FORMER Northern Ireland international Jeff Whitley hopes to begin his second loan spell at Wrexham in Sunday’s Racecourse clash against Shrewsbury Town.
The 28-year-old midfielder, who has been made surplus to requirements at Cardiff City, is currently suffering from a viral infection that has ruled him out of tonight’s League Two match at Grimsby Town.
But he is confident a course of antibiotics will do the trick and said yesterday: “I should be firing on all cylinders come Sunday and I’m looking forward to the challenge of helping Wrexham stay up.”
Whitley, who played 11 games for the Dragons during a loan spell in 1999, has not played a league game since September, but Racecourse boss Brian Carey believes his experience will be critical between now and the end of the season.
Five years ago Whitley helped Notts County win their battle for Football League survival and he added: “They were in a similar position to Wrexham.
“I was there for two months but we got out of trouble and it was just like winning a cup final.
“This is another big challenge but with the players Wrexham have, I believe they are more than capable of pulling clear.
“I’ve wasted a lot of time this season so I wanted to come here and give it my all for the 13 or so games that are left.
“Obviously it will take me two or three games to get fully match-fit, but I’m doing extra training over and above the norm in order to reach the level of fitness I’m used to.”
Whitley and his older brother Jim, who played nearly 150 games for Wrexham, spent their early childhood in Gwersyllt before the family moved to Manchester and Jeff still has family and friends in the area.
“I know what the club means to them and to me,” he said.
“There are a lot of local lads in the team and I spent a long time talking to both Jim and Brian Carey before deciding on this move.
“It’s just like coming home for me and I didn’t want to go somewhere and find myself sitting on the bench for much of the time, which was what happened when I went to Stoke City on loan earlier in the season.”
Although Whitley has been ruled out of tonight’s trip, Wrexham have midfielder Mark Jones and defender Ryan Valentine available again after suspension, while injured duo Lee Roche and Neil Roberts could also be included in the squad.
Roberts made a rapid exit from the Racecourse during Sunday’s derby clash with Chester City when his wife went into labour and later gave birth to a daughter and Carey said: “We’ll review things with Neil in the morning, but Lee Roche trained today and, providing there is no reaction, he could be involved.”
Jones is a certain starter, replacing teenager Andy Fleming in the 3-5-2 system employed to good effect at the weekend and which Carey believes brings the best out of the Wales international.
“It’s one of the things we have looked at it terms of how we are going to play,” he said yesterday.
“Mark looks more comfortable in a midfield three and it gives him more scope to get forward and score goals.
“We look a better-balanced side with him in there, but that has not previously been an option for us until we got a few more people in.
“Now with Jeff joining us as well, there are going to be one or two unhappy players if they are left out, but everyone has to look at the bigger picture and realise that no one has a divine right to play 46 games a season.
“It’s a great position for me as manager because I have more choice.
“But every game is different and there is more scope for changes that we feel will benefit the team as a whole.
“The increased numbers also mean we can freshen things up, which is especially important as tomorrow’s game comes only 48 hours after the last one. It’s unfair that we are being asked to play twice in two days but we have to get on with it.”