been forced to change his plans following a training session on Saturday morning when Jim Whitley failed a fitness test, following the hip injury he received at Rochdale the previous weekend.
"If Jim had come though okay he would have started the match, with Darren on the bench," said Smith..
"So it was something of a gamble to go with Darren from the start but he did very well to last the 90 minutes."
Although Ferguson's return was a welcome surprise the omission from the squad of teenager Levi Mackin raised a few eyebrows, but the Dragons boss said the Wales under-21 international had been unlucky to miss out on a place on the bench.
"It was absolutely no reflection on the way Levi has been performing in recent weeks," he added..
"It was a question of getting the balance right if we had been forced into making changes.
"Of the substitutes we had a goalkeeper, of course, and Simon Spender to cover for the right-hand side.
"Mike Williams can play left side of defence and left wingback and we had a striker in Jon Walters together with Matty Done, who gives us something different in terms of trying to change the game when necessary.
"If we had needed to make a reshuffle in midfield, we had Danny Williams and Sam Williams on the pitch, who can both do that job if required, so Levi was on this occasion the unlucky one to drop out."
Competition for first team places is set to hot up as both Lee McEvilly and Lee Roche see an opportunity for action in the final six weeks of the campaign.
McEvilly's comeback last Wednesday from a broken bone in his foot was curtailed by a knee gash which required stitches, but he is now raring to go again while corrective minor surgery which appears to have resolved a longstanding hernia problem means Roche will be back in full-time trainin next Monday.
And central defender Dave Bayliss yesterday returned from a month-long loan spell at Rochdale to further improve Smith's options.
Hence the manager's frustration that last night's scheduled reserve team game against Tranmere Rovers was postponed because of a waterlogged pitch.
"Both Lee and Jon Walters could have done with getting another game under their belts, but with a bit of luck we are near enough back to full strength at last and that could be very useful as we look ahead to our final nine games to come," he said.
"Wednesday's FAW Premier Cup final with Swansea City is obviously important to the club and Jim Whitley will hopefully be available for that, but we have another big game at Grimsby on Saturday.
"Our away form has been a weakness for us this season and we need to win a few of those to come, which is why the return of several important players for us is a boost.
"We are unbeaten in three games and I'd like to think we can keep that momentum going."