Wrexham 0 Stoke City 1
WREXHAM paid the penalty for a costly spot-kick miss by Darren Ferguson, but it would be grossly unfair to lay the entire blame at his feet.
The Red Dragons wasted good chances before and after Ferguson fired a first-half penalty wide despite sending former Cardiff City goalkeeper, Gavin Ward the wrong way.
But wasteful Wrexham were again left to rue missed chances as, indeed, they were after that catastrophic FA Cup defeat at Hereford.
Denis Smith, Wrexham's Stoke-born manager, was mystified by the result. It posed several questions and none more pertinent than the one put by Smith.
How, he asked, were Stoke third from top in the second division and Wrexham third from bottom?
"The lads can't really perform any better than that," he said.
"They've done everything bar win the game. If you are playing well, I can't ask any more of them and I'm certainly not going to have a go at the players."
Smith's frustration was understandable. Not withstanding Ferguson's clanger he saw Wrexham more than match the wobbly Potters for long periods - but they just couldn't score.
Craig Faulconbridge and Kevin Sharp squandered genuine chances before Lee Trundle's power and determination to get into the box ended with Ward clattering into him for an obvious penalty.
Ward was booked for his protest but then Ferguson's miss stunned Wrexham fans into shocked silence as Stoke's supporters burst into celebration with their rendering on Tom Jones' hit Delilah.
Tearaway Trundle set up an early second half chance for Robin Gibson but he skied his shot and Stoke then broke out to snatch the winner.
Lewis Neal fed Dutchman Peter Hoekstra, whose cleverly disguised dummy gave ex-Newtown striker, Andy Cooke time and space to beat Wrexham 'keeper Kristian Rogers.
Wrexham huffed and puffed
after that for an equaliser and Stoke were glad to hang on. But Rogers made another crucial save from Hoekstra's ferocious free-kick and then Wrexham battled manfully for a goal that just wouldn't come.
Smith used all three substitutes as Wrexham gave it a whirl but again it was a story of missed chances.
Smith steadfastly refused to lay any blame against Ferguson for that penalty miss and he still has confidence in the small squad of players he has available to ensure Second Division football at The Racecourse next season.
"We just have to keep playing like that and believing in ourselves and we won't have a problem", said Smith.
Tomorrow Wrexham are on their travels again with another difficult match at Swindon Town.