RELEGATION-threatened Wrexham have nothing to lose when they travel to promotion hopefuls MK Dons this afternoon, according to the Dragons’ midfield man Jeff Whitley.
As the Racecourse club embarks on the 10-match countdown that will determine their Football League fate, the Cardiff City loan signing admitted the form book pointed to a home win for the fourth-placed Dons.
“We are under no illusions that we are in for a tough game and MK Dons will start out feeling that they can roll us over,” Whitley said.
“In that sense we’ve got nothing to lose and everything to gain.
“They can play a bit, which might suit us, but much as we would like to play good football, we have to concentrate on the basics.
“If that means getting the ball forward, scrapping like mad for second balls and making thing less pretty, then that’s what we need to do.”
But Whitley said it was vital to balance aggression with discipline following last Friday’s Racecourse league match with Bury in which Wrexham striker Chris Llewellyn and defender Ryan Valentine were both sent off.
In front of a 7,000-strong crowd at the racecourse, manager Brian Carey’s side spent the final half-hour defending a 1-0 lead with nine men – only for the Shakers to cruelly find an equaliser deep into added time.
“We need determination and, to some extent, aggression, but it must be controlled,” Whitley added.
“Rash challenges don’t do anyone any favours and we must keep all 11 players on the pitch.
“The nine players left out there last week showed all the right characteristics for almost 30 minutes.
“It was tough and difficult to keep it going as long as we did, and all the more gut-wrenching for conceding an equaliser in the final minute.
“We were in the dressing room thinking we should have taken all three points, even though the one we got was incredible given the circumstances.
“If we continue to show the same spirit between now and the end of the season, we’ll get more than our share of results.
“It was great to see the lads fighting for each other and we have to carry that effort into the remaining games.
“Everyone knows what is at stake and to get ourselves out of the battle we are in would be the equivalent of winning a cup final.
“The fans showed last week what they thought and their support was unbelievable.
“Even some of the boys who have been with the club for a few years had never experienced anything like that atmosphere.
“We want to make sure that continues until the end of the season.”
Despite travelling without suspended trio Llewellyn, Valentine and defender Steve Evans, Wrexham have been boosted by the return to fitness of goalkeeper Mike Ingham after a groin problem and the versatile Danny Williams, who had a back injury.
Dragons coach Steve Weaver – standing in for manager Brian Carey who was attending a funeral yesterday – claimed their recovery was a huge boost for the squad’s morale.
Weaver and Carey weighed up MK Dons during their 3-0 home win over Macclesfield Town – one of Wrexham’s relegation rivals – on Tuesday night.
“To have two of your more experienced players back for what promises to be a difficult match is excellent news for everyone,” he said.
“Brian and me watched MK Dons on Tuesday evening and they are a big, strong and athletic team, which has been tailor-made for this division.
“But if we work as hard as we have done in the past couple of games, we have nothing to fear.
“No-one is really expecting us to get anything from the game, so it would be nice to prove them wrong.
“There are quite a few six-pointer games in our division this weekend so teams are going to drop points.
“From our perspective it’s about time we started to pick up some points away from home against some of the perceived bigger and better teams.”
With Danny Williams set to take over from teenager Gareth Evans at the heart of the back four, enforced changes are likely to see Mike Williams and Matty Done come in for Valentine and Llewellyn.
“The players coming in have been playing pretty regularly and we have no reservations about them,” added Weaver.
“Mike had a very good game at Barnet and has never let us down, and we are also getting more from some of the recently-injured players.
“Neil Roberts, Mark Jones and Jeff Whitley are all much fitter and stronger as a result of playing matches.
“The bonus has been Lee McEvilly whose confidence has been boosted by a few goals, and we are beginning to see the benefit. The first of his two goals at Barnet has changed his season right round and it’s great to see him putting everything in for the cause.”
MK Dons manager Martin Allen will hand a late fitness test to midfielder Aaron Wilbraham ahead of the visit of Wrexham.
Wilbraham was replaced just after the hour mark of Tuesday’s defeat of Macclesfield after taking a kick to the ankle, and Allen will monitor the former Hull man’s fitness before naming his side.
Gareth Edds is favourite to move into midfield should Wilbraham not be passed fit, with Jude Stirling stepping off the bench to take Edds’ place at right-back.
Paul Butler has left the Buckinghamshire club by mutual consent while fellow defender Sam Page has been recalled from his loan spell at Conference side Cambridge.